Columns, draperies and shields are terms typically reserved for those in the interior design field. However in Grottoes, VA, this vocabulary takes on a more geological meaning in which the “interior design” has been created over millions of years in Grand Caverns. This showplace of the south, rated the number 2 cavern in the United States by “Parade” magazine, was discovered quite by accident when 18-year-old Bernard Weyer, a young trapper, was looking for his missing trap in 1804.
In 1806 the caverns opened to the public making Weyers Cave, now known as Grand Caverns, the oldest show cave opened continuously to the public in the USA. Above ground, visitors can enjoy picnicking, hiking, swimming and putt-putt in Grand Caverns Park. However, the real treat is just a short walk up the hill and just underfoot in the caverns themselves.
While you are waiting for your guided tour, which departs approx every half hour, you may choose to browse for souvenirs at the gift shop or visit the free Cave Museum located there. Here you can learn everything from how caves were formed to more than you ever wanted to know about the bats that inhabit them.
In order to be a good caver, there are a few terms you should become familiar with: Stalactites – cone shaped formations that are formed when water drips through porous limestone that hold “tight” to the ceiling; Stalagmites – cone shaped formations that are formed by mineral deposits that fall to the ground that “might” grow to the ceiling; Columns – formations that occur when Stalactites and stalagmites meet; Draperies – formations that are formed by mineral deposits left from dripping water on only one side. (They is also known as “cave bacon”); Shields – thin disk shaped formations that resemble dinner plates that form out of the walls, the ceiling, the floor and each other at varying angles. Little is known about these rare formations. For reasons yet unknown, Grand Caverns has the highest concentration of Shields in the United States. While most caverns have only 10 – 12, Grand Caverns has over 250.
If you have never ventured underground inside a cavern before, keep in mind that regardless of the weather outside, the temperature will always be a constant 54 degrees. The path may be slippery at times and an occasional ice-cold drop of water may fall onto the unsuspecting visitor. However, the cavern is well lit (as long as you stay you’re your group) and handrails are provided when necessary. In order to preserve the natural growth of the formations, no touching of anything other than your feet on the ground is allowed. The entire tour is approximately one-mile long.
From the Tannery to the Lily Room to the Shield Room to the enormous 7 story-high Cathedral Room, visitors will find a little bit of history. You can’t help but envision hoop-skirted ladies climbing into the candle-lit caverns to listen to the live orchestra playing for an underground 19th-century ball or hear echoes of the sermons from church services held there long ago.
Visitors today can still spend time with the 7’5” Stalagmite affectionately known as “The Ghost of George Washington” that in earlier times was decorated with wigs and costumes. Unfortunately, all that contact with mankind has taken a toll on George. His dull waxy look, created from the oils left behind from human hands, has stopped his growth completely. Sadly, George is truly a “ghost” of his former self. Though it is not highlighted on the tour, the cave also has graffiti from both Confederate and Union soldiers further providing evidence of the caverns long interaction with the public.
As in the past, visitors today can enjoy Grand Caverns all year long. Special activities such as the Annual Bluegrass Festival held in the park in September and the Haunted Cave Tours in October will always keep you coming back for more.
Hours: Daily 9:00AM – 5:00PM April – October and Weekends November – March
Admission Fee: Call 1-888-430-2283 for current rates
Directions: Exit 235, I-81. East to Grottoes
For more information visit: http://www.uvrpa.org/grandcaverns.htm