If you’ve ever seen the horror movie The Descent, you might be a little hesitant to drop down into a hole in the ground with some friends and venture deep into the caves ahead of you, especially if those caves are within the Appalachian Mountains (which is how The Descent starts, if you’ve never seen it). Well, I can assure you that my experience didn’t have any horrifying creatures of any kind, though the cave I visited (Lost World Caverns in Greenbrier County, West Virginia) claims to be one of the two originating homes of the famous “Bat boy” creature, the other being Hellhole Cave in Pendleton County, WV. Even though I never caught a glimpse of the famous “Bat boy”, I did see plenty of unique natural architecture made by mother earth herself!
Since then the mountain range has undergone a lot of erosion.
After a walk down the entrance tunnel you need to immediately start watching your noggin, you’ll encounter the first low ceiling pretty early. It then opens up rather large to reveal a lot of rock and mineral formations, trickling water, and some dark corners and tunnels. One of the first few formations you’ll come across is called “The Castle” which has stopped growing because the calcite-rich water which used to drip onto it no longer comes through. Formations grow extremely slow and in this cave it takes between 100-125 years to form 1 cubic inch of a calcite formation. Also, what is that strange form in the back on the left side shrouded in a white sheet in the picture below!?
That strange and creepy thing that looks a like ghost covered in a white sheet from a distance is actually another formation called the “Bridal Veil”, it was created with white calcite. There are many parts during the walk that are rather wet and slippery, so if you decide to visit, make sure to wear some good gripping shoes.
the foundation of the modern United States petroleum industry.
Another formation that really stands out due to its size, dark color, and hints of what looks like liquid gold running down it is the “Goliath”. It stands 40 feet tall and has a circumference of 25 feet. It is the largest formation you’ll come across in these caverns and is estimated to be roughly 5,000,000 years old! There’s also a lot of weird gooey slime you’ll come across throughout your tour, most of it looks like melting caramel…
But don’t worry; it won’t stick to your shoes because despite its appearance, it’s actually solid! Well, solid to a certain degree, pushing in on it hard enough and you’ll feel it give in a tiny, tiny bit. Though this could be an illusion… Up next are some pictures that will make you think of some cave-based horror movies!
the Indian tribe “Apalachees” who once used to inhabit this region.
The cavern goes deeper than you think when you first enter it. My first thought was “oh, this doesn’t look that big!”, but as you continue you’ll keep going deeper and deeper and the corridors become more jagged and unpredictable. You’ll also come across some more weird looking substances that turn out to be solid. Though, if you’ve watched enough of the X-Files, you may altogether avoid going near what looks just like the black liquid in the next picture.
Don’t worry about the cave being too tough to navigate, there are plenty of railings and stairs in place to help prevent you from falling onto a boulder or into the abyss.
The one thing the railings won’t do though is ease any fears you may suddenly get when you find a random ladder, a pit full of animal bones, strange markings on the walls, or when you look up and suddenly realize how far below the surface you are when you spot sunlight coming through a tiny hole above.
Mount Mitchell, with a height of 6,684 ft is the tallest mountain in the Appalachian range.
When you find that sunlight, you’ll learn that it’s further than you think, 120 feet above is the hole which is the original entrance to the cave, lucky for us back in 1942 cave explorers J. L. Wingfield, John Suter, George Mann, and Leroy Frazier descended down into the cave first which in-turn paved the way for an easy path to be created at some point later on! Originally it was named “Grapevine Cave” due to a large grapevine that was growing down the shaft. No worries of the fears you may have, you can always wish for a safe exit when you come across the Wishing Well, a 20-foot-deep hole which was carved by water falling into the cave directly above it.
And yes, it really does look like you’re in another world when you’re here…
If you have the strength of Hercules you can attempt to pull out what appears to be, and also appropriately named the “War Club” which stands 28 feet tall, has a base diameter of 2.5 feet and is 4 feet in diameter at the top. Feel like breaking a world record? In 1971 Bob Addis secured a platform to the top of the War Club and set a Guinness World Record for “stalagmite sitting” when he stayed on the top for 15 days, 23 hours, and 22 minutes.
Believe it or not, many couples of exchanged their wedding vows down here, I’m sure it makes for some very interesting wedding pictures and ignites many questions. Along with a lot of trickling water throughout the caves, there’s a hidden stream at one point where you can hear water flowing, but can’t see it. According to researchers, this cave was one of the last known homes of an extinct species of bear. Evidence of this has been found from the bones, teeth, and fossils that have been discovered here that date back about 10,000 years.
I ventured around a few more spots in southern West Virginia during my visit, but this stands out the most. There’s nothing like being able to visually inspect so many calcite formations in person and learning a bit more about how the earth works underneath the surface. If you have the chance, I highly reccomend checking them out!