6 amazing things you can discover underground in WV
West Virginia is known for its breathtaking mountains, but some of its most fascinating sights can be found tucked into a hillside or buried far beneath the earth’s surface.
From manmade, top-secret structures to natural wonders formed millions of years ago, these underground attractions are sure to pique your interest.
1. Mazes of Caves
Lost World Caverns in Greenbrier County offers self-guided tours so you can explore at your leisure. Marvel at formations like Snowy Chandelier, a 30-ton stalactite that is one of the nation’s largest.
Seneca Caverns in Pendleton County was named for the Seneca Indians who lived there and used the cave for shelter, storage and ceremonies, while Smoke Hole Caverns in neighboring Grant County was where the Seneca Native Americans smoked wild game. The resulting clouds of smoke swirling out into the valley led settlers to call the area Smoke Hole.
Farther south, Organ Cave* in Greenbrier County served as a hideout during the Civil War for Confederate soldiers who mined saltpeter there for gunpowder. The cave has also been the source of significant fossil discoveries, like giant ground sloth and sabre-tooth cat.
2. Natural Refrigeration
In the olden days, summertime meant pilgrimages to Ice Mountain for many Hampshire County residents. There, inside the talus (the rocky deposits at the mountain’s base), they would chip off chunks of ice to make homemade ice cream and chilled lemonade. This unusual refrigeration effect is created during colder months when dense, cold air seeps into the talus, forming ice masses. As the weather warms up, cooler air flows out of vents along the slope. Today, Ice Mountain Preserve is a designated National Natural Landmark.
3. Cold War Hideout
Some of West Virginia’s underground wonders are manmade. Deep beneath The Greenbrier resort there is a bunker that was once kept top secret. The 112,544-square-foot Greenbrier Bunker was completed in 1961 and kept in a constant state of readiness for U.S. government officials in Washington D.C. Designed to accommodate 1,100 people, the bunker featured dormitories, decontamination chambers, a medical clinic and communications hub. Now that it has been decommissioned, it is open for public tours.
4. Coal Mine Tour
The Phillips-Sprague mine in Beckley was once a working drift mine. After mine operations ceased, it was reopened as the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, a historic site dedicated to educating the public about coal mining. Ride a man trip underground, where guides– all veteran coal miners– explain the workings and the history of coal mining in the region. There’s also a restored coal camp.
5. Ancient Salt Stores
Since 1817, 7 generations of the Dickinson family have been harvesting salt from an ancient ocean trapped deep beneath the Appalachian Mountains of the Kanawha Valley. These salt stores beneath the town of Malden are what earned the town its original names– Kanawha Salines and Terra Salis.
At J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, the salt-making process begins with brine brought up from a well, where it is dried by the sun and harvested and bottled by hand. The process takes several weeks, and the resulting product has been featured in publications from Bon Appetit to Esquire magazine.
6. Underground Spa
The Salt Cave and Spa in White Sulphur Springs offers a range of pampering services including its signature salt/halotherapy sessions, massages, aromatherapy, reflexology, facials, and even yoga classes. But what sets this spa apart from others is its unique underground setting. The man-made structure is built into the earth and its interior resembles that of a cozy and inviting cavern.
What’s the most amazing sight you’ve uncovered below West Virginia’s surface?
*Tours are based on the King James version of the Bible.
This post was last updated on July 21, 2020