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Linville Caverns

[Fig. 13(3), Fig. 14(9)] Deep within the earth, a Franciscan monk watches as blind trout weave their way through underground streams. The "Monk" is one of many extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites at Linville Caverns. Centuries of chemical erosion slowly formed these caverns inside Humpback Mountain when carbon dioxide combined with water to make carbonic acid and began dissolving calcium carbonate in the rock along its course.

As the dripping water evaporated, hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites gradually formed. The natural process creates magical results: three levels of richly layered, undulating creations that resemble frozen waterfalls, draperies, natural bridges, and whatever else the imagination cares to conjure.

Linville Caverns were discovered by H. E. Colton and his local guide, Dave Franklin, in the 1880s. Mystified by what appeared to be fish swimming out of the mountain, they followed their curiosity deep within the mountain, traveling with the underground stream as it worked through passageways and rooms they reported to "look like the arch of some grand old cathedral" when illuminated by their torches. Legend has it that the caverns were a popular hiding place with soldiers from both sides of the Civil War and a workshop for a resourceful old man who made and mended soldiers' shoes.

Experienced guides lead visitors on the half-hour tour along a level path into the innermost recesses of the caverns where the steady 52-degree Fahrenheit temperature feels cool in the summer and mild in the winter. In addition to the formations, other natural wonders are born in this rarified environment. Thousands of daddy longlegs hibernate here in the even warmth of the caverns.

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