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     The story of Eldon French's discovery of a beautiful cave reads like a young boy's fantasy.  It reminded me of those moments in my own childhood where I would read about pirates secreting treasure on some lonely shoreline or the discovery of ancient ruins. I would be out exploring the forests the next day in the hopes of making my own discovery. Eldon was one of the few whose love for exploration and keen sense of observation paid off.  He had discovered what is still considered one of the longest caves in New England. Though my own childhood adventures more often met with great disappointment, this would be my chance to revisit those fantasies of my youth while living vicariously through Eldon's story.

     In the winter of 1875, 14 year old Eldon French was rapt in an article on the formation of caves. As he took a moment to reflect on his newly gained expertise, he began to wonder if there might be caves in his town. While peering out his bedroom window, he remembered a location where water issued from out of the hillside and created a pool that his neighbor's cows drank from. Eldon grabbed a candle and ran across the field to the spot where the water exited the ground. Peering up the slope, he noticed a depression in the ground where water must have once run. Eldon concluded that if he followed the dimple up the rise and could locate where the water reappeared above ground, he might find a cave.

     Not far up the hill Eldon located a ravine that contained a brook that seemed to vanish underground. Under the cover of forest debris within the gully, he found an opening large enough for a person to enter. At first it appeared to be only a small den. As he proceeded to the rear of the cave he soon discovered it took a hairpin turn into the hillside. Ahead he could see a shaft that penetrated deep into the bedrock. The cave had been carved out of beautiful marble and appeared to be endless.

      Eldon spent the afternoon exploring his new discovery until his candle was almost exhausted. He retuned to the cave several times with a much more reliable source of light. Eventually he traversed through its winding passages to its conclusion, later named "World's End". There over 800 ft into the hill behind his home was a chamber 13 ft wide, 15 ft long and 50' high. Within this hidden chamber were remarkable examples of natural beauty. Several tiny water falls, recesses and grottoes with their own hidden treasures, and various forms of flowstones and stalactites; all beautiful marble sculptures created by millions of years of moving water. One interesting feature consisted of a shallow pool in marble with a marble seat at the end that was appropriately named "King's Bath".

     In 1945 Eldon visited the cave for one last time along with a band of local cavers. Eldon only accompanied the group for a short distance. Though nothing more is mentioned of him after this, Eldon will always be remembered for his sharp mind, youthful sense of adventure, and bravery that lead to the discovery of one of the longest and most beautiful caves in New England.

     For many years I was aware of this cave. I had stumble on mention of it while involved in researching other natural wonders of New England.  I knew of nothing other than where it was located , so I was never sure if it was a true cave or just another bear den. Due to my lack of information, and its remote location, I could never find a reason to visit it.

     2006 I learned of Eldon's story and the importance of this cave. Overnight what I though would be a disappointment to see, had now been advance to the top of my list. Though I had already confirmed its location on historical maps, I spent a month doing further research before venturing out. On previous adventures I've discovered that what may appear to be the definitive "X" on a map, most often is actually only an approximation. Also,  when out in an unbeaten forest you don't have signs to guide you along . Though Landmarks and geological features can be helpful, unless they are very large and obvious, they can be hard to recognize.  What can be seen on a map, often is hidden under growth and forest debris. Though I would be aided by a GPS, the rock face of the nearby slopes can make it appear you are hundreds of feet from your true location. This is where I thank the scouts for the years of training in orienteering.

     After reviewing my maps, geological surveys and  obsessively reading Eldon's story , I was ready to go. Since it would be dangerous venture into a cave of this proportion alone, I recruited my faithful hooligan Hooch. He was also an outdoor explorer I've teamed up with many a time. Though his own adventures were very different than this, his skills would be a valuable asset.  We both were anxious and excited. We expected this to be a fantastic adventure.

Early the following Saturday we headed to the foothills we believe contained the cave. Arriving around 11:30 and traveled the roads that lined the perimeter of the forest trying to size up where to enter. As we blindly circle the area, I could help but notice the beautiful houses along the way. Well preserved farm homes to prestigious colonial brick houses, each stood out from the more modern home, with a dignity seasoned by their style and individual history.

Soon we found ourselves driving past what I believed had been young Eldon's home. The GPS was pointing west and placed the cave less than a mile away. Once we found a spot we could enter the forest, we returned to the head of the road and parked the car at a rundown service station.

Quickly we made our way into the forest. Though Eldon's cave was a historically and geologically significant cave, it was a well kept secret that was rarely visited. Where we penetrated the forest we could find no clearly cut trail toward the cave, but I was certain  that we would start to see some signs beaten paths once we were close enough.

Hooch lead the way manning his GPS.  Since I was confident we would easily locate the cave, I didn't bring along my GPS nor my maps. I thought it would be best to pack light as possible since we were going to be exploring the deep underground. I had spent so much time reviewing the maps, I assumed that I would have no problem navigating this tract of land. That was a decision I would soon regret.

Hooch and I proceeded WNW until we came to a brook that ran along side a rock face. There was what appeared to be a trail along the brook showing us that this area was of some interest to locals. The trail was on the other side of the brook going  parallel to the rock face west ward and also north along a gentle slope. As Hooch began to follow the trail west, I suddenly noticed something odd. All around the forest floor were orange salamanders with brown spots. Shortly after catching one for a closer look, Hooch returned to report that the trail appeared to lead to nothing interesting. After taking a moment to enjoy our new friend, we decided to explore the ledge for any sign of a cave. Over the next half an hour or more we poked around every crack and cleft we saw. Though there appeared to be many hopeful crevices I had a gut feeling we weren't in the right location.

We took a break for water and Fig Newtons and a chance to gather our thoughts. Hooch wasn't as foolish as me and had brought along a topographical map of the general area. We reviewed the map to get our bearings. Since there was no way of referencing our current location, the map was of little use.

The GPS now was telling us the cave was north east from our current location, so we decided to follow north along the edge of the slope for a while and the follow the bearing of the GPS toward the East.

Soon we found a precipice longer and higher than the previous. We found a safe path to the base and once again began to search for the cave. Though this bluff appear to have even more possibilities, though I could understand why, I once again felt we were not in the right place. We spent a little time exploring and then moved on.

Tired and disappointed, we decided to trust the GPS, and see where it lead us. We soon arrived at the destination to fins ourselves in the middle of a large plateau. This was the last place I would expect to find a cave. Looking off in all directions, I didn't see anything resembling a ravine, brook stream bed, or even a noticeable slope in the landscape. None of the features of the nearby terrain was even remotely analogous, to my research materials. After circling away and back to the same location a few time to assure the readings were correct, we decided to call it a day.

As we began to head back, not far from the point the GPS lead us to we noticed a depression or sink hole in the ground. we had passed by before. Hooch noticed a rock that had been shifted by human hands to reveal a small burrow. Thinking this might be the cave, I strapped on my headlamp and stuck my head in for a better look. It showed definite signs of wear from running water, but seemed to come to its conclusion about four feet in. It appeared to more likely be a den for a fox or wolf. Little did we realize, we were very close to the cave and were peering into  fracture that probably drain into its passages.

Once we were back home, I couldn't stop thinking about Eldon's cave. I needed to figure out what ground we covered and what our mistake was.

>>>> Stay Tuned for the conclusion! <<<<





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