Under the Mountain

Virginia is one of only of six states in the US with over 2,000 known underground caves, and there are eight places that you can visit for a guided tour of what lies beneath. For whatever reason, six of these eight venues are not too far from Winchester, and on Thursday the girls and I paid a visit to the closest – the Skyline Caverns.

Getting ready to descend - scavenger hunts in hand. They needed to find, among other things, a place where people get married and a place that will drive you crazy!
Getting ready to descend – scavenger hunts in hand. They needed to find, among other things, a place where people get married and a place that will drive you crazy!

In the late 1930’s a retired geologist from Winchester named Walter Amos, was contracted by private and government agencies to search for caves and caverns. Skyline Drive  was due to open and more ways of attracting people to the area were being explored. In December of 1937, on the site of the cavern’s parking lot, Amos discovered a sinkhole. There was no water in the sinkhole which meant there had to be a drain nearby – most likely a cavern.

Going down, down, down...
Going down, down, down…

Amos found an opening and began digging out the first room in the caverns. He discovered a large system of connected rooms, most of which were navigable and clear of obstructions. Ninety percent of the caverns were easily accessible and, in addition to the entrance, only ten percent needed to be dug out. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The cavern floor was lined with fourteen inches of mud and clay which had to be removed before the caverns opened to the public. It took over a year but on April 13, 1939, the caverns welcomed their first visitors.

Aaaaah! The Wilberforces!
Aaaaah! The Wilberforces!

There were seven of us on the tour. We were instantly of interest because A: we come from New Zealand, B: we were the only tour members to have been in an underground cavern before and C: the underground cavern we had visited previously was in Dinant, Belgium. Once the lovely young tour guide stopped saying “wow” we made our descent.

Dotted throughout the caverns were coloured lights which made everything look even more impressive.
Dotted throughout the caverns were coloured lights which made everything look even more impressive.
A broken stalactite which was okay to touch. Apparently the oils in our hands spell certain doom to growing stalactites and stalagmites.
A broken stalactite which was okay to touch. Apparently the oils in our hands spell certain doom to growing stalactites and stalagmites.

The Skyline caverns are notable because of the fact that they required so little human intervention to be accessible to visitors, but also because of the discovery in the caverns of anthodites. Anthodites are perfect six-sided crystalline strictures made of pure calcite. They are protected by law and you could be looking at a jail term of up to four years if you try to break any of them off!

Step away from the anthodites!
Step away from the anthodites!
The fines are bad too. Several thousand dollars for every inch of anthodite you break.
The fines are bad too. Several thousand dollars for every inch of anthodite you break.

As we wandered from room to room the girls dutifully ticked off the places that were on their scavenger hunt list. But one place was eluding them – wherever it was that made you go crazy. Our guide explained this part of the hunt by turning off all the lights and letting us experience just how dark it really is down there. We all held our hands up right in front of our faces but could see nothing. If a human stays in that degree of darkness for just two weeks, they will have lost their eyesight and their mind. Getting back into natural light will restore eyesight over time but your sanity…well that just might be gone forever. Standing in that utter pitch black I could easily imagine going round the twist.

Apparently there are bats down deep in the caverns. On days when there are lots of visitors they often emerged - a bit freaked out by all the noise.
Apparently there are bats down deep in the caverns. On days when there are lots of visitors they often emerge – a bit freaked out by all the noise.
Buddha type rock formation and lots of dark!
Buddha type rock formation and lots of dark!

It was a great trip. We all learned a great deal and it was nice to be exploring the area a bit closer to home. We finished our day with lunch at Element Cafe in Front Royal which I can highly recommend.

One more week of holidays to go! On Thursday afternoon we will head up to John Kerr Elementary to say hello to Olive and Edie’s teachers. They are both so excited about the start of the new school year. Until next time, take care everyone xxx

2 Replies to “Under the Mountain”

  1. Wow what a trip girls, who would have believed there were so many treasures under your feet, and the colours breathtaking., – indeed Chrissie shades of “Under the Mountain” Wilberforces everywhere!!
    I did enjoy travelling with you from afar,……….grannie is a tad bit claustrophobic,would have felt I needed to leave pebbles behind me so I could get out quickly……..
    Good luck next week you must tell be all about your new teachers. Hi Five Edie
    on being a big schoolgirl. Love Grannie

    1. Will keep you posted Mum. Edie’s teacher has been teaching in China for the past two years so that will be interesting. Olive has another year with the wonderful Miss Hott which we are all very happy about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s