The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 48 Number 1: 8-25 - June 1986

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Structural and Stratigraphic Influences on the Development of Solution Conduits in the Upper Elk River Valley, West Virginia
Douglas M. Medville and William K. Storage


The upper Elk River Valley is located in northern Pocahontas and southern Randolph Counties, West Virginia. For over 8 km (5 miles), this valley is floored with Mississippian Greenbrier Group limestones dipping gently to the west. Upon reaching the Union Limestone near the top of the Greenbrier Group, the Elk sinks and rises at two sets of occluded riverbank springs, also at the top of the Union Limestone and 8 km (5 miles) to the north. Over 29 km (18 miles) of surveyed cave passages, seen in and adjacent to the upper Elk River Valley, contain streams flowing for up to 12.9 linear kilometers (8 linear miles) and 244 vertical meters (800 feet) between sink and rise. Half of these passages are developed along joints which follow a NE-SW trending fracture trace carrying drainage from an adjacent river basin to the upper Elk River. Where the facture trace crosses the Elk River, the river sinks, drops 38 vertical meters (125 feet) through both the upper Greenbrier Group limestones and the shaley Taggard Formation below (normally a major aquitard). The remaining passages are seen in several caves which parallel the Elk River Valley to the north of the fracture trace. These caves, extending over a 3.2 km (2 mile) linear distance along and beneath the Elk's Valley, underdrain it and consist of solutionally enlarged beds found at several distinct stratigraphic horizons. The underground Elk, seen in two of these caves, flows beneath the Taggard Shales until the elevation of the shales passes beneath that of the lower set of springs. This paper discusses the relationships between these two patterns of caves, outlines a sequence of cave development for this area, and discusses the nature of the underground flow paths of the Elk River and its tributaries.

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