Bulletin of the National Speleological Society - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 22 Part 1: 30-42 - January 1960

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Origin and Geologic Relations of Breathing Cave, Virginia
George H. Deike III


Thirty or more caves occur in the folded Tonoloway, Keyser, and Helderberg limestones in the southwestward extension of a synclinal segment of the Bullpasture River Valley in west-central Virginia. The limestone formations, dipping less than 30°, plunge northeast beneath Devonian shale and are again exposed in Bullpasture Gorge water gap. Subterranean drainage crosses the structural grain and resurges at four springs in Bullpasture Gorge.

Breathing Cave, on the northwest side of the valley, in which four miles of passages have been surveyed, is a rectangular maze of strongly joint-controlled passages in a limited stratigraphic zone. The cave is confined to a 77-foot section of shaly limestone between two sandstaone beds and is little affected by numerous minor folds and faults. It follows the dipping flanks of a syncline through a vertical range of 340 feet.

The major caves appear to have developed below the water table, in an artesian situation, confined by sandstone interbeds. Caves near spring outlets tend to be horizonatal, regardless of the attitude of the bedding, and evidently they formed directly below the water table. Breathing Cave, which is far from the groundwater outlet, exhibits deep bedding-controlled development, but it contains some evidence of horizontal enlargement caused by former stable positions of the water table.

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