Many places of questionable history and lore are hidden across New England. Few people are aware of their locations, and they wish to keep it that way. These sites consist of stone chambers and monuments of various styles and sizes. Some historians say they are only ‘root cellars’ that were built by colonists. Others entertain the idea that these lithic sites were constructed by much earlier visitors. The fact that many of them seem to be align with astronomical should give one pause. Archaeo-astronomer Byron Dix has determined that New England is chock-full of underground chambers. According to Mr. Dix, there are 105 astronomically aligned chambers in Massachusetts, 51 in New Hampshire, 41 in Vermont, 62 in Connecticut, 12 in Rhode Island, and 4 in Maine. The Early Sites Research Society which has been studying the chambers for over three decades, claims to have documented over 400 chambers in New England. Mystery Hill, and Gungywamp are the only sites that are commercially available to the public, while the rest remain hidden on private land or from public knowledge.
These stone chambers come in many style but its the beehive shaped chambers that are the center of the debate. Some believe these structures resemble those built in Ireland by a certain order of Irish Monks. That is why they are called Monk Caves. Some of them are simple single chambers built into hill sides or as a dirt covered mound. Others have multiple chambers with entrance tunnels as long as sixty feet or more. Over time many of them have become over grown with trees and shrubs. This has kept them well hidden from the public. There may still be many hidden behind a juniper bush or under the cover of the roots and leave of a tall maple.
The first Monk cave on my list was located in Franklin county Massachusetts. Since the trip to this site was long, I recruited Chad to tag along for the ride. When we arrived in the vicinity of the cave, it was already late in the day. From the research I had done, I was lead to believe that the cave was a short distance into the forest to the west of the dirt road I park on. Though the sun would be setting soon, I was confident that I would quickly find the Monk Cave, get some pictures and be out in time. This time things would not go as well as planned. I dashed out of the car got my compass bearings and was off. Chad isn’t really the outdoors type, so when he decided to follow me into the forest I was a bit concerned. For about a half hour I searched every hillside and mound but found nothing. Concerned that Chad might be growing impatient, I began to scramble around the deep woods and lose track of my surroundings. Eventually I noticed it was starting to get dark so I gave up and decided to head back to the car. Unfortunately when I tried to back track I soon realized that for the first time in my life, I was lost in the middle of deep forest. There weren’t any clearly marked trails or any signs of civilization.
I tried to appear calm, cool and collected so Chad would not be aware of the horrible situation we were in. I would have no problem roughing it until morning, I was experienced in wilderness survival. The thought of spending the night in deep woods with Chad was the idea that was scary. After a few failed attempts to get back on track, I settled down, took a deep breath and thought about my bearings going in and facts about the area. Again I got my bearings and blazed forward with confidence. This time I exited the forest about 20 feet south of the car! When I confessed to Chad about the situation we were in, I found that at not time was he stressed by the adventure.
There was still a bit of sunlight left, so foolishly I decide to make one last run to find the cave. This time I would keep the parking area within view. In a short time I discovered the cave north of the car. It was built into a hillside we passed driving in. 3 large trees had wrapped their roots around this stone structure. through the entrance you stepped down into a chamber about six feet high with a diameter of about five feet at the floor. It was amazing to see this igloo of stone still standing hundreds of years after it was created. As the sun was dipping below the horizon, I quickly took some photos and was on my way. Another successful mission! Now that I know it location, I’d have to return another time to better document the site.
As I was leaving I thought about how this trip unraveled. I then decided it was time that this map and compass veteran invested in a GPS. If only for my safety it would be well worth it.
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