Luray Caverns, Virginia

A Visit to the magical Luray Caverns

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.

Labeled parts of a cavern. Photo source: Wikipedia Free Commons

Labeled parts of a cavern. Photo source: Wikipedia Free Commons. A stalactite (meaning “to drop” is a type of formation that hangs from the ceiling of caves whereas a stalagmite (meaning “dropping, trickling”) is a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings. Source: Wikipedia.

Discovered in 1878 by a tinsmith and local photographer who happened to stumble upon a large sinkhole and started to dig, the Luray Caverns has been one of the most visited and popular caverns on the East Coast and is a U.S. Natural Landmark.  Formed over the course of 450 million years and still changing, the caverns are simply spectacular. Visitors can take an hour-long tour through the maze of cathedral-sized rooms taking in the breathtaking formations of the stalactites and stalagmites that are each an amazing work of art.
TRAVEL United States Virginia

An autumn drive through Shenandoah National Park

“But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.”

― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful fall day than to be outside enjoying the splendid fall colors. Fall is my uttermost favorite time of year. I love the incredible tapestry of colors that brighten even the dullest, cloudiest of days. The scarlet reds to the pumpkins oranges and the brilliant yellows are nature’s biggest delight. The air is invigorating and fresh and I feel incredibly alive doing what I love best: Being outside and taking it all in.

My husband’s family lives in the town of Warrenton which is located about 45 miles southwest Of Washington DC. We have been visiting Warrenton for years now yet have never made it to the Shenandoah National Park. With fall in full swing and the colors almost at their prime, today was the day for our autumn drive through stunning Shenandoah National Park.

We headed west on 211 for a lovely half an hour drive through the lush, verdant countryside. We drove through rolling hills, passing by farms, vineyards and orchards with the distant shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the spectacular Shenandoah Valley in the background. The colors did not disappoint nor did the low level of traffic. It was a weekday thankfully thus we were able to drive at a leisurely pace and avoid the bumper to bumper traffic that rolls through the scenic drive throughout the weekend.

We reached Sperryville, a small town on the outskirts of the Thornton Gap entrance to the park, where we saw stand after stand selling local products. The stalls were lined with buckets of red, yellow and green apples as well as round, plump orange pumpkins in any size or shape your heart desired.

As we approached the park, the foliage became thicker and the golden yellows and oranges of the trees were peaceful and serene. I longed to get out of the car and go for a hike, my most favorite pastime in the mountains. But of course that was an unrealistic dream as we were with our two young kids who would never had made it past an hour.

We reached the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and headed right in to our first of many stops at one of the 75 overlooks along the 105 mile stretch of the scenic Skyline Drive which curves around the entire length of the Shenandoah National Park.

The overlook was stunning even with the not so perfect cloudy day. I closed my eyes, breathed in a huge breath of fresh, clean air and relaxed. It was beautiful.  I can only imagine how brilliant it would be on a bright sunny days. I’m certain that the leaves would shine like gold.

We continued on our drive for another half hour stopping along the way to take photos. There are over 500 different hiking trails throughout the park which connects to the grand-daddy of all American hikes, the mighty Appalachian Trail (which passes through 14 states!).  Our journey through the park reminded me of Bill Byrson’s famous book “A Walk in the Woods:  Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” (if you haven’t read it, it is a great read).

Photo of my husband Paul and I at one of the many outlooks in lovely Shenandoah National Park.  It is getting colder now, as the temperature dropped from 60 to 42 degrees F here.  We are at about 3,100 feet.

I love to take pictures of trees.  For some reason, they truly appeal to me whether it be a blooming, flowering tree in the height of Spring, a tall Douglas Fir reaching to the sky or this plain old skeleton of a dead tree left over from years and years of life.

I also like this picture of the small rural farms, orchards and vineyards dotting the landscape below.

We arrived at our destination, the Skyland Pass just in the nick of time for lunch. There is a beautiful, historical lodge located there that has a nice restaurant inside serving hot meals and offering its guests a sweeping view of the fall foliage over the Shenandoah Valley.

The restaurant opened for lunch at noon and we had a short wait for a table.  Had we arrived any later, we would have had at least a thirty minute wait which would not have been well received by our hungry children. Carloads and busloads of people were arriving as we paid our bill and headed back to town. I can only imagine what it is like during the weekend when all the people from DC head out to see the colors!  I’m sure it would be a crowded, annoying experience!  Nothing like the relaxing scenic ride we experienced today.

Although Skyline Drive continues and meanders on throughout the breathtakingly beautiful Shenandoah Valley for another sixty-five miles, at 35 mph it would have taken us hours and our kids, who were behaving nicely in the back of the car, would have gotten really restless. (I must admit that they were watching “Rio” on the DVD player! I know bad mom, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do!).

Finally, we were home, me feeling a bit carsick, yet happy with our visit.  It certainly was worth the drive!   Not only did we find some beauty and solitude to fill us up with joy, we also just so happened to get our holiday card picture!

I hope to go again when the kids get older and actually do some hiking. There are plenty of places to stay in rustic cabins or either by tent. The only thing with camping is that you’d better watch out for the bears!  I’ll never forget reading this quote in Bill Bryson’s book:

“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”

― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Adventure Travel Virginia