By Jeff Nations
As the temperatures settle in to consistently unbearable throughout the peak summer months of July and August, right about now could be the perfect time to get out of the sunshine by going underground to explore some of the area's most dazzling geological sites -- not to mention enjoy a bit of natural air conditioning with year-round temperatures in the mid 50s -- by visiting one or all of the area's commercial caves.
In Warren County, visitors can take a tour of Skyland Caverns in Front Royal. Shenandoah County offers two below-surface options with Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg and Endless Caverns in New Market. Neighboring Page County has a truly impressive underground attraction of its own, Luray Caverns.
Here's a brief look at what each of the area's open-to-the-public caves has to offer:
Discovered by geologist Walter S. Amos in 1937, Skyline Caverns was opened to the public in 1939 and soon became one of the area's most popular tourist attractions. Tour groups are limited, and a first-rate lighting system presents the cave's top locations -- The Capital Dome, Rainbow Trails, Painted Desert, Wishing Well, Grotto of Nativity, Cathedral Hall, Shrine, Fairyland Lake, Anthodite Clusters and Chandelier -- to maximum effect. Skyline Caverns is renowned for its rare Anthrodites, described as "Orchids of the mineral world," and appear as flower-like spike structures in the cave.
Skyline Caverns also features outdoor attractions including a miniature train ride, a mirror maze and a nature trail.
For more information, visit the web site at http://www.skylinecaverns.com or call 800-296-4545 or 540-635-4545.
Opened to the public in 1922, Shenandoah Caverns boasts of a unique man-made addition -- the cavern is the only system with elevator service to its 17 underground rooms in addition to level walkways and no stairs.
Once inside, visitors can check off the must-see sites including the "Breakfast Bacon" limestone formations, Long View Hall, Capitol Dome, Diamond Cascade and Rainbow Lake, Beyond the Veil and Grotto of the Gods.
Above ground, visitors can check out Main Street of Yesteryear, a nostalgic display of antique department store windows; American Celebration on Parade, a collection of parade floats from famous national celebrations including Presidential Inaugurals and the Rose Parade; and The Yellow Barn, which features historic displays, a live animal mini-farm and periodic live music on a rotating stage.
For more information, visit the web site at http://www.shenandoahcaverns.com or call 888-4CAVERN or 540-477-3115.
Discovered in 1879 by two boys while hunting rabbits, Endless Caverns first came to light as a deep, dark hole hidden beneath an outcropping of limestone rocks. Since that initial discovery, no true "end" has yet been discovered despite more than six miles of cave mapped so far.
Among the key stops in Endless Caverns is the massive Fairy Land, The Lodge Room and Fresh Bacon Slices -- and as an added bonus, visitors can see a fossilized wooly mammoth tooth while on tour.
An RV park is on site for those wishing to camp, and hiking and bike trails are among the added attractions.
For more information, visit the web site at http://www.endlesscaverns.com or call 540-896-2283.
What began as the observation of a sinkhole mysteriously blowing cold air turned into the discovery, in 1878, of the largest series of caverns in the eastern United States. Luray Caverns, now a U.S. Natural Landmark, features cathedral-like rooms with ceiling 10 stories high. Cavern highlights like Titania's Veil, Totem Poles, Giant's Hall, Pluto's Chasm, Saracen's Tent, Frozen Fountain, Stalacpipe Organ, Double Column, Empress Column, Dream Lake and Fried Eggs have annually drawn thousands of visitors.
Luray Caverns also features the one-of-a-kind Great Stalacpipe Organ, which utilizes the stalactites, spreading over three underground acres, as organ pipes.
Above-ground attractions include the Luray Valley Museum, the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, Garden Maze, the Singing Tower and the Rope Adventure Park.
For more information, visit the web site at http://www.luraycaverns.com or call 540-743-6551.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>