Several hundred million years ago, the large continents making up ancient Earth were slowly dancing about in a ballet that created the wonders of our modern natural world. The North American continent swung northward from the south and slammed into Africa, creating a huge basin which slowly filled with the remnants of marine life forms. Thousands of feet in sediment were laid down and compressed into the rocks that create the Cheat River Basin.
The Loyalhanna, Deer Valley, Savage Dam, and Wymps Gap Limestones created masses of rock hundreds of feet thick. In another colossal move, North American crashed into Europe and creating the Appalachian Mountains. Millions of years passed as the mountain eroded down into the rolling hills and valleys in which we play today. Water funneled through weak spots in the land and eventually created big river basins like the Cheat.
As the Cheat eroded through the limestone a second act began to take place. Water in the form of rain soaked down through the lush and vibrant soils, hit the limestone below and began to erode and dissolve out the cracks and fractures in the rock. In the same way the streams coalesced to form the rivers above ground, the rivers below ground coalesced and formed underground passages and tunnels. Hidden below to only but some hardy forms of life the flowing streams formed the veins and arteries of the Cheat Canyon.
Windy Slope, Jimmy Fish-pot, Druid, Beaver Hole, Cornwell, and Maiden’s Run are just a few of the dozens of caves scattered throughout the canyon. After the brute force of the streams had open the caves, dripping water from the ceiling continued the ballet in a more delicate manner. The flutes replaced the trombones. Water saturated with limestone dripped from cracks in the walls and ceilings and released their load of calcite. One microscopic addition at a time nature painted strokes of reds, yellows, and whites as flowstone along the walls of the caves and stalactites along the ceilings. These wonders remained hidden in eternal darkness, until now.
Caving clubs have become more active and dedicated to educating new and upcoming generations of cavers. In the past decade cavers have discovered miles of new cave passages. With this, people have added themselves among the actors of nature, requiring concerted efforts in the conservation and preservation of caves. These groups are eager to share these experiences of casting their headlamps on yawning passages and sparkling formations. Each cave, each trip, teaches us something new as cavers continue to better understand the area we are blessed know as the Cheat River Canyon.
WVU Student Grotto
The WVU Student Grotto is a caving organization located at West Virginia University. It promotes safe and responsible caving to further the sport and scientific study of caves. Find out more about their regular meetings at http://caves.org/grotto/wvusg/
The Mon Grotto is a regional section of the National Speleological Society. Their purpose is to share knowledge and skills to help create an educated, safer, and more responsible caving community. Find out more about their regular meetings at https://sites.google.com/a/mongrotto.org/monongahela-grotto/