late 1980's was when I first heard of a places in Newport, Rhode
Island, called Purgatory Chasm. While chatting with a
woman I met at a coffee shop in Providence, I was about to learn
the true research value of talking with the locals. It was
springtime and we were talking about fun things we planned to do over
the summer. I mentioned how I was planning on going to
Purgatory Chasm that afternoon, and she told me she had been there
before. She got my attention, and I listened closely as she told
me all about the reservation. As the conversation continued,
something didn’t sound right. We soon realized we were talking
about two different Purgatory Chasms. I was speaking of the
Chasm in Newport
and she was speaking of the Chasm in Sutton, Massachusetts. Now
even more interested, I grilled her for as much information as I could
get. I thanked her for the lead, and was on my way. Months
later, I made it up to Sutton to experience its Chasm, and was
pleasantly surprised by what I found.
The park is around over a mile in size. It contains five
different trails to hike. The highlight of the park is the
chasm. It appears as if some powerful force had torn the bedrock
apart, leaving a pile of rubble between its walls. The chasm is
a geological wonder that has puzzled scientists for over a hundred
years. The most recent theory suggests that it was a fault
plane. The tectonic
forces caused a weakness in the rock but no great fissure. Water
seeped between the cracks in the rock, and over 200 million years of
freezing and thawing, it chiseled the granite apart. The piles
of boulders and steep cliffs offer many interesting sites. As
you walk through the chasm, you’ll find signs pointing out various
highlights of the chasm. ‘Lovers Leap’, 'His Majesties
Cave’ and ‘Devil’s Coffin’ are just a few; though
interesting to explore, they are not the best it has to offer.
For below the surface, deep in the belly of the chasm are caves and
passages only the brave will dare to venture.
On my second visit to the chasm, my friend Dave and I located one of
these caves and
ventured inside. From the outside it looked like just another
rabbit hole between the rocks. Once you take a closer look, you
discover it opens up into a narrow passage. As we crawled
through this burrow, the passage twisted and turned through the pile
of boulders. Eventually, it opened up into a chamber tall enough
to stand in. There was a stream trickling through the center of
the cave. We now were so deep below ground, that the only light
provided was from our flashlights.
When we turned them off, we learned the true meaning of
darkness. After resting
briefly, we continued our journey. We decided to follow the cave
to an exit or it's end. Not far ahead we soon began to see daylight
again. The final part of the cave required a short climb
straight up. To our surprise, we ended up exiting the same way
we entered. After scribbling a crude map in the muddy soil
over and over, we couldn’t understand how we had gone in a complete
circle. Nonetheless, we had a great time.
Just recently I decided to return to the cave for another run.
This time, I would bring along my compass, and try to map the cave.
Two of my friends who had never been to the chasm accompanied me.
I knew they would enjoy the park and it would be good to have them
along for safety's sake. I gave them a tour of the chasm, but
found myself frustrated when trying to locate the cave. I spent
over an hour searching for it, and turned up nothing. Refusing
to give up, I went to the ranger station for some help. These
caves are not on the park map for a good reason. They can be
very dangerous to explore. Knowing this, I wasn’t sure if the
rangers would aid me in my quest. I decided to wear the guise of
tourist just passing through. I spoke about different aspects of
the park I was already familiar with, and then casually mentioned the
cave, and its assumed location. The ranger was quick to confirm
my suspicions, and pointed it out on the map. He then told me
about a man who was recently injured in the cave. It had taken
over 6 hours to safely remove him. Hmmm…,was the ranger trying
to tell me something? I had a feeling he saw right through my
ruse. Well it really didn’t matter. I had the
information I needed, and was on my way.
Quickly I located the cave and geared up to enter. It was
exactly as I remembered it.
The cave was hidden away in a pile of boulders, with the same familiar
log pointing the way to the entrance. Once seeing the size of
it’s opening, both of my friends decided not join me for this part
of the tour.. It wasn't what I had hoped for, but I was prepared
to dare it alone. I said my goodbyes, and climbed into the dark
abyss. It was only early spring, so the rocks below were still
very cold and icy. I crawled on my stomach for a while, until I
came to the passage on the right that led to the chamber. It was
much tighter than I remembered. That could have been because
I’d gained 20 or more pounds since my last visit. Getting
through it would be easy, but since there was a four foot drop to the
ground, I wasn’t too sure about getting out. I yelled up to my
friends, but didn’t get an answer. Remembering what the ranger
had said, I decided to wait until another day. Though I probably
would have been able to make it alone, I felt it would be much safer
with some company. After a long struggle to turn around, I
slowly made my way back to the surface and called it a day.
the photos are from my recent visit. Unfortunately the cheap
digital camera I used didn't provide many good photos. I will be
returning in June, and will be sure to be better equipped this
Chasm State Reservation is located in the south-eastern part of
From east or west: Take Mass Pike (Rte. I-90) to exit 10A, then Rte.
146 south to Purgatory Rd. Sutton. Follow signs
here for a park map illustrating the caves location>