Just about four hours northwest of Virginia Beach in the town of Luray (in the Shenandoah National Park) is a sight as different from the ocean as the moon is to the sun: a few feet underneath the earth lie several large caverns, a quiet, cool and uncanny world of stalagmites and stalactites, the Luray Caverns.
The caverns were discovered in 1878 by five men and a 13-year-old boy by shimmying down a rope through a sinkhole. Visitors today – and there have been millions of them since the Caverns’ discovery more than 100 years ago – can explore the caverns via guided tours along paved and well-lighted walkways as they make their way through rooms the size of cathedrals with ceilings 10-stories high.
The Caverns is a Registered Natural Landmark and was named such by the National Park Service as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior because it’s a stupendous example of a natural wonder and also because it helps us better understand the natural environment.
The Caverns’ chambers are filled with stone columns that tower above – and below – visitors. Crystal-clear pools astound. Rock formations that appear almost translucent fall in effortless folds toward the ground.
And all of this took untold millions of years for the elements to create, drip by slow drip as calcite, a crystalline type of limestone, was etched into the limestone as the water (highly charged with acid) that once filled the caverns emptied.
Many of the spectacular formations have equally spectacular names: Fried Eggs, the Throne Room, Giant’s Hall, Saracen’s Tent, Titania’s Veil, the Double Column, and more.
Once you return to daylight, you can also take a look at the nearby Car & Carriage Caravan, an auto exhibit that showcases more than 140 items relating to the history of transportation including carriages and coaches dating from 1725. Then check out the Luray Valley Museum, which is a collection of restored buildings that recreate a small, 19th-century farming village.
You also can check out the Caverns’ ornamental garden, the Garden Maze, and a large (a full acre) hedge maze.
If you’re one of our visitors from the north, be sure to stop by on your drive back home. It’s quite an experience.