In Jonathan L’s story blog about his visit to Verona Italy, he dished out a golden nugget of advice, “Always check the calendar for places you are planning to visit.” Unfortunately I made my trip to Luray, Virginia prior to reading his advice. Luray happened to be celebrating its 140th Anniversary on August 11th, but the festivities were going on all week.
Also, I was told by a woman at the Visitors Center that an International Olympic Triathlon was taking place just down the road at Lake Arrowhead on the day of my visit and over 1,000 entrants were supposedly entered.
The first indications of the crowds were that many of the informative brochures were all taken. So, much of the information I gathered later was from the internet. Later, things would get worse when the line to buy cavern entrance tickets was nearly an hour long and standing on concrete in the 98 degree sun.
The town of Luray is located in Page County which was named for John Page, Governor of Virginia from 1802 to 1805 who was a friend and closest college classmate of Thomas Jefferson. The town was started by Willian Staige Marye in 1812, a descendant of a family native to Luray, France. The population is nearly 5,000 but seemed to be outnumbered by the visitors on the day of my arrival. I read where these are the largest and most visited caverns in the eastern United States.
The history of the ownership of these caverns is somewhat checkered in the number of purchasers and sellers along with bankruptcy and other accusations of fraud. Apparently the caverns were discovered in 1878 when a few men investigated a sinkhole with cool air spewing forth. They dug a small hole and the skinny guy in the group slithered down a hole with a rope and made the discovery. My photo with the black cross marked the spot of the little hole discovery entrance.
Though I did take a college course in geology, I was amazed at my first close up view of columns, stalagmites and stalactites. The walk through the caverns is nearly two miles long, but relatively flat in most places. If you are over 6’3” you may have to duck down in places and quite a few folks were pushing their little ones in strollers.
One of the benefits of seeing the caverns during an anniversary year is that you get to view the illumination of a thousand candles in the back reaches of the caverns. A few of my photos captured those candle lit locations, but I had to wonder who crawled back into all those crevices to place and light those candles.
Along the pathway inside the caverns are stationary guides who give only a little tidbit about the location and at a few points we came to a halt due to a crowded backup and we heard the spiel from the guide a number of times. The temperature in the cavern seemed to be a perfectly comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit because the humidity seemed to reduce any chill effects.
Near the inside exit of the caverns is the Wishing Well where coins are tossed and wishes made. The proceeds go to a various number of worthwhile causes listed on a plaque. Also, there is a memorial to military veterans. Many of the formations are named for various themes like the Dream Lake, Titania’s Veil (made of pure calcite), Double Column, and others whose names I failed to recollect but have included in my photo gallery.
From top, Double Column, Dream Lake and Tatiana's Veil
Parking was free in a large lot but no shade. I did find a side road a little beyond the lot and parked under a shade tree lined gravel area and came in a side entrance. Luray Caverns is open every day of the year. Tours depart about every twenty minutes after 9 am. Tickets are Adults: $28, Children: $15, Under 6: FREE, and Seniors: $25. Tickets include admission to other attractions on the grounds.
However, the Garden Hedge Maze is an additional $10 (I didn’t see anyone in the maze) and the Rope Adventure Park is an additional $11. I did see many youngsters in the popular Rope Park where they hook kids on a connecting tether so they can walk across many plank bridges and tightropes. It would recommend the kids take the long cavern walk before tiring out on the Rope Adventure.
Apparently from my research there is no train stop at Luray and the old train station is now a visitors center and small museum. Bus and taxi combined, or private / rental car seem to be the modes of travel to get to Luray from Washington DC which is about 90 miles away. Luray is located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with many other attractions nearby. Adventures such as horseback riding, river canoeing, and wilderness camping are plentiful. Local vineyards conduct wine tasting events which is what I chose on my visit instead of entering the triathlon. Luray borders the Shenandoah National Park which has many more natural sites and attractions for the entire active family.
The address to enter into your navigation GPS is … Luray Caverns, 101 Cave Hill Road, Luray, Virginia 22835. I will submit a future blog with some photos of my drive up the Shenandoah Valley and the highlights of my walk around the town of Luray including a talk with elderly town benchsitters Jimmy and Earl.