Skyline – caverns and drive

As WFY and I discovered independently, Skyline drive wasn’t yet at its fall folliage brilliance last week. By now there should be more of the chromatic radience in evidence, so this weekend’s lovely weather should be a good encouragement for you to head out there. While you’re there, maybe you’d like to take in Skyline Caverns. I hadn’t been since I was a wee lad up here on a visit from my native Miami, but when the leaves turned out to not be everything we hoped for last weekend we popped in for a visit.

It’s well worth it. The tour is enjoyable and thorough and includes the anthodites, (pictured below) something that’s a little unusual in most public tours: a phenomenon you can observe that’s still poorly understood. Apparently only forming in vacuum and with a speed that makes a stalagmite seem speedy, these pretty formations have been found in only a handful of locations in the world… and Skyline Caverns is one of those places. They’re sufficiently rare and precious that Virginia law has explicit sections in its code covering vandalism of cave formations (the Cave Preservation Act, sections 10.1 if you care…). If the tour and a cursory googling are to be believed, there’s still some arguing about exactly how and why they form how they do. Given their pace and the need for vacuum, I suppose that’s not too surprising.

Particularly interesting, at least to me, is the parts of the tour that go over some of the foolishness perpetuated in making the caves attractive to tourists. It seems like this was an epidemic in the middle 20th century – there’s similar stories about damage caused by the National Park Service in St Augustine when they filled the dry moat around the Castillo de San Marcos to appeal to tourists who expected a moat to be a water hazard, despite it only being about 1-2 feet deep. There the limestone was damaged from water seepage. In Skyline Caverns you can see places where artificial ponds were created, stalactites and stalagmites moved or worn down by human contact and other bits of oddity.

It’s worth a look, and being right by the northernmost entrance to Skyline Drive it’s not at all out of the way. Get your fill of beauty above and below ground.

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