Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Skyline Caverns, Virginia--Part I

Just outside Front Royal, Virginia, is a cave system known as Skyline Caverns. Discovered by Walter Amos in 1937, the caverns are open year-round to tourists. I took J and L (our big Minecraft fans) to experience true underground exploring.

Skyline Caverns, Front Royal, VA

We visited in November 2014 after a snowstorm but that had no negative effect on our visit. We bought tickets and had to wait about twenty minutes before being guided through the caves. The only other people on our tour were two parent with their two daughters. The tour began in the old lobby where the original 1930s tours began.

Old lobby

Our guide Jane gave a quick overview of how the caves were discovered. We then marched in to see amazing formations and other features. The first was a natural flue that had been turned into a fireplace. When Amos discovered the caves, he and a small crew dug into the ground and, as night approached, set up a fire just inside the cave. They expected the smoke to float out through the way they came in. Instead, it crossed the ceiling and went up the natural flue. When tours became a regular event, a fireplace was built beneath the flue for visitors to warm themselves. The caves keep a steady temperature in the mid-50s Fahrenheit, which is chilly for Virginia summers but nice for the winters.

Natural flue with man-made fireplace

The caves were formed by water draining through the rocks that form the Blue Ridge Mountains. In many places lines are visible showing water levels over the history of the caves.

Water marks

Our guide said that we'd see several formations in the caves, including stalactites that cling "tite"ly to the ceiling and stalagmites that "mite" someday reach the ceiling.

Top and bottom formations reaching toward each other

Further in we discovered the Capitol Dome, a formation that looks like the American Capitol building in Washington. My picture came out a lot creepier, like a toothy frog monster ready to take a bite. The light on the right makes a convincing eyeball if you ask me.

Capitol/Frog Monster

Some parts of the cave have low ceilings that require ducking for taller visitors like me. Others have high ceilings like this one.

A bit of moss on the ceiling

Visitors aren't supposed to leave anything behind in the caves except at one spot. Visitors are allowed to toss coins in a wishing well formation. The money is collected once a year and given to charity. J and L couldn't resist tossing some coins down.

J at the Wishing Well

Our next stop was a massive stone supported only on one side. Geologists come in to check for cracking or any sign of movement or instability but haven't found any. The guide assured us if the stone fell on us and killed us, our entrance fee would be refunded.

Massive, seemingly unsupported, stone

The caves have several underground streams. The first we came upon is Trout Stream, which is stocked with fish. Nothing grows in the water so they feed the fish regularly with Trout Chow.

Trout Stream

The ceilings do have some green growing on them, partially due to all the lights installed for the tourists. It's not enough to support the fish, even if they could leap out of the water to lick it of the ceiling.

Cool rocks

More cool rocks

A small shelf

A third formation type is flow stone, where the water dripping down creates a sheet rather than a column, resulting in formations like the shark's tooth seen here.

Sharktooth formation

The next room had a colorful display on the walls, including interesting shapes made by the shadows.

Multi-color display

Rubber duck chases a turtle!

Nativity scene (that pinkish line is the guide's laser pointer light!)

More in tomorrow's post!

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