Grand Caverns Geology Tour

JMU’s Dr. Ángel A. Garcia, Jr., Assistant Professor of Geology and Environmental Science, is the tour guide for a new “Geology Specialty Tour” of the Grand Caverns. Photo by Stephanie Gardner.

A new Continuing Education opportunity for Headwaters Master Naturalists

Thanks to HMN Stephanie Gardner for reporting on this!

I’ve long felt fortunate to live near Grand Caverns in Grottoes, Virginia, the oldest continually operating show cave in the United States. Grand Caverns recently announced a special new geology tour. It was a privilege to be among the first of the public to take the tour on August 12th.

The new Geology Specialty Tours are hosted by JMU’s Dr. Ángel A. Garcia, Jr., Assistant Professor of Geology and Environmental Science. Grand Caverns and Dr. Garcia offer the tours the second Friday of each month. They start at 11am and last about an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours. The next tour will be on September 9th.

Grand Caverns is a stunner with its historical relevance (in operation since 1806), a vertical layered bedding ceiling, and abundant speleothems (cave formations), including jaw-dropping shield formations. Dr. Garcia’s appreciation and enthusiasm of the caverns is evident. Some things that he shared are also mentioned by guides on the cave’s shorter general walking tour. Other geology tour topics, especially current technologically assisted research in the cave system, were new to me.

I found Dr. Garcia’s comments on the history of show caves to be very interesting. A native of Puerto Rico, Dr. Garcia incorporated some international show cave history in the presentation. I’ve always found historic people’s use of caves fascinating, though to me, people in caves are a part of prehistory. In this case, we learned about how people from the 17th century onward recognized caves as tourist attractions to “build wealth” for themselves and their regions.

The history of mapping Grand Caverns was also interesting. The extent and details of the cave are topics that experts learn more about over time. Dr. Garcia provided us with papers showing 1806, 1933, 2006, and 2022 maps of the cave. It is amazing to witness how the extent and detail of the maps have changed over time. The descriptions of new technologies used to map the cave is also of interest, and reports from an unexplored section of the cave are intriguing.

Especially exciting are future plans that Dr. Garcia mentioned as possibilities for the interpretation and preservation of Grand Caverns. I will let him tell you about these ideas.

The Geology Specialty Tours are recommended for adults. On the day that I toured, it cost $30 per person, and I joined eleven other tour-goers as well as Grand Caverns staff who were learning along with us and were there to help Dr. Garcia with general and history questions on the caverns. You can read more about the tours and book them at the Grand Caverns’ website:

– Stephanie Gardner, August 2022