McConnell’s Mill State Park: Exploring Caves and Crevices

On Shane’s day off, he wanted to see the old 19th century gristmill (grain grinding mill) and covered bridge (an 1874 Howe truss built on a stone foundation, only one of two covered bridges remaining in Lawrence County, PA). Then find and explore the caves a local mentioned. We’ve only ever gone spelunking with a guide in Laurel Caverns (Ohiopyle, PA), where we learned two types of cavers exist: Climbers and Crawlers. I’m a Crawler. 🙂 To crawl through caves unguided tempted us out into the cold and snow. 🙂

Without a map or trail sign, we followed the directions given to us: cross the covered bridge (yes, it’s still in use) and head up McConnell Mill Rd. We didn’t see a trail off the road, but she’d told us if we missed it, we’d turn right at the log cabin.

Log Cabin, McConnells Mill Rd.

We continued down this road, perhaps a half mile, until we found a picnic area. But no trails. No rappelling lines. No caves.

At this point, I decided to check out Slippery Rock Creek down the hill. Without a trail I needed to proceed with caution. Numerous accidents resulting in injury or death have happened at McConnell’s Mill State Park–falls, drownings, and even a hiker strangled to death (not by vines or tree dryads, but by another person! *gasp*). The area is rife with natural hazards. But I’d grown up exploring creeks and scooting down hillsides. This snowy hillside I literally scooted down on my bottom. 🙂 It might look funny, but I can’t fall if I’m already down on the ground. 😉 That’s my tip on proceeding with caution. LOL

Slippery Rock Creek, McConnells Mill State Park. Alpha Pass on the other side.

Again, Slippery Rock Creek mesmerized. We saw hikers across the stream, so I knew approximately where we were on a map. You probably could find our approximate location too. Somewhere near the rappelling symbol. We didn’t encounter the end of the Rim Rd. nor Wilson Rd forked on the left.

Feeling a bit dejected and hungry as the time neared late lunch (elevenses had already passed, so I clearly was a famished Hobbit), Shane and I climbed up the hill and headed toward the road. We’d given up the chase for caves.

And, just like in Hollywood, the magical moment: rock walls and crevices appeared to our left. We jaunted over the rocks and through cracks.

We found a couple small caves, but they ended too quickly to explore. Either we didn’t find the openings that led to deeper sections, or those entrances had become blocked by cave-ins.

Neither of the two openings led farther than 8 feet into the dark. Each required a squeeze to navigate. If we had more time, maybe we would have found more promising cave openings and tunnels. The area had plenty of rocky cliffs to climb (or crawl).

We did, however, discover an exciting gem, gleaming in the gloom!!! We truly did wander into a wonder!

Ice Dragon!!! ❤

Perhaps we had stepped into the dragon’s lair, or the fossilized maw of a great dragon, its teeth glistening still.

For what it’s worth, we found a cavern, albeit with a sliver of its roof opened to the sky, but replete with icy stalactites and stalagmites.

Icy stalagmite, formed as water dripped from the long icicles hanging from the ceiling and froze, layer upon layer.

We had a splendid time scrambling over rocks, creeping through crevices, and enjoying the sights. Last but not least, the late morning light enabled me to take some beautiful photographs of the serene Slippery Rock Creek.

McConnell’s Mill Covered Bridge
My absolute favorite shot of Slippery Rock Creek before the falls at McConnell’s Mill.

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