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Deep, Dark, and Glorious

Leeba Leichtman

Caves and caverns. We are entering a world of mystery and beauty; a world one can walk right over and never realize exists

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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"W atch your step and hold onto the railing,” announces our guide as he swings open a door that reveals a dark, narrow passageway leading far down into something we can’t see. “Oh, and put on your sweatshirts. It’s about to get really chilly.” Chilly? It’s 92 degrees outside. But moments later, as we trek through the stone tunnel, I’m grateful for his advice. We are entering a world of mystery and beauty; a world one can walk right over and never realize exists.

Skyline Caverns is an underground wonderland in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains. It was discovered by Dr. Walter Scott Amos in 1973, when he and his crew were digging in what is now the parking lot. Dr. Amos was a retired geologist contracted by government agencies to seek out caverns in the area around the picturesque Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When Amos spotted camel crickets, a species that lives only in dark, damp places, he knew he’d struck gold. But although it is breathtaking, Skyline Caverns is only one of many such caverns around the globe.

What is a cavern?

A cavern, or underground cave, is a space beneath the earth often formed through natural processes like earthquakes, volcanoes, or erosion (the process of wind, rain, and water wearing away at the earth.) Rivers or streams filled with minerals flow through cracks in the hard rock, eventually crashing through with all their force and creating an underground river.

 

While most caves develop only in dissolvable rock materials like limestone, gypsum, or marble, a strong enough flow of water can form beautiful, elaborate caves even in the toughest forms of rock — like granite, the type of rock your countertops might come from. Remember the story of Rabi Akiva before he began learning Torah? When he saw a rock in which a tiny, yet steady drip of water had created a cavity over a long period of time, he declared, “If little droplets of water could bore through hard rock, then surely the Torah — compared to water — can make its way into my heart.”

Most times, the water eventually diverts its path, leaving the cave dry. Thank goodness… Now we can go exploring!

Stalactites and Stalagmites

Thankfully, these caverns have installed lighting that enables us to see through the darkness… and what we see is amazing. Incredible cave formations, most famously stalagmites and stalactites — those icicle-shaped things that first come to mind when you think “caverns” — transform these dark, dirt-encrusted places into underground museums.

Stalagmites, which grow up from the floor, and stalactites, which grow down from the ceiling, grow only about 1 inch every 100 years. Eventually, they may meet and create stunning, floor-to-ceiling columns, like the marvelous ones exhibited in Luray Caverns, just a short drive away. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 669)

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