We are spending tonight at Dixie Caverns Campground in Salem, Virginia. On the campground property is Dixie Caverns. We have been to a number of caverns, some commercial, like Mammoth Cave and Luray Caverns, and some private, like Endless Caverns and Dixie. They are all starting to look alike to me, with their own “Grand Cathedral” rooms, their “Pipe Organ” formations, reflecting pools and stalagmites that look like — take your pick — George Washington, an Indian or Stonewall Jackson.
All the caverns seem to have the same origin : In reference to Dixie Caverns, the story is the caverns were discovered in 1920 by two boys who were searching for a lost hunting dog named Dixie that disappeared into a hole in the ground. The cave was named for this dog (not clear if the dog died or what). Endless Caverns was discovered by two boys chasing a rabbit. Mark Twain Cave was discovered when a hunter was following his dog who went into the cave. Do you see a pattern here?
I think most these stories are fabricated for salesmanship. For example, in reference to Dixie Caverns, newspaper clippings from The Roanoke Times’ archives report that the cavern’s location was known by local hunters in the 1860s and that the caverns were explored and mapped by the early 1900’s.
The current owner of Dixie Caverns is Connie Browning. Her family has owned Dixie Caverns for six decades, being purchased at action in 1956 by her father, Albert Trompeter. Records indicate there were three owners before Trompeter bought the cave.
TIDBIT OF INFORMATION: Cave vs. Cavern. The natural underground chamber in the hillside or the cliff is known as a cave. On the other hand, caverns are the type of caves which are formed in soluble rocks and have the ability to grow speleothems. The caves only have one chamber or opening, whereas caverns have multiple openings. Therefore, all caverns are caves, but not all caves are caverns.
The best known attraction of Dixie Cavern is a bell-shaped flowstone formation known as the “Wedding Bell” which, as the name implies, is a large, bell-shaped formation. Many a man has met his doom being married under the bell.
The Dixie Caverns are unique in that they are up in the mountain which is unusual in that you walk up rather than down. If you are into stair stepping, this is the place. In touring the cavern, we climbed up or went down over 400 stairs. Visitors don’t burrow down in the ground to tour the Caverns, they walk up. The cave rooms are inside a hill, which is entered through an entryway that lead to a 48-step staircase dubbed “Jacob’s Ladder.” The top of the cavern is 80 feet above the entrance.
The caverns were only formed in the past million years as water dissolved the limestone and created holes and passages that merged into great cave rooms. Many of the formations are calcite, formed by drips of water that evaporate and leave behind tiny particles of calcium carbonate.
ANOTHER TIDBIT OF INFORMATION: Limestone is a soluble rock that fractures and dissolves due to the carbon in rainwater. When the limestone is washed away, large openings are left behind. Stalactites, stalagmites and columns are formed when dripping water leaves traces of calcium carbonate, which over many years will add up and lengthen into calcite formations (which imaginative cavern owners will name “Chief One Feather,” “Liberty Bell,” “Tower of Babel” and so on). It takes more than 100 years of dripping water to form 1 cubic inch of a stalactite.
Look over there! Those sheets hanging from the cave ceiling sure look like bacon! Mmm, bacon.
The only wildlife in this cave are salamanders: