Thursday, January 20, 2011

Skyline Caverns, VA

On Saturday a small group of us decided to visit the Skyline Caverns in Front Royal. Scott volunteered to drive which was awesome for me to be able to just sit back and enjoy the day. It was another freezing day but the caves were supposed to be at a constant 54 degrees so it would be much warmer inside than out. 
We were led by our tour guide underground and learned that the caves were discovered in 1937 and only 20% of them are open to the public. In fact there are still tunnels which are not fully explored.
A river flows in the caves and at various points the lights make wondeful reflections in the water. 
There are supposed to be living creatures down here but we saw no evidence of that but did hear of how a group of Valentine Beetles were discovered here and on identification were found to be the only ones in existence. All seven of them died so they were extinct as soon as they were found!
This formation is called the Eagle since it looks like an eagle with its wings outstretched. We saw stalactites and stalagmites but I was most intrigued with the Anthodites, known as Orchids of the Mineral Kingdom.
There are few places in the world where these can be seen and they only grow an inch every seven thousand years. This has likely been thwarted since their ideal conditions have now been disturbed. The lights in the tunnel are only turned on while we were there to try and maintain their preferred living conditions. Skyline Cavern boasts the largest Anthodite formation in the world.
Throughout the tour we experienced sporadic moments where we stood in complete darkness. Our tour guide informed us that if we were to stay underground in the blackness, after a week we would be blind, and after two weeks we would go mad. I was happy to take her word on that.
The tour lasted nearly 2 hours and we'd walked over 2 miles yet I was sad to reach the end. I much preferred this friendlier non commercial tour to the Luray Caverns. There were places where we had to duck and times we had to be careful with our feet since some of the floors were slippery or steep but apart from lights that had been set into walls, they had been very careful to retain the integrity of the caves.
We were all ravenous as we emerged into daylight and drove to Front Royal to find a restaurant. We followed our noses to a wonderful little place where I had the most delicious pulled caribbean chicken wrap with tangy ginger sauce, mediterranean pasta salad and fries. We sat and chatted as we warmed up then decided to go for a hike at Shenandoah River Park. I'd never been here and was excited to visit new terrain.
There's some great hiking trails here with the river running through for kayaking possibilities in the spring but for now, it was iced over.
We started walking to warm up and had thought that we were following a small loop of about 1.5 miles. The first mile or so was all uphill with great views from the top.
We wound up hiking about 3.5 miles and reached the car at dusk with the moon already in the sky.
It had been a wonderful day and I finished it with my feet up sipping a glass of red with a purring Kota on my lap.
The next day was going to be spent urbexing with Steve but he'd sprained his knee badly and I was actually grateful to have a lazy day as I was feeling the start of a cold and didn't really want to spend another day shivering. So instead I caught a movie, (Black Swan, which was terrible), and then sniffed my way round McKays where I got a larger than expected credit on my returned books. I didn't buy any as I was feeling more ill by the minute and raced home to crash on the sofa again with Kota and share some homemade chicken soup.

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