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November 2000 Volume 29, Number 1

Subterranean Sun

On-Line Edition

This on-line edition of the November, 2000 Sub Sun contains a couple of articles that were too late or too big for the printed edition, and has been edited to remove personal information.

See this month's cover by Anya Crane.

Sligo Grotto Holiday Party

Fang and Harn invite all Sligo cavers, friends and family to our annual holiday party on

Saturday, December 16

6:00 PM - whenever

The party will be held at Fang and Harn’s Mud Puddle Gulch. E-mail Fang if you don't know how to get there. Dinner will be potluck as usual – please bring your favorite dish to share. Keg provided - BYOB.

By special arrangements, we will have a live band for your entertainment. Bring your instruments; there is always room for a couple more performers! Bring your dancing socks! (to protect the nice wood floor)

Sligo Grotto encourages responsible drinking. If you plan to drink, please bring either a designated driver or a sleeping bag to spend the night. Plenty of crash space will be provided.

There will be a Grotto meeting sometime between dinner and the entertainment. Topics to be discussed are elections (or lack thereof), the newsletter, Sligo Grotto On-Line, and budgeting.

Cover: this month’s cover is by Anya Crane. Thanks, Anya!

Chairman, Treasurer, Grotto Trips Coordinator and Reluctant Newsletter Editor:
Jim McConkey

Chair of Vice:
Jennifer Neemann

Gloria Briggs

6:00 PM Holiday Party – see announcement this page

Annual Sligo-SVG President’s Day Weekend Bash at Thompson’s Motel in Franklin, WV. Reservations are highly recommended: 1-800-338-5531

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The nature of all grottos is to continually change. We are no exception. Membership has fluctuated over the years. Many years ago now we stopped having regular meetings since our membership had spread out so much. A couple years back submissions to the Sub Sun dropped off dramatically, and the frequency of publication dropped dramatically. The advent of e-mail has provided us a quick and easy method of propagating timely news, and the trend is only continued by the new Sligo Grotto web page.

A recent reorganization at work almost left us without copying facilities to produce the newsletter. In response, a recent poll of those with e-mail who get the occasional Sub Sun E-Flashes showed that an overwhelming majority of those users would prefer electronic distribution of the newsletter. Sligo has always been environmentally minded and was (and is) one of the few grottos to use recycled paper for our printed newsletter. So, beginning with this issue, the newsletter will be published on our Grotto web page and all on-line Sligo Grotto members will receive only an e-mail notification of the new edition. Exchanges and off-line members will receive paper copies by snail mail. (Everyone will still receive the membership list on paper; we will not publish it on the web.) We would eventually like to go completely electronic, and this will provide a good transition.

The change in newsletter distribution foreshadows other changes. Most of our dues go to mailing the newsletter. If we no longer have to mail the newsletter, our budgetary needs drop accordingly. Since we are a non-profit group, we are not allowed to accumulate any significant funds. There are several options available. We could cut out dues altogether. It would definitely be a lot less work, but we would not have any funds if we needed them. We could also keep dues, and earmark most of our income for cave conservation purposes. Come to the meeting at the holiday party with your ideas of what direction we should head in.

Silers Cave Update

By Jim McConkey

After a long and tortuous search, I finally tracked down Mr. Robert Wyly, the owner of the land Silers Cave is found on. Since we were last in contact with him, Mr. Wyly had suffered the sad loss of his first wife, had moved several times, married his high school sweetheart, and finally settled in North Carolina. He was glad to learn that Sligo Grotto was still actively managing the cave, and supports us regating the cave.

Some recent visitors to the cave have noticed that the Mr. Wyly’s land is now posted by the Briar Hunt Club and have worried about access. Mr. Wyly has granted permission to this small group of hunters to hunt on his property. He informed them about the cavers, and they are happy to co-exist. I will be in contact with the group shortly to coordinate access.

Vandals succeeded in completely destroying the gate earlier this year. Since then, the cave has not been secured, and the cave has obviously had greater visitation. What is especially disturbing is that many local cavers, who should know better, are now ignoring the access restrictions and just going to the cave without asking permission. The cave is clearly marked on the Closed Cave List as being restricted access. Ignoring access restrictions is the biggest reason cavers are losing access to caves, so please pass the word around that the cave is still officially closed and permission MUST be obtained before visiting the cave. Please remind your friends in other local grottos.

I’ve attempted to make it easier for cavers to get access information about the cave. The cave now has it’s own e-mail address: The account is setup to automatically reply to all messages with the access restrictions and the entire current schedule of usage dates. Further information about the cave can also be found on the new Sligo Grotto web site at

Plans are currently in the works for a new gate. We are planning on a serious Roy Power-style gate, probably inside the current entrance. This fall I participated on the U.S. Forest Service project to gate Hoffmann School Cave, and they graciously donated some of the leftover steel from that project to the Silers gate project. The profits from the Baltimore-Sligo sponsored VAR will buy the rest of the steel we need.

Roy Powers supervises the construction of the new gate on Hoffmann School Cave (photo by Jim)

We are only waiting on the availability of key personnel to get started. The gating should take place over the winter or early in spring.

Sligo Grotto Web Site

Sligo Grotto now has its own web presence! Check it out by pointing your browser at:

On our new web site, you will find general information about us, contact information for the officers, how to join, membership benefits, a calendar of upcoming events, our history and information on Silers Cave. We will eventually add basic information on caving, equipment and other topics. The site is new and under construction. Please send Jim your comments and suggestions – this is YOUR web site!

Bowden Trip Report

By Pam Dodds

As Pastor Ralph, Art, and I readied ourselves for the excursion into Bowden cave, Pastor Ralph commented how glad he was to have taken our advise regarding what to bring: coveralls, gloves, disposable flash camera, and duct tape!

We entered the cave about 2:30 p.m. on October 14, 2000, by using entrance #1 next to the parking lot. Art explained that a bulldozer had enlarged this entrance in preparation for a failed attempt at making the cave into a mushroom venture. We marveled at a wedge-shaped rock portion in the ceiling that appeared ready to fall at any time.

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We crouched and crawled through the rocks on the muddy floor of the cave until we descended into the first room where we could stand and walk freely. Pastor Ralph did very well in dim light, especially considering his vision problems associated with his corneas. He adapted immediately to life underground and was very happy to finally be in his first wild cave.

We continued our way to a column which had evidently been damaged by visitors. The column was mostly reddish tan, due to iron oxide staining, but the damaged portion revealed the white calcite crystals.

We all turned out our helmet lights to become accustomed to the darkness. In the dark with our eyes open, Art directed us to move our hand in front of our eyes, which allowed us to see a darker image of our hand, even though we were already in total darkness. Art explained that even before we are born, our brain allows us to have hand-eye coordination so that our brain processes the image of our hand even in total darkness. Pastor Ralph commented that in his sermon the previous Sunday, he had noted the concept of processing information as images.

Next, we closed our eyes as Art used a camera flash device directed at the column. We opened our eyes immediately after he used the flash and could see an “afterglow” of the minerals comprising the column. We could see the “afterglow” even in the portion of the column stained with iron oxide.

We continued to where water flowed through the cave as a stream and Pastor Ralph noted how beautiful the small waterfalls were within the stream bed. The path was not so muddy in this section because the stream was keeping the sediment in suspension. We looked into the tributary stream passage which connects with another portion of the cave and explained to Pastor Ralph that the water is typically knee-high, and frequently higher. He indicated that he preferred to stay where the water was not so deep!

We next crawled through a passage to reach the “Breakdown room” leading to a ladder which provided access to the “Shower room”. The “Breakdown room” was indeed full of breakdown. The “Shower room” is a dome pit where infiltrating water had etched the rock surface all around the room, creating sharp, vertically scalloped edges within the limestone.

At the floor of the room was the same phosphate-rich rock we had observed elsewhere along the stream, including black, phosphate nodules which had originally formed in the ancient seafloor long before this cave formed.

Art and I pointed out cave crickets, several bats, and numerous areas of flowstone. The flowstone extended to the cave floor from a persistent bedding plane throughout the cave. We also pointed out small bacon rind formations extending from joint fractures in the ceiling of the cave.

We returned to entrance #1 and exited at approximately 6 p.m., having enjoyed our excursion even more because we could take time to really observe our surroundings. Pastor Ralph was very pleased with his adventure and has a real appreciation for caves.

NSS Need You!

The NSS Speleo Digest Committee is looking for an editorial team to prepare the manuscript for the 2001 Speleo Digest. The ideal candidate will have assembled a production team of at least three people who can effectively solicit articles from published NSS Internal Organization newsletters, format the articles, and produce camera ready copy for a book that is expected to be over 500 pages in length. This is a very time consuming task and should not be taken lightly. For more detailed information please visit: or contact the Series Editor:

The 1990 Speleo Digest is now available. Only the 1992 Digest remains to be published!


Several members have expressed concern about publication and distribution of member data. To address their concerns, the new membership list is only being sent to members, and will not be published on the web. All e-mail notices are blind CCed to all members.

NSS Needs You, Part 2

The IT Committee is responsible for the NSS Internet presence. In addition to maintaining the NSS Web Page, members of the IT Committee will be asked to develop a variety of linked Web Pages to benefit the membership. Do you have the talent and the time it takes to be a dedicated NSS Volunteer? Are you dependable, reliable, and able to effectively communicate? Do you like to be given a task or create the task to be accomplished? If you are interested in joining or leading the NSS IT volunteer team, please contact NSS OVP Scott Fee:

Swine and Dine 2000

A good number of Sligo member attended the annual Baltimore Grotto Swine and Dine over Memorial Day weekend in May. It was a soggier weekend than we would have liked, but it never seems to matter.

A week or so before we left, I got an e-mail from Scott Mieras, a caver from New Zealand who was in the area visiting and wanted to see about the possibility of getting underground sometime during his visit with his daughter, Amelia. I told him about the upcoming Swine and Dine and Friars Hole and the appeal of getting to see the largest cave in West Virginia was too great to pass up. We hastily arranged for a tent, caving gear and transportation. Paul was kind enough to give them a ride down, I brought extra cave gear, and everyone chipped in with food.

On Saturday, Jen, Scott, Amelia and I set off with the dogs for a tourist trip from the historic entrance back to Snedegar’s Dome. Even the dogs made the climb up to the dome, but one of them foolishly tried to take a shortcut off the last 10’ down to the main passage. She was a little stunned, but walked away as if nothing had happened. The rain stopped just in time for dinner, and the feast was as good as ever.

Sunday morning there was an impromptu vertical training session in the big tree in front of Hank’s cabin. After much discussion and procrastination, I led a group over to the Toothpick entrance for a “short” vertical trip.

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We met Ada Mothes by her pond, and she gave us directions for the “quick” way down to the cave. After two hours of getting lost on the sometimes non-existant fire road, Tim and South finally found the cave. Jen and the dogs guarded the entrance while Tim, South, Scott, Amelia and I headed into the cave to do the drop.

We quickly reached the drop and I rigged the rope. Tim and South went down first, then Amelia was up. Just as she was about to go over the edge, she decided she wasn’t ready for a drop this size yet, so I stayed with her at the top while Scott did his first in-cave vertical pit. The drop is only about 60’ and is very easy. There is a nice alcove at the top of the drop where you can comfortably and safely put on your gear and clip onto the rope before just stepping out and descending free the whole way to the bottom. Everyone climbed back out without difficulty.

New Zealander Scott Mieras does his first in-cave vertical in Toothpick (photo by Jim)

We exited the cave to find Jen and the dogs huddled in the natural amphitheater at the entrance trying to hide from the fierce storms that had raged while we were caving. It was after dark when we got out, and the nearly vertical climb back up the hill to the car was made even more interesting by the rain-slicked leaves and the fog which reduced visibility to less than 10’ at times. The sheer cliffs not far below the parking area disheartened the weary climbers even more, until I found way through. We quickly polished off every remaining drop of liquid in the cars and headed back to camp. We found everyone else drinking around the campfire. They were mildly concerned about us, but decided to wait at least until morning to come looking for us. Gee, thanks! A late night spaghetti feast finished off a great day. The next morning we packed in the rain and beat a hasty retreat back home.

Convention Awards

Sligo members cleaned up at the 2000 NSS Convention!

Jim McConkey was named a Fellow of the NSS for his longstanding dedication to the Society and its goals.

Jim becomes an NSS Fellow (photo by Barbara Moss)

Gary Moss was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for his work on the Board of Governors.

John Harah shared the Best of Show award in the Cave Ballad Salon for his avant garde song Cave Again. He also got an Honorable Mention in the Traditional Song category for Ain’t No Caves.

Ken “Harny” Harnage received a Merit Award for his original song Somebody, Somewhere, Sometime: An OTR Anthem.

Congratulations to all!

Whitings Neck Speleocanoeing Trip

By Jim McConkey

In late August, the Baltimore Grotto had its second annual speleo-canoeing trip to Indian River and Whitings Neck Caves. Whitings Neck is the largest open cave in the WV panhandle, with over 3000’ of passage. It sits on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. Indian River is a much smaller cave about 200’ below Whitings Neck, just above the river level.

Due to increasing landowner relation problems, the parking situation for these caves has deteriorated to where you now have to park almost a mile from the caves. Last year, Dwight Livingston had the novel idea to canoe down the river to Indian River,

“park” right at the caves, do some caving, and canoe back. The trip was a big success, so we did it again this year. On this year’s trip were Dwight with his daughter Becky, Kim and Jason, Doug and Marcy, and myself and my two nieces Carolyn and Katelin.

Above: speleo-canoeing on the Potomac. Below: Becky and Carolyn admire the formations in Whitings Neck (photos by Jim)

We put in on the Opequon Creek and dragged bottom down to the Potomac. Once out in the open water, we were nearly capsized by the wakes of all the speedboats powering up and down the river. Our canoes were heavily laden with food, caving gear and vertical gear.

We paddled about Ľ mile downstream to Indian River, where we tied our boats up on shore and hauled our gear up to the entrance. We put our caving gear on and had a quick tour of Indian River. Most of us opted for the strenuous through trip.

After lunch, we grabbed the rest of our gear and headed up to Whitings Neck. After negotiating the two ladder climbs and a couple short crawls, we came out in the big formation room. We then headed down the passage to the drop to the lower level. We rigged and dropped the pit, some climbing and some rappelling. It was getting late, so we had a quick look around at the bottom and headed home. We all agreed it was a wonderful trip and an ideal solution to the parking situation.

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Silers Cave

By Art Dodds

The trip started as Greg's Boy Scout Troop. He gave the introduction at the meeting and scared everyone off except for his Son, Will, and Daughter, Rachael. Then more people signed up: Ally, Todd, Allen and his wife Pam, a new Caver, their Son Eric, and Daughter, Jessica, along with Pam and Art. Pam and Art are now about three and a half hours from Silers. We started at 8:00 A.M. to be at the Truck Stop at 11:00 A.M.

The crew (photo by Greg Pearce)

We missed it by about 40 minutes. Ally not recognizing the others went to the cave. We waited a few minutes and tried calling Ally. No Answer. Oh Well!

We proceeded to the cave and met three hunters coming out of the woods. They acknowledged we were caving and we acknowledged them. The parking area was littered with more than the normal trash. We hiked up to the cave and found more trash at the entrance. Pam Marsh was our new caver and was very interested in the entrance. We described it to her several times as she made up her mind to go through. The words of encouragement were, "this is the worst part of the whole cave."

Once in we started to locate parts of a twelve pack of Busch Beer. We started to place it where we would pick it up on the way back, but soon realized they had gotten far into the cave and we needed to carry it with us. Smell!!

We started through the sewer passage. The one no one does as it is too muddy. I gave Pam Marsh the option of going through or not. Somehow she had become a caver and was really enjoying it. It was dryer, but still very wet and muddy. Everyone got through.

We finished up with all the beer cans and departed, without doing the sewer passage on the way back.

We got out, walked out together to ensure we would not be mistaken as DEER, cleaned up the parking area, and departed for dinner. The VA crew went to Forbidden City in Alexandria, and Ally, Pam, and Art went to Barnies near the truck stop.

2000 NSS Convention Adventure
Elkins, WV
(Trip June 19 - July 3)

By Lynn Ott

This year's NSS Convention was touch & go. At the end of last year's NSS Convention, we had secured Scott & his band, Dead Center, a gig for the Wednesday night Campground Party. In April 2000, Scott was accepted to the ACE PLUS program [whereby students finishing 10th grade, who were accepted for this scholarship program, would attend Glendale Community College during the June 2000, & then every Saturday for the next two years. When Scott graduates from Apollo High School he will have also completed his first year of college]. Needless to say, we were all excited about this program for Scott. It meant that at minimum, either Dan or I would be able to go to convention.

Dan made the decision that I would go & take my new Honda Insight. Dan stayed home to take care of the house, animals & continued to work with Scott on his driving (Scott now has the bat-mobile, minus the majority of all the bat stickers).

Filling the Honda with gear, we wondered how many miles per gallon I could get as the sticker says 60 mpg in town & 70 mpg highway. We've been averaging 58.7 mpg in town using the air conditioner. When I started out on Monday morning, June 19, I was at 54.5 mpg for this tank and 56.4 mpg for the life of the car, it dropped down to 53 mpg/55 mph heading up to Flagstaff. I hit a brief torrential downpour at Holbrook & Gallup, otherwise weather was good. I next got gas just east of Albuquerque for an average of 65 mpg for this tank/58 mpg lifetime. I stopped in East Amarillo for the night (73.3 mpg/59.4 mpg lifetime).

By the time I crossed into Oklahoma, the winds had really picked up. I-40 was terrible driving conditions with the truck ruts, uneven/pothole pavement making driving the speed limit impossible, as I was being tossed about (the car weighs just under 1900 lbs), not to mention semi trucks speeding past me.. Next gas stop was 624 miles to Henryetta, AR with avg. 68.1 mpg/ 60.1 mpg lifetime. The road was not much in AR, & the wind kept blowing. I noticed that AR was the only state aggressively enforcing the speed limit. I continued through TN getting gas in Brownsville (65.5 mpg/or 60.8 mpg lifetime) & spent the night east if Nashville.

The next morning I decided to take the longer route from TN to VA & up I-81 (calling to see if I should head to my mom's in DC or go straight to WV & the Convention campsite. I gassed up in Marion, VA (68.1 mpg/61.8 mpg/lifetime). I made a decision to drive without air conditioning and see what kind of mileage the car could get. At one point, I hit a brief high of 82.2 mpg right before a 20 minute delay with 7 mile construction back up, mileage dropped (plus it was hilly) to 75.9 mpg. At Harrisonburg (around 200 miles later, where I picked up Hwy 33 to Elkins) I was at 80.8 mpg. Then over the mountains to Elkins, WV, where I cruised into the OTR (Old Timers Reunion) site after a torrential downpour at 73.3 mpg on this tank of gas.

When I pulled in, it was getting dark & continued raining. Emily Davis-Mobley-Warner met me & said "WELCOME HOME". It was really a good feeling coming back to a place that I helped build after it was purchased by The Robertson Association (TRA). I was TRA recording secretary for a few years, coordinated many work trips to build the site, serviced as Chairman/Editor of Sligo Grotto & was involved in other regional activities. The last time I was on site was in '91.

I was up late visiting with numerous people I had not seen in years, the rain continued. I decided to sleep on the pavilion floor & pitch my tent in the morning. The rain stopped during the middle of the night, making morning very humid. I camped in the upper corner by Carol Jackson. After a quick shower, I headed to my childhood home to Wheaton/Kensington, MD to see my mother who was caring for a recuperating cousin. Air conditioning was a must after that tank of gas! My brother, Mark, was flying in late Friday evening, so we would have a little family reunion. The weekend was spend with a few caving friends & family (which also included an oil change plus another tank of gas 69.3 mpg/62.7 mpg lifetime).

Late Sunday afternoon I left family in the Annapolis area to return to the OTR site. I arrived at dark & did a little visiting. Then crashed so that I could be ready to start convention.

Monday, I attended the opening ceremony in the Elkins High School courtyard. I did my standard morning of spending money, looking at various displays & saying hi to people I hadn't seen since last year. In the afternoon I did a quick presentation of the Dante's Cleanup Video. There were a number of questions on how to get grant money for cleanups. The school air conditioning broke! Agh!

The OTR Doo Dah Parade made its way to convention. Ooh la la on some of the costumes! At 6 pm there was a convention photograph. Roy tried to see how many times he could be in the picture. I stood with Larry & Chris Zimmer.

The Howdy party was coordinated by Chuck Hempel & company. He told me that everyone would be through the chow lines within 1 hour. He was right. There were over 1500 in attendance for the week, but probably only 1000 for the Howdy party. Chuck even had a ROAD KILL CAFE set up along with the regular affair. Lots of GOOD FOOD. The band was so, so. People were building a bon fire (in the heat!) where many of the kids had to hang out.

Tuesday I attended the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) session & around 11 am the air conditioning was repaired (we were all melting). There was also a mist of rain. I was able to fulfill my duties as Cave Rescue Section (CRS) Secretary. I was re-elected & also volunteered to do the section newsletter. I had to head out to the Congress of Grottoes, voting for CAG, NAG & Sligo (see elsewhere for COG update). Ransom Turner had a number of Conservation videos to hand out to each of the grottos. I picked up videos/pamphlets for CAG (given to Taran Doty at the July meeting), NAG (yet to be dropped off) & Sligo (given to Jim McConkey at convention). The COG ended relatively early so I was able to catch the end of the CRS presentations.

Wednesday - More rain, a little chilly, a few sessions, more visiting with friends & the evening Campground party. The Terminal Siphons were great. I danced til around midnite before turning in.

Thursday - Chilly, rainy & humid! I sat in on a few sessions, including a Peter Jones pottery throwing class, plus buying more goodies. I hung out with Carol & Bill Jackson & others as we went to the Photo Salon. WOW! This is one of the premier highlights of convention. Paul & Gwen had been spending time with Paul & Lee Stevens learning some of the ropes of the Photo Salon. Paul J. took direction from Paul S. & did a great job. Gwen worked security. She's looking for volunteers!

Friday was spent saying good-bye to many. At banquet, I sat with Paul, Gwen & Roy. We had a nice dinner which include two different bottles of wine. On bottle was pretty bad, the other so, so. Gwen smuggled in some wine, hers was by far the best. The best part was the keepsake wine glass. The awards ceremony took many of us by surprise as the recipients were announced. CAG's Paul Jorgenson became a FELLOW, as did Jim McConkey of Sligo Grotto & several others. Special recognition was given to Paul & Lee Stevens for their long time service to the NSS.

Saturday morning I let the tent dry out. Since everyone else from AZ flew out, I hauled some items for Ray & Stephanie & a poster for Paul & Gwen, then headed back to AZ around 10 am. I took a different route & the first stop for gas was just before leaving WV (Barbourville - 65.0 mpg/62.9 mpg lifetime). I was headed for St. Louis, but unable to find any vacancies at surrounding hotels/motels, so I kept going. The next stop for gas was Cuba, MO (68.3 mpg/63.4 mpg lifetime). Finally, I had one hotel call ahead to Springfield (2 hrs away) & got one of the last rooms. It was very late (around 1:30 am).

On Monday, July 3, I made it to Albuquerque to stay with friend Jodie Brooks. I got gas in OK & dropped down to 58.9 mpg/62.9 mpg lifetime. The bad roads & wind took their toll. I filled up in Santa Rosa, NM right before another downpour 57.8 mpg/62.7 mpg lifetime. Albuquerque is under major construction "The BIG EYE" at the junction of I-40/I-25. You may have heard on the news of the kids that ran the blockage which closed the overpass because it was dismantled & lucked out when the car landed in a hill of dirt.. I left really early to beat the traffic. Next gas stop was Camp Verde 66.7 mpg/62.9 mpg lifetime. Then a 20 minute delay at New River. I ended up pulling into the driveway at 12:30 pm, & very glad to be home.

This site is written and maintained by Jim McConkey. Last update: 15.May.2004
© Copyright 2002-2004 Sligo Grotto of the NSS