Luray Caverns in Shenandoah Valley

Heard about Luray Caverns from a neighbour and decided to check it out when gal pal Liz flew in last weekend. It’s one of the many commercial show caves in Virginia that do guided walking tours through the caverns, brightly lit with dazzling yellow lights to feature spectacular speleothem formations that you’d never see anywhere out in the open air.

A mini adventure in semi-darkness, more than 100 feet below ground? Yes please!

Early morning last Sunday, Liz and I jumped into my trusty grey Civic and drove two hours westward from Washington D.C. to the town of Luray in the Shenandoah Valley. We arrived at a car park very full of Washington D.C. license plates, and a long line already formed at the entrance to the caves. Luray Caverns must be quite beautiful if it attracts half a million visitors every year.

After scanning your ticket, staff will let you through a very ordinary looking doorway behind the ticket counter, next to the gift shop. You’ll steady yourself with an old metal banister while descending a dark flight of stairs to the “lobby” of the cave, where a tour guide awaits. He or she will take you through the caves, relate a little cave history, point out formation highlights, crack a few jokes and remind the group not to touch formations or lean on the walls.

Dream Lake, a body of water that’s really only about 20 inches deep, but so perfectly mirrors the stalactite formations above the lake that at first glance, the naked eye is fooled into seeing stalagmites on the ground, when it’s really just water.

The Redwood Column, the largest column formation in the caverns, so named because it looks like the trunk of the Redwood tree.

Totem Poles, a number of columns found clustered together and resemble, well — totem poles.

Saracen’s Tent, a formation that to me, looks like a waterfall that froze over in a blast of frost and icy weather. Elsewhere online, it’s described as a perfectly folded curtain that’s been “parted, tent-like, for an entranceway.”

The Great Stalacpipe Organ, a rather impressive feature of the cave, considering that it took almost 40 years to research and create. An organ sits in the “cathedral,” the deepest point — 150 feet underground, and is linked up to a series of stalactites that act as the organ’s pipes — via wiring and rubber mallets. Researchers took years in “tuning” the stalactites to match the musical scale, through lots and lots of trial and error. (Who knew it could even be done?) We didn’t get treated to a live performance on the organ, but our tour guide told us to gather around the stalactites as he pressed a button to activate the automated system. A gentle, tinkly tune came floating out, reminding me a little of the Malay-Indonesian gamelan instrument.

These are just some of my favourite cave features. See if you can spot the following features of the Caverns in the slideshow. The entire route is filled with wondrous formations that it’s hard not to lag behind despite our guide’s (poor fellow) repeated requests to stay close to the group. The final feature is a “wishing well” for visitors to throw coins and even dollar notes that are later fished out and donated to many different charities.

When Liz tossed her change into the pool, I hope she threw in enough for the both of us. True to form, I was busy being snap-happy with my camera. But in case she didn’t, and if you ever make trip to Luray Caverns, throw in a dollar for me, won’t you?

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Additional tips

Deadend_zpsec02299a*Admission is 24 bucks and includes Luray Caverns tour, access to the Luray Valley Museum, and Car and Carriage Caravan.

*You can get a discount (buy one ticket, get half-price off second ticket) using your Giant or Martin’s grocery card.

*The Garden Maze, 9 dollars for admission, is a cute and sunshine-filled activity provides a nice balance to the deep, underground caverns tour. Running around (for us, walking) searching for goals, trying to remember our track and avoiding dead ends — even as adults, we had a lot of fun with the maze. And the trees that make up the maze — Dark American Arborvitae — smell amazing!

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