Feb 23rd, 2012 | By | Category: Senior Travel

Senior Spelunkers descend into the Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. It’s been nicknamed “The Big Valley” and immortalized in song, dance, film and television. The area, abundant with caverns and caves, is just waiting for senior spelunkers to check out the stalagmites and the stalactites. Virginia’s caverns are great places for seniors to escape summer’s heat and perhaps even warm up on a cold winter day. Below-ground temperatures hover around 56 degrees, so the caverns are the perfect attraction any time of the year.

The word Shenandoah has an uncertain Native American origin and meaning. One meaning is said to be “daughter of the stars.” I liked that one. On I-81 between New Market and Mt. Jackson, seniors descend into the Shenandoah Caverns, the only caverns in Virginia with elevator service to its 17 underground rooms. One of the most breathtaking sights of the underworld is its Rainbow Lake with iridescent drip formations of bright colors. Explorers of every age and ability will discover an underground world of wonder with gradual slopes and no stairs. Actually Virginia is loaded with caves with passages over one mile in length.

Seniors Intrigued With History of the Caverns

The history of Shenandoah Caverns is intertwined with that of the beautiful and historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Native Americans who once populated and traversed the Valley. Most caverns in the Shenandoah Valley formed as water trickled through tiny cracks in the stone, dissolving the lime, enlarging the cracks. The cracks became crevices, then channels, and finally, tunnels. The formation of Shenandoah Caverns was a bit different. Shenandoah Caverns’ spectacular formations resulted from this movement of water, but, as the great inland sea receded, violent earthquakes also created faults that hastened and changed the caverns’ formation.

Luray Caverns are the largest caverns in the eastern USA and a National Landmark. I aways thought that Mammoth Caves was the largest. Well, I discovered that: “This is the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 390 miles explored.” Some of the most spectacular creations were formed just one drip at at time, such as Giant’s Hall, vast expansive chambers decorated by predominately golden columns, 10-stories tall. Luray is a US Natural Landmark noted for the profuse variety of formation and unsurpassed natural color. From well-lighted, paved walkways explore cathedral-sized rooms with ceilings 10 stories high, filled with towering stone columns and crystal-clear pools. Also hear the haunting sounds of the world’s only Stalacpipe Organ creating music of symphonic quality from stone formations.

The Natural Bridge Caverns were discovered just before the turn of the 20th century and opened to the public in 1977. Senior visitors enjoying the Natural Bridge Caverns tour descend more than 34 stories deep within the Earth to get to the magnificent natural display.

Since 1920 Endless Caverns has thrilled visitors with a spectacular display of formations presented in their natural coloring. Through the years, many expeditions have failed to find an end to the complex network of underground passageways, which at present are mapped for more than five miles. Guided tours highlight the geology and history of the cave.

Throughout the years Gap Cave has had many names but today seniors may join park rangers on an exciting two-hour adventure exploring this majestic underground cathedral called Gap Caverns. Discover glistening stalagmites and flowstone cascades, or catch a glimpse of a bat. Although it has been a show cave for a long time, Gap Cave remains undeveloped.  The former private owners cleaned the floors to allow a rather comfortable walk through the cave and built 183 steps for the steeper parts. But still the floor is uneven in many points and sturdy shoes are  recommended. The cave is not lighted, lamps for the visitors are provided by the guides.

Seniors have been attracted to the Shenandoah Valley’s Natural Wonders and historical parks for a long time. Shenandoah National Park is set against a backdrop of the dreamy Blue Ridge Mountains. This national park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Shenandoah Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east.

Discover historic sites, cultural and artistic treasures, museums and fantastic shopping and dining in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Travel through historic towns on scenic back roads that lead to charming picture postcard farms. Shenandoah Valley’s outdoors features the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, with breathtaking views of the Valley below. Prior to your visit check out this nice listing of things for seniors to See and Do in the Valley. If that is not enough, how about 365 Things To Do in the Shenandoah Valley.  And remember that…”Virginia is for Lovers” seniors!  jeb

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