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The word Shenandoah has an uncertain Native American origin and meaning. One meaning is said to be "daughter of the stars". Another legend states that the name is derived from the name of an Iroquoian, Chief Sherando of the seventeenth century; and this was reportedly also the name of his people. The Iroquois Oneida oral tradition says that the Shenandoah River (and valley) was named after their Chief Skenando, who led the Oneida as allies of the colonials during the American Revolutionary War, when four of the six Iroquois nations were allied with the British Crown. He was said to have sent corn to aid George Washington and his troops during their harsh winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, and Washington named the river and valley for him.
The Native Americans of the region knew the caves well long before the Europeans arrived. In 1884 workers accidentally discovered the caves during the construction of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad through the mountains. The area is underlaid with limestone and also has karst topography, forming caves throughout the valley. After being developed as Shenandoah Caverns in 1921 and 1922, the caves were opened to the public as a tourist attraction. Other commercially developed caves are Luray Caverns, Endless Caverns, Skyline Caverns and Grand Caverns in Grottoes.
The Shenandoah Caverns has a mile-long guided tour. Seventeen "rooms" of connecting chambers are traveled through during this time. Geological formations have been named: the Diamond Cascade, the Grotto of the Gods, the Rainbow Lake, the Oriental Tea Garden, and the Capitol Dome, and these are lighted for display. The "bacon" formations were featured in a 1964 issue of National Geographic Magazine. The caverns' temperature naturally remains at 54 degrees year round.