Sometimes you’re only in a town for a day or two, but you just have to find at least one thing to get out and explore. Such was our visit to Dixie Caverns in Virginia. We only had one free day from work at Virginia Tech, about 35 miles away. We were bound and determined to find something fun to do. We heard about these nearby caves, and decided we must check them out. We’d both been to caves before, so we weren’t expecting much. After a while, visits to “show caves” all seem the same. You’re in a dimly lit cavern. It’s chilly and damp. There are always formations that look like bacon, drapery and famous or religious figures. That being said, our visit to Dixie Caverns turned out better than expected.
Dixie Caverns’ Discovery
It’s said that a dog was the first one to discover this cave, falling through a hole at the top of the hill. He was followed by several curious boys from a nearby farm. A few years later, in 1923, Dixie Caverns was open to the public. What an adventure! Earlier news clippings report that the caves were known to hunters and had already been mapped out, but It’s a cool story, and we could just imagine those young boys, alone and with minimal light, feeling like the first people to see this amazing place. One of the boys, Bill “Shorty” McDaniel went on to work at the caves as a tour guide for almost 60 years, and his story is the one still told by the guides today. There have been numerous changes over the years in the technology behind lighting the caves and creating safe passageways, but the beauty of the cavern is largely unchanged from when it was first discovered.
Guides take you on a entertaining 45-minute walk through the caverns, explaining their history and stopping to show what beauty has been created over thousands of years. One interesting feature of Dixie Caverns is that it’s positioned inside a hill. You have to walk up Jacob’s Ladder, as the 48-steps are called, to get to the cave rooms. The top of the caverns is about 80- feet higher than the entrance. Some of the highlighted formations had names reflecting what they look like: “Chief One Feather,” “Fairyland (with a neat reflecting pool),” “Carrot Patch” and “Wedding Bell,” where many couples have taken their vows. Of course there are endless soda straws, stalagtites and stalagmites. Dixie Caverns are open every day of the year from 9:30 am to 5 pm for tours except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.