Large sandstone outcrops are located near mile marker 18 on the southern side of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail just on the Fayette County side of the Fayette/Somerset County line.
Many years back as a boy scout hiking the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, a bunch of us camped at a shelter rest area near the Laurel Ridge State Park office and mile marker 18 at the Fayette/Somerset County line near mile marker 18. At that time, we explored the large sandstone outcrops just above the shelter area and discovered many sandstone caves, fissures, and canyons. Complex, multi-level, through-trip cave(s) have areas of darkness where a flashlight was required, challenging climbs, and walking passages. This was the first sandstone cave I ever entered.
Years passed while the thought of these caves remained in the back of my mind and as I began documenting Somerset County caves, they remained a priority since I could find no documentation of this Fayette County feature. After discussion with others documenting caves in the area, no one had ever surveyed on studied these features.
Between 1996 and 1998, I re-visited the caves multiple times while working for Laurel Ridge State Park. Further discussions with state employees who worked at the park confirmed the lack of documentation of the complex outcrop. I made multiple trips, cleaning up the shelter area for work and taking a few state employees through the main cave.
During Easter 2005, I once again visited these features in an effort to survey the larger caves. The complex nature of the caves and lack of help prevented me from attempting the survey. Now I was even more determined to complete the task.
After many scheduling problems and the un-cooperation with mother nature, the trip finally happened on Good Friday of Easter weekend in 2006. Kim Metzgar and myself arrived at the park office after steady rain shower ended and hiked to the shelter area under cloudy conditions and comfortable temperatures conditions.
You could easily see the sandstone outcrops on the hillside above the shelter area without any vegetation. The area appears to have little visitation as evidenced by the lichens and moss on the rocks around the cave.
After admiring the photogenic outcrops, we quickly located the entrance of the cave complex and began surveying the multi-level caves and passages.
Some of the caves contained snow and ice and were very cold (near freezing in some areas). We noted a large, open, joint-controlled canyon passage crosses the cave at the skylight where two joints cross. After surveying the entrance area, we dropped into the primary joint which the larger caves trend and surveyed to the skylight which separates the cave into two caves.
These features are located in the Pottsville Group of Pennsylvanian age. The exposed weathered bedrock is a gray-colored, coarse-grained, conglomeratic sandstone. Solutional potholes may also be found on talus blocks laying at the base of the hillside. Joints are well formed, with a high distribution. The joints exihibit regular patterns and are open and vertical. The primary reason for development of passageways appears to be from frost heaving along primary joint sets.
By Kerry Speelman