Daytrippers: Getting down, dark, and dirty on Howe Caverns newest tour

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HOWES CAVE, N.Y. -- Something old and something new, Howe Caverns has got it all.

While the calcite and limestone formations and tunnels date back about 200 million years, Howe Caverns opened up what is known as the Signature Rock Discovery Tour just a few months ago.

Just like the standard cave tour, visitors descend in an elevator about 15 stories beneath the surface, but those on the Discovery Tour take a dark turn.  Guests gear up in Tyvek suits, put on boots and helmets, and head onto a boat. Howe Caverns has an underground lake, and the boat quickly brings you to a small gushing dam. Guides open a large gate and darkness sets in.

"This is the real deal," said Mark "Sparky" Spaulding, the operations manager and a lead guide at Howe Caverns. "We haven't given a tour in there for over 100 years."

Most of what you see is courtesy of an LED headlamp that's attached to your helmet.

Kiersten Van Steele, another cave guide, said, "You are walking in stream beds, you're going in water, mud, clay -- seeing calcite in its natural beauty."

Those who are claustrophobic might want to stay far away. Slogging through ankle-deep water and mud are all part of the journey and, at times, a chance to crawl through narrow, pitch dark passageways are offered to visitors.

"You are kind of spelunking," Van Steele said.

The underground stops include Congress Hall, the Water Tunnel and the Signature Rock, where the discoverer of Howe Caverns, Lester Howe, signed his name in 1842.

After about 2.5 hours the tour leads back to the dam doors and the lighted part of the cave; mission accomplished, and an adventure to remember.

Spaulding said, "It leads to great memories for people who do this tour."

The Signature Rock Discovery Tour at Howe Caverns is offered by reservation only and runs May through October. The cost is $155 dollars per person, and you have to be 14 or older to take the tour.

The standard cave tour is open to all ages and costs $25 for adults, and $13 kids 5 to 11. For more information click here.