The Twenty-Five Cent Tour

December 10, 2013
Going to see a cave after two days of heavy rain may not have been one of my better ideas; on the other hand our guide insisted that, if drops of water landed on your head or nose during the tour of Crystal Cave, you were bound to have a year of good luck. Not believing in luck, personally, I merely found myself very damp and chilly, as the cave’s interior temperature never rises above 56 degrees.
Our experience began at the gift shop where everyone congregated in the warmth, away from the dreary drizzle of the early spring. The gift shop used to be a hotel for guests who drove the 5 miles from Kutztown and other surrounding Pennsylvania towns in the early days of the cave tours. The gift shop is full of crystals—for decoration and other things. At the back of the shop, a wood-burning stove warms chilled visitors.
From the gift shop, visitors are directed out the door and up a paved path to the top of a small hill where a building sits over the entrance to the cave. Inside is a small theater—again, chilly—and outfitted with about 50 orange chairs. Inside the theater, a 13 minute video describes the discovery of the cave, as well as giving a 7 minute lesson in evolution to explain how the Crystal Cave came into being. As with any video of this subject matter, it is easy to zone out during this section.
The cave was discovered in the latter part of the 19th century by two farmers from the surrounding area who were blasting for limestone. Tours began in 1872. The original price of tours was 25 cents—translated to 17 dollars today. The original tour guests were led through the cave, roped together to avoid getting lost, and their way was lit by torches and coal oil lanterns. Today, the cave has been illuminated and stairs have been installed to facilitate tours.
At one point in the tour, the guide flipped off the lights to allow our tour group to step back in time to the days when tourists used only torches to light the huge, dark cave.
Inside the cave, the forty-minute tour highlights the Crystal Ballroom, the largest room in the cave. Here, the early tourist would hold dances out of the heat of the summer. A snack bar was even installed in a crevice in the wall. The ceiling rises far above the smooth floor and the walls glitter with the small crystals from which the cave derived its name. Three weddings were held in this room of the cave, the first in October 1919.
Down below the ballroom, in the deepest room of the cave known as the Devil’s Den, between 40 and 50 American Brown Bats wait out the daylight. They begin to move about when the lights that illuminate the cave by day are turned off.
All around, dripstone allows the moisture from the ceiling to drop down on unsuspecting tourists. The amount of water falling from the ceiling is determined by the amount of rain that falls on the surface one-and-a-half days previous. At the time of our visit, it had been raining heavily for the last two days.
Throughout the tour, I found myself thankful that I had not grown any taller—the roof was consistently low in places and anyone much taller than five feet would spend much of the time ducking. The guide had jokingly warned us as to the danger of damaging the rocks with our heads prior to entering the cave.
He also pointed out the little red lights that had been installed at the worst of the low spots. These tiny red lights that look not unlike laser pointers are called “wish-lights,” as in “I wish I had ducked.”
Despite the low ceiling, the cave itself is beautiful. Various formations that are highlighted in the tour are the formation of Jack Frost, a space ship, and Snoopy lying on top of his dog house. The cave is home to one dead formation, known colloquially as Castle Rock, and one very large stalagmite known as the Ear of Corn.
The cave tour is fascinating and obviously the main attraction at the Crystal Cave grounds, but there are additional activities available. These would be good entertainment for someone who is claustrophobic, or for those who wish to take the 45-minute tour and turn it into a day-long outing. The other attractions include an ice cream shop and restaurant that is open daily in July and August, a miniature golf course, open seasonally, and walking trails that wind throughout the 125 acre Crystal Cave property.
The regular rates for the cave tours are 12.50 for adults and 8.00 for children, though the cave offers discounted rates for groups of 15 or more people. Other discounts are offered to schools, church groups, and other types of groups which are listed on their website. The cave is open March through November, with special hours for holidays.

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