The one thing we did do on our misguided road trip, besides stop every ten minutes to pee, was a little spelunking. Oh, I know the preferred term these days is caving, but spelunking is so much more ridiculous a word to say. Spelunking. Speee-lunking. SpeeLUNKing. See? Caving just sounds normal by comparison.

Going through caves is kind of a long standing Thing between The KoH and I. The first time we went on a trip together, we stopped, just for the heck of it, at some tiny cave that was open to the public. Since there are a ton of caves in the Shenandoah/Blue Ridge area, where ever you go you see signs along the road for these random cave tours and now when we travel, we almost always stop at at least one. Every time I think we've been in them all, because we've really driven all around this area, I see one more that we've somehow missed. This time it was Grand Caverns in Grottoes, VA. Since everywhere else I tried to go rained us out that day, I decided if we were two hundred feet underground in a wet, dripping cave we'd be a little less likely to get soaked. And I was right. So I bought our tickets and decided to change the Camp Sweatshop subject of the day from Frontier Culture to Geology.

Word of the day: calcite.

As The Dormouse can now tell you, calcite is what makes all the formations sparkly in caves.

Second word of the day: iron oxide.

Iron oxide is what makes the formations rust colored. As The Caterpillar can tell you, when you run your sleeve across the cave formations they turn brown because of all the iron oxide on them.

The first thing they always drill into your head when you go into a protected cave is DO NOT TOUCH THE FORMATIONS. If you touch the formations, they will stop growing and it essentially kills them and all the other formations will rise up like the Sigourney Weaver's Alien to protect their young and life as we know it on this plane will cease. Or maybe it will just be bad in some other way. Either way, I'm always hyper-vigilant with the girls when we go in a cave and bark warnings at them if they even look like they're going to touch a formation. So when we started on our tour and The Caterpillar touched something with her sleeve, I yelled at her. And the tour guide said, "Oh, it's okay if she touches it with her sleeve; it's really about the oils in her hands that stop the formation growth."

"I know," I said, "but it easier to tell her not to touch anything than to get her to understand what needs to be on her hands when she does touch it."

I know the tour guide was trying to make me feel better. She was trying to be nice and accomodating. But that was exactly the wrong thing to say in front of a kid, because The Caterpillar heard her and interpreted it as "I can touch anything I want now." And in about five minutes she had extrapolated that to, "I don't have to listen to anything Momma says."

So I spent the rest of the tour grabbing rocks out of her hands, constraining her from jumping into pools of water, and keeping her from dragging her arms across civil war graffiti that managed to stay in the cave for one hundred and fifty years and was now about to be obliterated by a two year old with an attitude: "Mooom, she SAID, I touch it wif my SLEEVE!"

This entry was carved by a Captain in the Civil War for whom they managed to find records. He died in a battle a few months after being in this cave in 1864. Wild.

The most interesting thing about this cave was all the cave shields. Cave shields are a rare type of formation that basically look like a dinner plate sticking out from the cave wall. This cave, they told me, has more shields than any other cave in the United States. If I've seen them before in other caves, I've never noticed. But they are quite fascinating. I asked the tour guide how they are formed and she gave me their standard response:

One theory for the formation of these shields is that water is forced out of a crack in the cave wall. As the water is forced out of these cracks, the calcite crystallizes and a plate begins to grow. There are many other theories regarding the formation of shields.

But then she said that in this particular cave there are many shields that don't fit with that theory. They appear to be growing up from the side of the cave wall or where the direction of the water flow doesn't seem to encourage a circular plate. So for every theory she described, she showed me at least one shield that seems to disprove that theory. The Dormouse's theory was as good as any, "Maybe they needed a place to put their stuff. So they stuck a plate to the wall and then it just stayed there."

Mystery solved.