We awoke to bright sunny skies the next day at Endless Caverns RV Park, a perfect day for doing a little exploring. Since we had already decided to stay an extra day, we stopped by the office to let them know that we were extending our stay and to inquire about the cavern tours. Before Memorial Day, the tours are given every two hours (10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm) and usually cost $18 but if you are staying at the campground there is a $5 discount on each ticket. We decided to take the 12 pm tour.
We had a few hours to kill, obviously enough time to enjoy our favorite pastime, breakfast. Not too much to choose from in the area so we ended up at The Southern Kitchen in nearby New Market. Turned out to be a decent breakfast at reasonable prices and good service.
Once we were done with breakfast, we drove around the town. Cute place with a lot of history! It was here on May 15, 1864, the Battle of New Market was fought, a battle in the Valley Campaigns in the Civil War. Students from the Virginia Military Institute fought alongside the Confederate Army, forcing Union General Franz Sigel and his army out of Shenandoah Valley. Every year that battle is reenacted.
We eventually returned to the campground where we purchased tickets for the 12 pm tour. Here’s a little history about the caverns from Wikipedia and also reiterated to us by our tour guide, James:
“According to the tour operators, the cave was discovered by two boys in October 1879, while hunting rabbits on the property of Ruben Zirkle. The boys cornered a rabbit behind an outcropping of limestone rocks, and began moving some of the loose stones to flush the rabbit from his hiding place. After doing this they discovered a hole in the ground and ran back to the house to grab some ropes and candles. After going into the hole the boys found that there were many chambers and rooms. Not long after the discovery, the Zirkles began doing candle lit tours through the cave. In 1919, the cave was bought by Colonel Brown who had the cave fully electrified for the August 1920 grand opening with a lighting design by Phinheas Stephens. In 1928 more electric work was done in collaboration with Samuel Hibben and W.A. Oglesby.”
The present mapped extent of the cave is six miles, making it the 19th longest cave in Virginia. No one seems to know how far or how deep the caves go, so I suppose the caverns are technically “endless?.
Endless Caverns is a network of “wet” caves, unlike the “dry” Mammoth Cave in KY so it has many slowly, but constantly, changing formations. Many of these formations had names (Fred Flintstone, the Ice Cream Parlor, the Yosemite Room, Fairyland, the Blue Room which had a bluish hue due to the manganese, and the Cathedral Room). Trying to correlate the names with our pictures is pretty impossible so I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.
In the deepest room on the tour at over 200 feet below the surface, James (after warning us) turned off all of the lights. Boy was it dark! How dark was it? Too dark to see your hand or the person next to you. Really, really dark! Hard to imagine anyone exploring the caverns without the glow of the lights or even the flickering flame of a candle.
Total tour time was about 90 minutes and walking distance was around three miles. Although there was non-skid matting covering the wet sloped areas, there were still a few slippery spots so we would only recommended the tour for healthy walkers. Rob has had some issues with claustrophobia lately, but most passages were fairly roomy and he did not have any problems on this tour even when the lights went out!
Overall our guide, James, a young man who has only been doing this for a few years, was excellent, covering the history of the caverns, explaining all of the different type of formations and interspersing the facts with personal and humorous stories of his own adventures exploring the caverns. Of course there were only 5 visitors on the tour so we got lots of personal attention. Highly recommend taking this tour if you are in the area!