The last time I remember going to a cave was when I was really young and I remember being absolutely terrified when the tour guide turned out all the lights and we were plunged into utter darkness while sitting in boats on the underground river. In fact, that’s the ONLY thing I remember.
So it’s been awhile since I went to a cave. But one of the activities my friends and I did while I was visiting Virginia was to go to the Grand Caverns, discovered in 1804 by Bernard Weyer when he was trying to locate one of his traps which had disappeared.
There is so much history in and around this cave! It’s the oldest showing cave in the U.S. and is famous not only for it’s 200 shield formations (which are rare) but also because both Union and Confederate armies visited the caverns during the Civil War “Valley Campaign”. And over 200 Civil War signatures have been carved into the limestone although our tour guide only showed us a few.
Here are some pictures of my trek into Weyer’s cave – 3 miles into the bowels of the earth and in some parts 300 feet beneath the surface!
Legend has it, that when Stonewall Jackson visited the caverns June 11-17, 1862, during the Battle of Cross Keys, he left his horse Traveler on the limestone walls as a reminder that he had been there:
One of many shields I saw –
But the most famous shield was called the Oyster and each half weighs in at 2,000 pounds!
The caverns also had several mirror pools. Only centimeters deep, these pools contained such concentrated amounts of minerals that when you looked into them you thought you were looking into the depths of another cavern yawning up at your feet! This one was called the Rainbow Mirror and the effect is like a desert mirrage:
At one point during our descent, the tour guide stopped and shone his flashlight on a narrow crack in the limestone wall. And he said that through this crack scientists have recently discovered 4 more miles of cave complete with an underground lake! They discovered it when someone found a mineral-preserved pick-ax in the narrow slit dating back probably to the 1800’s. Unfortunately though it won’t be open to the public for many more years since it was so recently uncovered.
Cave bacon! 😛 Two different types of minerals have run together which is why this particular limestone drape is seriously called cave bacon!
One of the largest upright shields in Grand Caverns known as the Bridal Veil:
And last but not least the highlight of my trip! Signatures carved into the limestone, some of which have been traced all the way back to when the cave first opened in 1806:
But the most famous signature, and I’m so super excited about this one! is that of Pvt. W.W. Miles, of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who visited the cave and signed his name on September 26, 1864, while on his way to support an engagement in Waynesboro under the command of Captain Kirkpatrick:
I’m so glad we went! I love history and just being there, and seeing a real part of my country’s past, tragic and heartbreaking though it was, was just the coolest thing ever!