Luray Caverns are America’s most visited caverns. They are also the largest caverns in Eastern America.
They are located at 970 US Hwy 211 West in Luray, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley. The actual cave entrance is 101 Cave Hill Road.
The caverns were discovered by Andrew and William Campbell in 1878. Judging from exposed limestone and sinkholes, these prospectors suspected that there were caverns under the earth there.
At the bottom of a sinkhole, William felt cool air coming from an opening. As they entered they found a chamber with gleaming stalactites and stalagmites. A stalactite is formed by precipitation of minerals from water which drip through the cave ceiling. Most of them have pointed ends. A stalagmite is a mound of mineral deposits by water dripping on the floor of a cave. It grows upward and usually has rounded or flattened ends. They both form very slowly, usually less than 10cm every thousand years. One way to remember the difference is: stalactites (with a C) come down from the ceiling and stalagmites (with a G) come up from the ground. All formations in the caverns are Calcite, a crystallized form of limestone.
Andrew and William lighted the caverns with tallow candles and opened the caverns for tourists to see in 1878. The candles were still used until 1881, when 13 arc lights were installed, making this the first continuously lighted cave in the world. The lights were powered by an engine-driven generator.
There are many spectacular sights among these beautiful formations. The caverns stretch 1.5 miles underground. Scientists claim them to be over 400 million years old. It is 54 degrees inside and has an 87% humidity rate.
They provide guided tours that lead tourists through cathedral sized rooms with ceilings 10 stories high and beautiful, breathtaking views of towering stone formation.
“Giant Stalacpipe Organ”, the world’s largest musical instrument because the music-playing stalactites cover 3.5 acres. Beautiful echoing sounds.This is one of the greatest things about this cavern. It is a large bell shaped formation that is used by the tour guides to hit with a mallet to play “music” but in 1954 they created an organ that could be played from a keyboard. Out of 2500 stalactites they found 37 that could be used to produce musical sounds. They shaved the stalactites down until they matched the tone of the tuning forks. They had a human organist play the keyboard for over 3 decades. Today an automated system drives the pistons that hit the stalactites making the sound.
“Giants Hall” at the height of 47 feet, the colum is the tallest and one of the most spectacular formations in the cavern. The double column is two basic cave formations, a stalactite and a stalagmite coming together as one massive wonder of nature.
“Dream Lake” is the largest body of water in the caverns. It is 2500 square foot in area and 18-20 inches deep. The pool reflects the ceiling. Gorgeous.
“Titania’s Veil” is the beautiful formation hanging from above and was named after the fairy queen in Shakespere’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Wishing Well” has a large collection of coins that people have thrown and wished on. It has provided more that $1,000,000 dollars totaling more than 47 million coins from its 6 1/2 foot depths. They collect the coins once a year and clean and deposit them in a bank account to give to charitable organizations.
“Saracen’s Tent” is one of the most perfectly formed drapery structures in the world according to Natural Geographics. Draperies form as mineral-laden water trickles down an incline and leaves behind a trail of mineral matter.
Other sights to see while you are at the caverns are:
1. Stonymans Museum – A collection of Shenandoah Valley artifacts from 1750-1920’s
2. Shenk Farm House – 1876-1901. The original farmhouse that was on the Shenk property. (no picture)
3. Blacksmith Shop – around 1850. Constructed of Chestnut logs. Iron tools in a household or farm were made by the Blacksmith.
4. Hamburg Regular School – around 1885. One of the oldest African-American one room school houses in Virginia. Interior walls contained signatures and scribblings of the students. Most of the furniture is original. It has an old wood stove. Cloth is inserted in the cracks in the boards to keep out the cold and heat.
5. Elk Run Drunkard Meeting House – early 1800’s. Constructed of timber and brick. During the Civil War it was used as a shelter for both Union and Confederate Soldiers.
6. Burners Barn – around 1860. A two-bay log “Switzer” barn. It is now a museum filled with agriculture related artifacts.
7. Heartpine Cafe – downstairs in the Burner Barn. Light fare and beverages are served.
8. Bell House – around 1835. This yellow pine log house was constructed of pine trees, limestone, and locally made brick. Reuben Bell served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1859-1861.
9. Stonyman Mining Company Gem Sluice – Pioneer prospectors used sluices to bring minerals into the world. This is a fully operated fun-filled mining station providing an interaction History and Geology lesson. Pioneer style.
10. Car and Carriage Caravan Museum – A few of the many Automobiles and Carriages owned by H.T.N. Graves, President of Luray Caverns Corporation. Today the Car and Carriage Museum remains one of America’s most outstanding displays of rare vintage vehicles.
I didn’t have pictures of all the places I described but I put a few pictures in to look at.