Beneath the farmlands and mountain ranges of Page County, Virginia, lies Luray Caverns--a sprawling network of underground caves and speleothem formations. Hundreds of millions of years ago, this area was completely submerged underwater. This resulted in sediment and calcium carbonate accumulation on the ocean floor, which formed limestone. As the ocean receded, pockets were formed in the limestone due to the acidic nature of the water dissolving away the weaker stone. These pockets slowly expanded for millennia, forming the caves we can explore today. The acidity of the water also allowed the formation of stalagmites and stalactites. The calcium carbonate in the water releases carbon dioxide and precipitates to form lime. The lime accumulates on the ceilings of the caverns and forms stalactites. Sediment drips from these formations and accumulates on the floors of the caves, creating stalagmites. That's your very generalized overview of how caverns are formed. I'm no geologist, so if you'd like to find out more about these natural formations, click here.
It wasn't until August 13, 1878 that Luray Caverns was discovered. Andrew Campbell and four other local men made the find after digging around some exposed limestone next to a sinkhole. Knowing they had a significant discovery on their hands, the men kept the caverns secret until after they bought the property. However, they were forced to relinquish control of the property when a court found them guilty of fraud in knowing that the land was far more valuable than what they offered. In 1881, the Shenandoah Railroad Company bought the land. From there, the site exchanged numerous hands until the Luray Caverns Corporation bought it in 1905. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1974.
For a place out in the middle of nowhere, it sure does attract a lot of visitors (about 500,000 a year). Even on a dreary, rainy day like the one when I visited, the line was still out the door. However, it didn't take long for us to begin our descent into the caverns. The first formation I saw was Washington Column. It was named after George Washington, our nation's first president, since it was the first thing researchers saw when exploring the cave. A short distance along the path is the area known as the 'Fish Market.' The limestone formations are arranged in a way that resembles fresh-cut fish, hence the name.
As the tour went on, we came across the 'Dream Lake.' This is the caverns's most expansive body of water, but less than two feet deep. The purity of the water creates a mirror-like surface resulting in a near-perfect reflection of the stalactites above. The next stop was Giant's Hall, which offered an amazing overlook of some of the formations. Around the corner from Giant's Hall is Saracen's Tent, a massive drapery cave formation.
The tour finished up by passing by the Double Column--a large stalactite-stalagmite formation--and the Stalacpipe Organ. The organ is one of unique splendor. Instead of pipes, the keys are fashioned to different stalactites. The result is an eerie, yet captivating sound. Additionally, the organ is frequently used to cater to weddings held in that chamber of the caverns.
The tour of the caverns took about an hour, and it was amazing to see the formations in person. But Luray isn't just all caverns. Adjacent to the caves is a Classic Car and Carriage Museum. The museum has an exquisite collection of antique horse-drawn carriages (one even dates back to the mid-1720s) and many early-era automobiles. Definitely a must-see for any car enthusiast! Across the street is the Luray Valley Museum, which consists of multiple 18th and 19th century buildings. These structures were transported from their original locations to Luray to exemplify what a "frontier" town looked like back in the day. There is a museum inside the Stonyman Building dedicated to the 300-year history of the Shenandoah Valley. It contains a multitude of artifacts that show how Luray progressed from a rustic settlement in the early 1700s to a bustling community in the 1920s. Outside of the museum, tourists can walk the grounds and explore the various relocated structures of the town, including the Burner Barn, Hamburg Schoolhouse, and the Bell House to name a few. Additional attractions at Luray include a Garden Maze, Adventure Park, and a "Singing" Bell Tower.
If you're ever in the Shenandoah Valley, be sure to give Luray a visit! They are by far some of the most beautiful caverns in the region, and you'll be left speechless when you see them for yourself!
For more information on Luray Caverns: CLICK HERE