Seeing the Sinks of Gandy

One of the field trips offered at the Fall Review was to the Sinks of Gandy.  It was way fun.

Before it gets to the Sinks of Gandy, Gandy Creek behaves as any other creek would.  The land is relatively flat and the valley is wide so it just meanders along, not seeming in any hurry to get any place.  Then, all of a sudden, there is a hole in the side of the hill and the creek disappears into a cave only to reappear some three quarters of mile downstream.

It is possible to follow the creek all the way through the cave and come out with the creek at the other end.  Lots of people have done it but we didn’t.  It takes lights, hats, the right kind of shoes, etc.  We did not come equipped for any serious caving; we walked up the hill, down the other side, and met the creek as it emerged.

The Sinks reminded Beth Little, who was on our trip, of a similar sink near Hillsboro where Hills Creek disappears into a cave.  There the water disappears in a long horizontal slit only a few inches high, so it would be impossible to go through the cave.  It would be equally impossible to bushwhack up a few hundred feet in elevation through steep forest and private land, across Rt 219, and back down through more private land, to get to where Locust Creek (supposed the waters of Hills Creek and Bruffey Creek) comes out of the other side of the mountain.

At the exit (downstream) end of the Sinks of Gandy there are two caves.  One contains the stream and is referred to as the “wet exit.”  It is where a caver who entered at the upstream end of the Sinks and followed the stream would end up.

Over to one side and twenty to thirty feet up there is another cave, referred to as the “dry exit.”  It has no creek and, except for the ordinary dampness that is in most caves, is dry.

Even without the proper equipment (we had a flashlight) we could manage that so in we went.  For the most part it was pretty easy going.  There were lots of places where one could stand up.  There were also enough places where one couldn’t that we had to be careful not to whack our noggins.  We went, maybe, three hundred yards in and ended up in a substantial sized room.  There might have been a way to go farther but it would have required equipment, some belly crawling, etc. so we passed.

In the room we turned off our light, trying to experience the total darkness that cavers experience deep inside bigger caves.  It didn’t work.  The wet and dry exits are not entirely separate.  Sunlight from the outside reflects off the water in the wet exit and through small connecting pathways into the dry exit.  It was still dark, darker than anything you are likely to see on the outside but not the complete and total darkness of big caves.

There was another treat waiting for Beth on the cliff over the egress where ground hemlock, Taxus Canadensisor Canadian yew, was growing.  The Yew Mountain Center (where the Conservancy had a board meeting last year in Pocahontas County) was named after the Yew Mountains, but the founders weren’t sure about the source of the name.  Some even thought it was a misnomer for red spruce.  Now they know.

Because we had Dave Saville as our leader and guide, we got to learn about other things on the way to the Sinks.  We saw and learned something about:

  • Crossing the Eastern Continental Divide. It is possible to see little streams, starting their journey to the Monongahela River and, ultimately, the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.  On the other side of the ridge they were headed for the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Spruce Mountain Grouse Management Area (see the story about it on p. 12)
  • The very spot where the foundational meeting of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy was held. The spot where Robert C. Byrd gave the famous speech, the lights went out, etc.

It was a great day, perfect sunny weather, and exactly the right distance for a gentle workout.