Chillin’ out in GRAND CAVERNS


Who’d have thought that things that go drip in a cave could be so pretty?

On our way home from a family vacation in Staunton, VA we stopped at Grand Caverns. The cave was discovered in 1804 by a trapper and opened for tours two years later as “The Grottoes of the Shenandoah”. It is the oldest continually operating “show cave” in America and is rated 2nd best “show cave” (after Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico) by Parade Magazine. In 1926 it was renamed “Grand Caverns” and it was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1973.

Drapery formations hang from the ceiling in the Persian  Palace  (once known as the Tannery).

During the Civil War soldiers from both sides explored the cave. 200 men signed the walls of the cave. Two of the signatures, one from a Northern soldier, one from a Confederate soldier, were left on the same day, only hours apart. A firearm accidentally discharged inside the cave, piercing one of the shield formations. The hole is still visible today.

The rock formations are always growing, albeit at an extremely slow rate. Oil from human hands block that growth, so visitors aren’t allowed to touch any of the rock formations.  However, visitors will inevitably feel a drip or two while taking a tour. Those are called “Cave Kisses” and are supposed to bring good luck.

The Cathedral Hall is the largest chamber in the caverns. An impressive stalagmite, “George Washington’s Ghost” (foreground) stands century at the center of the hall. The white spot on the ceiling is likely a spot where a shield broke off centuries ago.

Naturally occurring colors in the cave are White (from calcite/calcium carbonate), Red (from iron/iron oxide) or Grey (limestone or manganese). Another color  in the cave is Green (from cave algae which is the result of dampness of the cave combined with lint from clothing and heat and light from the light bulbs.) Colored lights enhance the cave formations in certain areas. With out artificial lights the cave would be pitch black, of course.

The Bridal Chamber has a shield formation with drapery that represents a bride’s veil. It is about 17 feet tall.

With over 200 shield formations, Grand Caverns has more cave shield formations than any other cave or cavern in the eastern United States. No one knows how these formations are made, but for some reason they form flat disks rather than columns.  Some notable shield formations in Grand Caverns are  the “Clam Shell”  formation, a triple shield formation in the Lily Room, and the “Bride’s Veil” formation that combines both a shield and drapery.

The Lily Room. A shield with drapery resembles a calla lily and takes center stage in the Lily Room

Another formation in the Lily Room.

Grand Caverns is open daily except Thanksgiving, Dec 24, 25 & Jan 1. Summer Hours (April to Oct 31) are 9-5. Winter Hours (Nov 1-March 31) are 10-4. Tours are given hourly. For pricing and directions click here.

At the lowest part of the cave (as seen on the tour) looking up to the highest part of the cave.

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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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