"...And that is why caves are some of the coolest ecosystems on the planet and we're so lucky to be here," my co-instructor finishes. "Do you have guys have any questions before we head in?" A kid in our audience raises his hand. "Yeah, do the cows live in the caves?" He points across Gandy Creek to a small herd of cattle, regarding us with looks of blank awe, an expression we are returning, mirror-like, to them. "Also, do the cows help make the caves and can they see in the dark?"
The cattle are owned by local landowners, the Teters, who own the farm at the upstream entrance, while the Tinglers own the land by the exit. Both families graciously allow cavers to explore the cave. The Teters have been taking cattle to pasture in the mountain valley since the 1880s. Several other farmers in Petersburg and other nearby areas also use the Sinks to graze their cattle in the warmer months, and the cattle drives from the lowlands to the mountain valleys is even the subject of a children's book entitled "Tail, Trails, and Pies" by a local author. Cattle are not the first animals to graze the land, following in the tradition of buffalo and elk who might have once looked curiously at Native American hunters and European settlers before their extirpation in the 19th century.
Before we enter the cave, we point out Yokum's Knob. According to a story published in the Journal of Spelean History, "Next to Yokum Knob is the unpainted cabin of Andy Tingler, a typical West Virginia mountain man. He too loves this wild country and the amber-tinted water which flows in Gandy Creek. These people enjoy their privacy and have been known to shoot at government mail planes flying overhead. Andy states that they don't fly over anymore and neither do the revenuers come around anymore".
The same journal further embellished the legend of the Sinks of Gandy: "The area causes some to feel eery and lonely as the mysteries of the past evade their minds, for within the cave thieves, rustlers, murderers and conspirators all made their rendezvous. The broken bodies of their victims have also been cared for by the Sinks". As any adventurer knows, a spine-tingling story can sharpen the senses during exploration, and it's the same for the students. We gauge our group, making sure the experience is exciting, but not terrifying. One kid seems nervous, so I tell him he can give me a high-five every time he's scared. He stays close until we enter the big chamber in the heart of the Sinks, where he runs to investigate graffiti on the walls. A perennial favorite is the scrawled, "Batman rules this cave".