Exploring our Backyard!

Grottoes, VA

Often in life, we are focused on the big picture.  What’s the next momentous event?  How can we get a promotion at work?  Where will our next vacation take us?  These questions are all well and good when it comes to goal-setting, but I think they also might skew your ‘here and now’ radar a little.  Sometimes, I think – it’s important to take a minute and reflect on the details, or the small pleasures in life.

Little things like appreciating what you have – like friends!  And super cool things to do just a stone’s throw away!

Google Maps 🙂

My friend Syndi (who works up at the Stafford office branch of the firm I work at) and I went on a fun adventure just 50 miles outside of Charlottesville – to the Grand Caverns, in Grottoes, VA!  See, I had heard of Luray Caverns before (and will probably visit them eventually!) but was definitely interested in a cool destination that didn’t take hours to get to.  Plus, when I brought up our plans to several co-workers, no one had even *heard* of Grand Caverns, despite them being just an hour away!  EVEN people who had lived in Charlottesville/Central Virginia for all of their lives!  I love being a trailblazer, y’know?


Okay, trailblazer might be a bit of a stretch, as the Grand Caverns have been offering tours since 1806 – but I digress! 🙂

Anyway, Syndi and I set off for this jaunt into the underground around lunchtime, after a stop at Great Harvest for some lunch bites and bread buying!  Yummers.  A quick stop to gas up the car & then it was an easy ride over to Grottoes, despite my usual lack of navigational skills.

Cute gift shop/ticket depot

Upon arrival to the park, we were instantly impressed by the ambiance – super lush trees shaded the park spaces and the recreational area included a highly-utilized swimming pool and miniature golf course, in addition to the park’s main attraction o the caverns.  We popped into the gift shop after parking in the gravel lot, then proceeded up the hill to the cavern entrance for our 2:45 PM tour.


Inside, we met our tour guide Brad and looked around at the little exhibits in the main hall, since we were a tad early.  He asked us where we were from, and when we named two Virginia cities, he was surprised – he noted that most visitors were from out-of-state, and remarked that many people in the immediate area never visit the caverns, despite their proximity!

We chatted with him for a few minutes, then broke off into some exploring the main hall, were we found some interesting displays:

Corroded pennies!
No touchy!
Love these!

Even inside the waiting area, we could notice that it was a lot cooler inside than the outside temperature (hit the upper 90s today!) The site had warned of very low temperatures in the cave, so we both made sure to bring jackets.  Good thing, too!

~ 55* year round

That picture jumps ahead a little, but you’ve got the idea!  Pretty crazy – but also a really great way to beat the heat in the summertime, if you ask me!  Natural air conditioning!! 🙂


Above, you can see the steel ladder that we had to take turns carrying as we descended 3/4 miles down into the cave.  There were no pathways either, and instead of flashlight, Brad had the kids on the tour carry torches to light the way on our 8-hour tour.

Worth the labor!!

…oh, you’re not buying it?  Haha, well, good for you!  😉  But seriously, Brad told us that the tours (back in the 1800s!) used to take 7-8 hours and that was back in the day when people were, y’know, fancy-clothes wearing.  Hoop skirts and what not.  I know it isn’t geographically accurate, or even completely relevant, but all I could picture when he talked about well-dressed folks traversing around caves was this trio…



Brad shows us a shield - one of hundreds (!!) in GC

Believe it or not, that story about the kids holding torches?  Well, if I believe everything Brad told me (and I do, c’mon that kid looks trustworthy!) it is said that many years ago, kids as young as 5 would be paid 5 cts a day to hold torches in some of the bigger halls/rooms of the caverns for tourists.  (That kid in the corner of the pic there looks interested!)


The tour was about 70 minutes long and to be honest, it was well worth the $15.50 price tag.  (What, I have a AAA discount!) But really, it’s even worth the regular $18 – and then some.  The tour was pretty small (~15 people) and we really did get some personalized attention and tons of photo ops.  Plus, I am a nerd like that – self-proclaimed Journey to the Center of the Earth nut I am, it definitely an other-worldly epic feeling to be among 6 million year-old (+) structures.

In the "Zoo" - see the elephant?
'NYC' reflection pool - you have to see this in person!
Still growing and changing...
I call them Cave Jellyfish!
Signatures of Civil War Soldiers!

Each room was cooler (pun intended) than the next.  The ceilings soared and the walls just evoked a sense of wonder than really cannot be described.  There were so many fun facts and stories that even the kids on the tour seemed interested.

Me and GW. No big.

LOL.  So this lovely stalagmite-like figure I am posing with is GC-coined – “George Washington’s Ghost.”  Reason?  Well, it’s a lone formation in an otherwise empty-ish cavern, and so when the light shines just right, it looks like there is someone standing there in the middle.  Weird, right??  But of course, it’s an optical illusion 😉  You won’t see me on Ghost Hunters anytime soon.

All that coolness (!!) couldn’t last forever though, and before long we were back in the fresh air and the light of day.  It was definitely a fun experience where I not only saw a lot, but also learned a lot.  I think our guide did a great job and for a moment, it made me miss guiding tours, too!

After we headed back to Charlottesville, Syndi stopped in the house for a quick water-fill up for her bottle and she was back on the road home.  We agreed that more Virginia adventures definitely are a must for the future and I can’t wait to plan our next expedition!

Do you ‘vacation’ far from home?  (I hate to use that word, staycation, lol!)

What  does your backyard offer?  Have you been?



  1. I do love that you are exploring where you live now! I’ve lived in Florida for a few years and am just getting around to doing that, and you did it very soon after moving there! 🙂 Can’t wait to see what else you discover!

    • I know what you mean about Florida! That was the one thing hubs was sad about when we moved…we never even made it to South Florida.

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