A Lower Altitude for a Clearer View

Luray Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 26 › view all entries
waiting to be admitted
About a dozen miles out of Shenandoah National Park, I turned right into the Luray Caverns complex.  After spending most of my morning by myself in nature, the caverns area struck me as touristy.  The numerous schoolchildren descending upon the entrance building probably did not help matters.  The cost of a ticket ($21) also added to the touristy feel.  The ticket did include entrance to the Car and Carriage Museum on the property, and I was able to use my AAA card for a $2 discount.
The guides had all the regular guests wait until the school group had descended.  I put on my headset and headphones and carefully walked down a couple dozen steps to the first room in the caverns.  A stalagmite in the center invited curious ones to touch.
  I typed in the number on the green signs but the recording had barely begun, when a tour guide spoke up.  He quickly explained that our visits to the caverns were self-guided, all we had to do was type in the numbers on the green signs; he recommended the 200 series for all of us even though it was geared for kids.  It was more interesting.  Taking his advice, I re-typed the code and met the electronic guide who had a name themed to the caves which of course I can't remember.  He spoke of a hunt for five specific features in the caverns: a frozen waterfall, dream lake, Pluto's ghost, two fried eggs, and a singing room (or something like that).
Early in the tour, "Stalactite Stan" (since I can't remember his real name) told me about the two most prominent cave features:
  • stalagmites which grow from the ground and
  • stalactites which stick tight to the ceiling
He also mentioned how they grow at extremely slow rates.
  Another geological fact that appeared in the tour was how the different minerals created formations in colors ranging from pale white to tan to red.
The frozen waterfall was the first of the sights that appeared on our tour although I didn't linger long by it.  The multiple schoolchildren created crowds that I tried to avoid; I spend my whole week with kids, and while I like them, I have a hard time turning off teacher mode and I was in no mood to tell youngsters to knock off irresponsible behaviors (like trying to touch the formations!)  Next I found a series of fluted piple-like stalactites interesting.  However, the next formation was even more interesting.  Dream Lake was a pool of water with an amazing reflective property.
  The mirror image was so perfect that the viewer was fooled into thinking that she was looking at a series of stalagmites and stalactites when really it was just a reflection of the ceiling.  I had seen this phenomenon only once before; I found it just as intriguing as before.
At some point in here, I got my first glimpse of a tall white column glowing up from the depths before.  Stalactite Stan wondered if it was a ghost and told me to keep an eye for it to reappear later because ghosts always make repeat appearances.
Descending from Dream Lake, I saw the Totems, columns that looked like really tall, really skinny wedding cakes.  Stan described them as something out of a Dr. Seuss book.  The Totems also marked the entrance area to Giant's Hall, a large area beyond.
  However, the path curled away, taking me instead past one of the oldest and largest formations in the caverns.  The double columns were so thick, their size leading to an age estimate of nearly 7 million years old.  Near these columns were the Curtains, called so because they looked like curtains.  At some angles they resembled hanging bath towels, at others the thinner sheets were like bacon.
In Giant's Hall Stan pointed out several neat formations: two tall columns side by side (Bride and Groom), high up a Fairy Castle, on top of some other rocks the Little White Christmas Tree.
Walking forward, I could hear some music.  I was pretty sure that the recording about Giant's Hall had ended, so I pulled the headphones away from my ears to check.
  Sure enough the music continued.  It was barely a song, the notes being played seconds apart from each other.  In the next room I saw an organ ahead of me and the mystery started to be answered.  In 1957 Leland Sprinkle Sr., a mathematician, built the "Great Stalacpipe Organ."  He rigged up a system of hammers that would hit a specific stalactite when a certain key was played.  Most of the stalactites had to be altered to get the correct tone, but in the end a musical instrument approximately 3 acres large grew out of the cavern.  By following wires, I was able to locate four or five of these hammers.  The organ is mainly automatically played nowadays but live performances still occur.  Weddings also occasionally take place in this room.

Out of the Singing Room, I heard about the first air-conditioned house in the area.  Located above Luray Caverns, the house had a pipe that brought up cool area directly from the caves.
I passed by the ghostly column again and learned that its original name had been Specter Column due to its somewhat ghostly appearance.  Since the trail was in the shape of a figure eight, it made sense that I would see Pluto's Ghost three times on my underground journey.
The pathway then took visitors past another watery attraction, this one the Wishing Well.  The money thrown into this well is collected and then donated to charities such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Cancer Society, and the National Education Foundation Grant.
  I was surprised to see dollar bills floating on the surface; in my opinion, coins had always seemed a smarter choice to toss.
One of the more unique formations was up next.  Though small, the smooth round circles were not a shape I had seen before.  They truly did resemble two fried eggs.
A memorial to servicemen was the last major point on the tour.  A short walk through a few more stalactites and stalagmites, and I was back at the steps.
Popping out into the gift shop, I then made my way over to the Car and Carriage Museum.  Since I had paid for the entrance, I wanted to at least spend 10 minutes walking past the vehicles.  I probably only spent about that much time there.  Cars are not one of my top interests, and I was eager to get back to Shenandoah (and my lunch waiting in the car).  I will say that they had nice informative plaques for the various cars and carriages.  I liked the display of Ohio license plates with presidential initials.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
waiting to be admitted
waiting to be admitted
rock layers
rock layers
dream lake
dream lake
this is the reflection in the wate…
this is the reflection in the wat…
described as a bit Seuessian
described as a bit Seuessian
about 7 million years old
about 7 million years old
curtains
curtains
Little White Christmas Tree
Little White Christmas Tree
Bride and Groom
Bride and Groom
Stalacpipe Organ
Stalacpipe Organ
part of the organ
part of the organ
Plutos Ghost
Pluto's Ghost
Wishing well
Wishing well
dollar bill floating on top of the…
dollar bill floating on top of th…
two fried eggs
two fried eggs
Luray
photo by: vances