Keeping Cool in Luray Caverns

In summer heat, a getaway to a subterranean kingdom of perpetual cool and fairy-tale names like “Titania’s Veil” and “Giant’s Hall” is a temptation hard to ignore.

Luray Caverns in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley is only an hour and a half away from Washington. The cave is a popular attraction in the summer, but the first tour of the day (these begin at 9 am and leave every 20 minutes) is usually a quiet affair. The guide leads you through the dark, still chambers, with lights coming on dimly as you arrive and extinguishing as you pass. No other voices in the distance to distract you, the magic of the place is almost entirely yours to savor. This morning treat is worth an early rise.

The Dream Lake chamber in the Luray Caverns

Dream Lake, the largest body of water in the caverns (20 inches at its deepest).

The chambers are spectacular. My favorite, I think, is Dream Lake. Its structures are not the most intricate or fantastic, but the stillness of the water and the perfect reflection on its glassy surface are enthralling. I would love to walk into that chamber with nothing but a candle to lead me. How did it all look to the first human stumbling on this view, taking it in little by little, as the flame flickered?

Calcite flowstone like petrified trees, Luray Caverns, VirginiaFurther ahead, the cave becomes more grand, more majestic. Swathes of calcite flowstone soar above you like primordial petrified trees, many as white and as smooth as ivory.

The largest and most spectacular formations conjure up Folds of the Saracen's tent, Luray Caverns images from another world, like the Saracen’s Tent, so called because of the translucent folds of its stone draperies.

Passing through the last of the grand chambers, the Giant’s Hall and the Cathedral, one feels nothing short of awed. As your parting memory, you hear the sounds of the Great Stalacpipe Organ, connected to stalactites around the cave through over five miles of wiring (the makings of the world’s largest musical instrument). My misgivings of bringing the organ to life aside–stalactites were sanded to adjust their musical scale–the experience of hearing the organ play is breathtaking. Notes reverberate throughout the great ceilings, enveloping you completely–another reason to come to the cave early: this really needs to be as intimate an experience as possible.

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park and ForestAs you emerge from the cave, the world above shocks with all its light, and heat, and banality. A ride on Sklyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park  is a welcome solitary experience to help you acclimate back back to reality: the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an ocean of gentle green waves, are a soothing sight in any season, and there are some good lunch options, along the way (my favorite, because of its views and a relatively vegetarian-friendly menu, is the Big Meadows dining room on Milepost 51; lunch service is between 12:30 and 2 pm).

White-tailed doe, grazing in Shenandoah

A white-tailed doe, enjoying her afternoon snack

A black bear in a tree, Shenandoah, Skyline Drive

A black bear in his tree. Black bears are mostly vegetarian, but they are still large wild animals. Mainly for the bears’ safety, read this:

5 thoughts on “Keeping Cool in Luray Caverns

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