Last week, we were in Virginia visiting family and decided to take a day trip to see the Luray Caverns near the Shenandoah National Park. I have always wanted to see a cavern and Lurary Caverns is known for its beauty and grandeur being the fourth largest cavern in the United States.
I was absolutely mesmerized by the striking beauty of the formations and how each formation was enormous in size and uniquely sculptured into a masterpiece of natural art. The tour starts out where the two men discovered the caverns long ago in the a large open area where “Sir Washington Column” lies.
The tour followed along the cavern going lower and lower below the Shenandoah Valley, bringing us through room after room of formations. Each “room” had a name and we stopped to learn more about the fascinating history behind the caverns formation and take pictures of the magical sites.
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly large the rooms were and how gigantic some of the formations reached from above the ceiling and coming up through the ground. The deepest part of the cavern is 164 feet and some of the ceilings in the rooms reach well over 10 stories high.
Our guide told us that millions of years ago a river flowed through here creating the caverns and today the river is far below the surface of the cavern floor. The Luray Caverns are still forming today thanks to the presence of water which drops on the stalactites and stalagmites and causes them to grow, shape and form. If you touch a formation, you will essentially stop its growth due to the oil on human’s hands which creates a barrier making it impossible for water to reach the rock. Thus touching any part of the cavern is strictly prohibited.
My favorite room of all was “Dream Lake”, a giant refection pool which mirrors the stalactites across the top of the water, giving it a surreal depth and appearance of magical beauty. Judge for yourself!
Dream Lake covers about 2,500 square feet inside cavern and is only two feet deep at the part we are viewing. The reflection across the water was perhaps one of the most beautiful natural reflections I have ever seen in my life. If only my tiny iPhone camera would have done it justice!
The next area of the cavern we visited is called “Pluto’s Cavern” which is a huge open area with a drop off of 70-90 feet.
As we walked deeper and deeper into the cavern, it had a musty smell of water. It is believed by the locals that you will have a year of good luck if you receive a “cave kiss” or drop of water fall on you from inside the cavern.
We also passed an area called the “Skeleton’s Gorge” where 700-year-old remains of a Native American girl were found. After researching the bones, it was discovered that they slowly drifted into the cave over time and were buried inside.
The next stop was inside the oldest part of the cavern. It has a huge open room with the oldest formation inside the cavern estimated to be 7 million years old. The 40-foot tall formation looks like a couple of things. Some believe it looks like a giant Redwood tree, while others think it resembles a big shaggy dog or a whoolly mammoth. Regardless it was so enormous, I could barely capture it all into one single shot.
I took this shot below to show the enormity and depth of the cavern. The black outline gate below is another viewpoint looking even further down inside the cavern. You feel quite small inside such a massive place!
The colors come from minerals and all are natural except for green. The green color as shown on some of the photos below is caused by the lighting inside the caverns which creates cave algae. The staff tries to clean most of the algae off however some parts are too difficult to reach. Luray Caverns hopes to convert all lighting to LED soon which will hopefully resolve the discoloration.
We also passed by this enormous “tent” formation which is quite a site to see.
As we reached the deepest part of the tour, we were brought to “Giants Hall” and it is no wonder they named it that! The room is enormous with a 47-foot column called the “Bride and the Groom Cathedral”. People have actually been married at this place and the oddest wedding of all featured a couple dressed as Batman and his bride (who wore a cape!).
The last site to see inside the Cathedral was the remarkable cave organ. Build in 1957, the cave organ is the largest instrument in the world. It works by using little hammers high up above inside the formations (like this one below) which tap and hit the rock formations to create the sounds. We even heard a live demonstration.
The last part of our tour passed by the “Wishing Well” which has raised millions of dollars for charity since 1954. Every year, the coins are pulled out from the bottom of the well and donated.
As we walked out towards the stairs that would bring us out of the cavern and back into the light, we passed by one of the only parts of the cavern that you can touch: The “eggs”. These have stopped forming and growing.
All and all, it was a great way to spend the day and Luray Caverns are unforgettable. I would highly recommend visiting the caverns if you are visiting Virginia. It can be easily combined with a visit to the Shenandoah National Park.
If you go:
Like most tourist sites, the caverns are very popular. Over a half million people visit each year and it is most popular during the summer months. The caverns are open year round. Hours and Times vary so check the website here for the latest, up-to-date information at www.LurayCaverns.com
All information above given during my one-hour tour of the caverns.