March 1, 2012
By Ashley Weber
Experience the natural beauty of a nationally recognized landmark with a visit to Luray Caverns in Virginia. Located in the Shenandoah Valley, the caves are an ideal distance for day or overnight travel and offer something exciting for everyone in the family. Since its discovery in 1878, Luray Caverns have drawn increasing amounts of visitors to become the most popular caves in the eastern United States. The caves each year welcome around 500,000 visitors from all 50 United States and over 50 foreign countries.
Luray Caverns have a fantastic variety of geological formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other shapes created by mineral deposits over tens of thousands of years. Luray is an active cave, which means stalactites continue to form at a rate of one cubic inch every 120 years. Visitors are guided along the underground passageways to the most notable sights in the caves, where the temperature is a uniform 54 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dream Lake, the largest body of water in the caverns, reflects a perfect mirror image of the ceiling, creating the illusion that the stalactites on the ceiling are actually stalagmites. The illusion is so convincing that many visitors who cannot see the actual bottom beneath the water’s surface often think the lake isdeeper. In reality, the deepest point of the water is around 20 inches. Another notable sight along the tour is Saracen’s Tent, a formation known as a drapery, which takes on the appearance of folds in a cloth. Saracen’s Tent is one of the most perfectly formed stone draperies in the world. Along the tour are other geological oddities, such as the popular fried eggs formation.
No tour through the caves is complete without seeing the Great Stalacpipe Organ. The organ is the largest musical instrument in the world and the only one of its kind. Throughout the caves are rubber-tipped mallets which strike specific stalactites, producing resonant musical notes.
Outside Luray Caverns are a number of eateries and shops for visitors to enjoy, such as the Stalactite Café and Restaurant, which has light lunch and café fare. The Luray Fudge Company has homemade sweets for guests to sample and purchase. For a lasting remembrance of your stay, there are gift shops with handcrafted goods and gifts.
Luray offers a number of other attractions for visitors. Included with admission to Luray Caverns is access to the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, which has restored vehicles and other modes of transportation from 1725 to 1941. The collection has an 1892 Benz, one of the oldest cars in the country still in working condition. Other highlights of the tour include an 1840 Conestoga Wagon, a 1913 Stanley Steamer and a 1925 Rolls Royce.
Guests can lose themselves in the Luray Garden Maze, over half a mile of twisting passages framed by eight-foot high hedges. A fountain provides the centerpiece in the labyrinth, and an elevated platform serves as a vantage point to assist those who are lost. The enormous Garden Maze is a popular site for adults and families with kids alike.
Nearby is the Luray Singing Tower, a bell tower containing a carillon of 47 bells. The tower is recognized as one of the major carillons in the country and has a full-time carillonneur who plans regular recitals. Further from Luray is Thomas Jefferson’s historical home of Monticello, an architectural achievement based on neoclassical principles, and also the site of Jefferson’s burial.
For accommodation options, guests can stay at the Mimslyn Inn (http://www.mimslyninn.com/index.html), a 1931 fully restored historic inn. The inn has the on-site Circa ’31 restaurant and the more casual Speakeasy Restaurant and Bar.
Other lodging options include the Budget Inn (http://www.budgetinn-luray.com/), and bed & breakfasts locations such as the Mayneview B&B (http://www.mayneview.com/) and South Court Inn (http://www.southcourtinn.com/).