They say what goes up must come down. After hiking to the highest point in Shenandoah National Park, it only seemed to make sense that we take a trip under the earth at Luray Caverns. Our adventure underground started with a wait in a line that wrapped outside the building. It was a chilly day in the mid 40s, but thankfully, our wait was only about 15 minutes.
In groups of 20 we were ushered down a set of stairs into a waiting area where the caverns were originally discovered. A golden hue covered all of the cave formations and immediately I felt like I had been transported to a foreign planet. Our guide met up with us, and before long we were on our way.
Discovered in 1878, Luray is the largest cavern system in the Eastern United States. We began our one and quarter mile tour under the earth surrounded by active and dormant stalactites and stalagmites. We wound our way on the paved walkway toward an underwater spring called Dream Lake.
Dream Lake is aptly named because as I gazed into the glass-like water I felt like I was in a dream. Or at least that my mind was playing tricks on me. Every formation hanging from the ceiling was perfectly reflected in the water creating an optical illusion and making me think I had stepped into a plant from Star Wars. It was hard to believe that at the deepest part, it was only 20 inches while it seemed bottomless.
As we continued our tour, the guide and signs reminded us not to touch any of the formations. With only 1 cubic inch of growth every 120 years, it’s easy to see how the 500,000 annual visitors could quickly destroy this national landmark.
Unfortunately as our tour progressed a little girl cried at full blast for at least half of our tour causing me not to be able to hear many of the great stories our guide was telling us. One that I was able to overhead was Pluto’s Ghost.
The men that discovered the caverns used Pluto’s Ghost as a way to map the cave system quickly and efficiently. They would tie themselves to this formation to find the outer reaches.
I was enamored with the formations. Draperies gracefully hung from the ceiling some of them even looking like strips of bacon. Since I was having a hard time hearing our guide, I took to my camera instead. My shutter could not click fast enough to keep up with all the pictures I was taking. Like clouds, each formation provided a different shape or object to find. From shaggy dogs to elephants to bacon and eggs. The cavern is a place for imagination to run wild.
Each “room” held something new to view. Near the end of the tour sits The Great Stalactite Organ-a modern marvel. Hooked into stalactites among the three acres of the caverns are wires that allow tapping of the formations to sound different notes. A short performance was played for us while we were able to see the way the stalactites were hit to make the notes sound.
Our final stop was the Wishing Well. The lovely blue-green waters have a magical quality to them amplified by the the sparkling coins at the bottom All the tossed coins are collected in a four year cycle and donated to a different charity. Each of us had our coins ready. A toss and a wish and we were on our way to the exit. 68 stairs later, and we reemerged from our journey under the earth.
If you want to be wowed by history and nature, a Luray Caverns’ tour is a must do when stopping by the Shenandoah Valley area.
A special thanks to Luray Caverns for hosting me. As always, all opinions are my own.