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About ten years ago, a curious cave in Belchertown Massachusetts was discovered by Chris B., a Senior Restoration Ecologist for the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program. He stumbled on the small niche while searching for rare plants. To find these rare and endangered species he often finds himself in some of the most inhospitable and difficult to access recesses of the northeast. After scrambling over a steep talus and beating his way through a dense wall of thorns and vines, he spotted the small cave hidden at the base of a 15-foot cliff. Inside he found three names that had been inscribed on the wall in 1878.  He photographed his accidental discovery and posted it online with the images of the plants, animals and insects he uncovers for his work.  

About five years ago, Jim Moore stumbled across Chris’s post. Jim had never heard of this cave, so he reached out to Chris for details of its location.  Unfortunately, Chris didn’t record its coordinates, but shared what he could. Jim made two attempts to find the cave, but with over a mile of ledge to explore, he was unsuccessful. It wasn’t long before I learned of the cave. Jim shared what he could concerning its location, and over several years we had many conversations discussing it possible location.

 It wasn’t until this past October that I set out to find this elusive grotto. I was confident I would be successful, but after exploring every outcrop I had plotted, I returned to my car disappointed and exhausted. Determined to find the cave, I reached out to Chris, and sent him images of my tracks and the points I visited. Chris gave me his opinion of where I might have been close, and a fresh description of the location,”…a small talus below a 10- to 15-foot tall cliff face,” Chris said, “…you have to walk the top of the talus/base of the ledge to see the cave because it’s obscured by vines and other vegetation… It’s a tricky spot.” I remembered a location like that in the area he suggested, so I made plans to return.

During the first week of November I set out to find the cave. Arriving at the location I thought best fit Chris’s description, I worked my way through the talus, and through the vines and thorns. Following the face of the cliff, I could barely see ahead through the overgrowth. After being stuck by many thorns, I located the cave.

Under a 20-foot long overhang I discovered a small jellybean shaped cavity. Unlike the rest of the cliff base, the ground directly in front of the overhang was level and free of stone and brush. Branches of brush and vines hung over from above. I could see how this area could stay well hidden. From below the talus and overgrowth would easily shield it from sight. During the summer, the brush and vine from above would create a natural canopy to create a small hideaway along the cliff. At my feet I found signs that local animals had also noticed the advantage of this location.

The cave was five feet deep, six feet tall and two feet wide.  The bedrock is reported to be a sillimanite-staurolite-garnet mica schist. What makes this small cave interesting it that it appears to be a cavity where a more soluble rock has been folded into the schist. Jim discovered a 1972 geological report by James Guthrie mentioning marble being found interbedded with the schist of the northern portion of Belchertown. Also, I found a recent USGS report mentions a layer of carbonate rocks under the schist southwest of the cave’s location. I suspect the cavity had been a lens of marble that dissolved over time. The remaining cavity was revealed as the face of the ledge eroded.

The most interesting feature is inside the cave. On the upper right of the cave is an inscription of the names J.M. Clough JR, J.M. Bracken, and W.D. Baldwin, with the date Jan 1878 etched below them. Whoever etched these names put a lot of time and effort into his work. The letters were still deep and sharply carved into the rock over 140 years later.

Soon after I found the cave, Jim began offering details of the research he had already done to identify the people whose names were inscribed in it. He was only able to connect one name with a local family. On an F.W. Beers Map from 1873 he found a home labeled with the name J. Clough. What made this home even more interesting is that the location of the home appeared to be near the location of the cave. To see how close it was, I overlaid the 1873 Beers map onto Google Earth. To my surprise, the home would eventually measure only 800 feet southwest of the cave. Thought it is generous to call this cavity a cave, it is a very interesting geological feature. The inscription and its ties to the nearby home make it an interesting historical location. The real mystery about the sight is why did these three people frequent this difficult to access location? What made it important enough for them to deeply inscribe their names there? Was it a hideout for some young boys to escape to, or did it have a much more devious purpose than I can imagine?  

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