Known Worldwide as a Thrilling Natural Wonder, Luray Caverns Also Offers Dazzling Museum Collections in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

The Hamburg, VA Regular School, a one-room schoolhouse built around 1880, was the Page County “black” school. It is now part of the Luray Valley Museum © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

by Karen Rubin

After the hour-long tour deep within the underground Wonderland of the Luray Caverns you come back up to the “world.” Your tour of the wondrous has only just begun.

This is the yin-yang of Luray Caverns – the juxtaposition of a natural wonder against these manmade marvels.

The Luray Caverns has been drawing tourists from near and far for 130 years, but in the last decade or so it has grown into this fabulously full destination with a variety of attractions, all superb in quality and authentic in their own way – the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum, the Luray Valley Museum, Garden Maze, Ropes Course and even a Singing Tower – making for a day or more of complete enrichment of mind and body. (Your ticket to the caverns also admits you to the Car and Carriage Museum and to the Luray Valley Museum.)

View slideshow: Luray Caverns offers thrilling natural wonder, fascinating new museums

After stopping at the lemonade stand or to buy an ice cream or fudge, you go next to the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum.

I am a huge fan of vintage car collections – some of my favorites are the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine; the Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, Massachusetts and the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN. This collection is like nothing I’ve ever seen – distinguished by the wagons, bicycles, sleighs and various forms of land-based transportation.

This 1892 Benz is one of the oldest cars on display in the US, and is part of the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum at Luray Caverns © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The best of these collections are personal, and this one was built on one man’s fascination with antique transportation. Fired with his passion for history, beginning in the 1950s, H.T.N. Graves, who was president of Luray Caverns Corporation, set out with his staff to locate and purchase a collection deemed important to the history of travel. He wanted to engender among the thousands of visitors to Luray Caverns a new appreciation and understanding of man’s transportation experience over a 200 year period and how transportation has been a great agent in America’s interpretation of freedom and the notion of the “wide open road.”

Among the highlights is an 1840 Conestoga Wagon; a wagon that could hold 20 passengers and luggage. and the oldest carriage on the continent, the 1727 Portuguese Nobility Carriage.

The historical notes and commentary that are provided are also fascinating For example, for a horse-drawn carriage, an 1860 panel boat Victorian carriage, typical of the ones in the South.

“The horses had to be inconspicuously colored and nearly alike as possible and almost same gait. It was bad form to use a brake so horses had to take stroke of stopping.”

An 1892 Benz, a 1908 Baker electric, a 1913 Stanley Steamer and a 1925 Rolls Royce – in fact, every item is stunning and fantastic.

There is an enormous 1880 Sleigh with graceful lines like a swan; a Horse tricycle – built in the mid 1920s for clowns in circus and some of the oldest bicycles in existence: a Dexler velocipede bicycle, patented by William van Anden in 1869, the first free-wheeling drive bicycle.

There is a 1900 “Mountain Wagon” that was used to bring tourists up Mount Washington in New Hampshire; a 1906 Peugeot where the seats face each other, a 1903 Speedwall Roadster

There is a 1908 Delaunay Belleville, custom made in France for Baron Rosenkrantz, who brought it to the US, where it traveled over 300,000 miles.

A 1906 Cadillac, Model ‘M’, Double Tulip Touring, 7 HP, made in Detroit, Michigan by Cadillac Motor Car Co., originally cost $950

You can see a 1904 Cadillac which sold for $900 (about two-years’ pay); a 1906 Ford that sold for $500

There is a rare Model “N” that was started with a crank.

The 1925 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost – Pall Mall Touring, exuding glamor, belonged to one of the most popular Hollywood actresses of the Silent Screen era, and the richest woman of the movie industry at the time, Pola Negri. The car was made by Rolls-Royce of America, Inc. in Springfield, Massachusetts.

It’s simply a marvelous exhibit.

Luray Valley Museum

The even bigger surprise is the Luray Valley Museum – the newest addition to this most amazing collection of Shenandoah Valley artifacts – either made here or used here – from Indian times through the 1920s.

You begin this tour back in time at the log Stonyman building which houses an overview of the Valley’s history, supplemented with historic documents, decorative arts, items of clothing and artifacts. The museum displays items in chronologically from pre-contact Native peoples to life in the bustling 1920s.

The most treasured item in the Luray Valley Museum a 1536 bible in German that belonged to Abraham Strickler, one of the first Mennonites to come to US, in 1726 © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The treasured item, though, is a 1536 Swiss bible in the German vernacular – believed to be one of the oldest printed bibles in vernacular language. It belonged the Abraham Strickler, whose great grandson, Jacob Strickler (1770-1842) was a farmer/minister and parochial school teacher. The bible is evidence of American religious tolerance and connects the Valley’s history and development with the European immigrants who settled the region from Pennsylvania through the ports of the northeast.

You are reminded of the Indians who lived in this area for thousands of years, with a display of Native American tools – stone axes among them – collected from the area.

There is a display of Long Rifles made in the Shenandoah Valley (even though they are known as Kentucky Rifles), from 1790, 1785, 1747, and so on

You see the original land grants to this area, from Lord Fairfax dating from 1750. George Washington surveyed area at request of Lord Fairfax.

You see “for sale” advertisement from June 3d 1835 for the Winchester furnace and mills; pottery, furniture, folk medicine, a display of birth and baptismal objects – which are like links to these ancestors.

In a section about the Civil War (the Battle of New Market was fought very near here), there is a quote from Gen Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, “If this valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”

You learn that VM1 Cadet Thomas Garland Jefferson, a descendent of Thomas Jefferson, 17 years old was mortally wounded at Battle of New Market (just down the mountain road from Luray).

The Civil War exhibit includes a slavery section focused on the life of one slave: Britany Veney, who was born a slave in the Luray area around 1813, lived for 40 years in bondage in Page County but “died free in Massachusetts in 1916.”

The museum is actually part of an emerging 19th century farming village of historically significant buildings, laid out much like a village would be – just begging for costume interpreters to complete the experience of a living history museum.

The seven acre site houses nearly a dozen relocated, reconstructed and newly constructed structures which recreate pioneer life in this area. The Elk Run Dunkard Church, circa 1825, served as temporary quarters for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War as attested by the signatures that still scatter the interior. In adjacent areas is the 1835 home of the county’s first Delegate to the Virginia General Assembly and a restoration of the Hamburg Regular School, the area’s first school for African American children. An acquisition from the Smithsonian Institution, a gazebo which depicts Welsh construction, a large threshing barn, a blacksmith’s shop, and a corn crib complete the community.

At Luray Valley Museum, a recreated mining station at The Stonyman Mining Company provides a delightful opportunity for kids to try panning © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

A recreated mining station at The Stonyman Mining Company provides a delightful opportunity for kids to try panning. This giant sluice, used by pioneer prospectors to separate out gold, affords a hands-on activity for children and adults.

As the project evolves, the property’s original Shenk Farm House will be furnished and opened to the public for viewing.

Most impressive is the one room school house – the actual Hamburg, VA Regular School building. Built around 1880, it was the Page County “black” school. The notes say that Ralph Lawson who attended the school in early 1900s owned it as an adult. His daughters, Marion Johnson and Conchita Field, both went into education. The schoolhouse was acquired and moved to this site in 2010.

Another extraordinary building is the Elk Run Dunkard Church, which stood just three miles away. It was purchased from the Modissette family by Luray Caverns Corp and moved here to Luray Valley Museum in 2008. It was built around 1825 for a Mennonite congregation headed by Strickler family. Abraham Strickler and his family represented one of oldest Mennonite communities in the US – they arrived in the Shenandoah Valley around 1726 (this all comes together with the Bible on display in the exhibit). Abraham’s great grandson Jacob Strickler, 1770-1842 was a parochial school teacher and American folk artist known for fraktur.

Rod Graves is the curator and an owner of the Luray Caverns, and the fourth generation to own/operate Luray Caverns (the son of Ted Graves, who was the third generation, who died 2010).

Garden Maze

More delight awaits: Unravel the mystery of the maze inside the one-acre ornamental garden at Luray Caverns. Rooted in myth, mazes have existed for centuries in countless forms, across many cultures around the world. They have been designed for entertainment, recreation, art, magic and meditation. At Luray Caverns, over 1,500 Dark American Arborvitae, eight feet tall and four feet wide, create a half-mile pathway enhanced with a misting fog (providing cooling and special effects). The twisting pathways lead past fountains and into a cave. At 40 points, the challenger must choose a direction to solve the riddle and emerge from the maze. An elevated platform provides relief for those who are hopelessly lost ($9/adults, $7/6-12, 540-843-0769).

Ropes Course

The Ropes Course at Luray Caverns is an activity the whole family can experience together © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

This challenging two level ropes course consists of a series of real and imaginary obstacles designed to maximize the excitement of personal development.

An activity the whole family can experience together (you don’t need climbing experience or to be particularly physically fit), the course allows each participant to enjoy the thrill of doing something a bit out of their comfort zone but at their own pace.

Each trail consists of several poles that are connected by different acrobatic elements. The park incorporates a sophisticated safety system using ropes, belay devices, harnesses and helmets with trained personnel supervising every participant.

The combination of a Low and High Ropes Course enables participants to grow at an individual or team level, exploring risk, self-discovery communication, problem-solving, and coaching.

The Low Ropes Course presents opportunities for self-discovery and growth; the High Ropes Course challenges participants to expand their comfort zones—sometimes dramatically. Each is rich with discoveries, whether a person is climbing, supporting “on belay,” or finding an effective way to encourage a companion.

But wait, there is still more.

The Luray Singing Tower

The Luray Singing Tower is recognized as one of the country’s major carillons, with 47 bells © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Recognized as one of the country’s major carillons, the Luray Singing Tower, officially known as the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial, was erected in 1937 opposite Luray Caverns in memory of Colonel T.C. Northcott’s wife. The Luray Singing Tower, 117 feet high, contains a carillon of 47 bells. The largest bell weighs 7,640 pounds and is six feet in diameter, and is inscribed, “Glory to God, Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men. The smallest weighs 12 ½ pounds. In total, the bells weigh 36,170 pounds. Free 45-minute recitals are scheduled regularly throughout the spring, summer and fall (Visit www.gena.oprg or www.luraycaverns.com for the schedule.)

Nearby Attractions

Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive: A short drive from the Caverns, the pastoral valley turns into a 300-square-mile wilderness playground in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park. Nine miles from Luray Caverns, the central entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park is located at Thornton Gap. Along the central section of Skyline Drive, between U.S. 211 and U.S. 33, are the main visitor facilities and the park’s highest elevations. One hundred and five miles of serpentine highway wind along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, among 60 mountain peaks and 75 overlooks affording breathtaking views. There are miles of hiking trails with pristine waterfalls and granite summits. Shenandoah is a sanctuary for more than 100 varieties of trees, 1,100 flowering plants, 200 species of birds and 43 species of mammals including black bear and white tail deer.

Monticello: An architectural masterpiece, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello gives testimony to its creator’s ingenuity and breadth of interests. Located on a mountaintop in Albemarle County, the house commands a view of the rolling Virginia countryside that Jefferson so dearly loved. It was here that he retreated from the pressures of public office, having served as governor of Virginia, minister to the court of Louis XVI of France, secretary of state, vice president, and ultimately the third president of the United States. Architecture endured as one of Jefferson’s chief delights. The house was built and subsequently remodeled over a period of 40 years, reflecting the pleasure he found in, “Putting up and pulling down.” Throughout are reminders of Jefferson’s thoughtful mind and keen interest in the scientific, including an entrance hall that functioned as a museum for fossils, a buffalo head, elk antlers, and a seven-day clock, which indicated the day in addition to the hour. No other house in America so accurately conveys the personality of its owner. Today, the architectural masterpiece is the only house in the United States on the United Nations’ prestigious World Heritage List of International Treasures.

New Market Battlefield: Never before, or since, has a college student body been called into pitched battle as were the VMI Cadets on May 15, 1864 (among them, 17-year old descendent of Thomas Jefferson who died). The Hall of Valor is a monument to those cadets and the American Civil War soldiers who showed courage and discipline in one of the war’s most poignant episodes, the Battle of New Market. Two award-winning films, one on the battle, the other on “Stonewall” Jackson’s famed 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, are presented in a 125-seat theater. Colorful dioramas emphasize incredible acts of endurance and resilience demonstrated by soldiers both North and South. Others experienced the war as well. Jacob and Sarah Bushong worked their family farm for 30 years before war turned their orchard into a battlefield and their home into a hospital. Today, the original farmstead reveals how this quiet community was changed by conflict. Restored wheelwright and blacksmith shops, a loom house, and summer kitchen convey 19th century pursuits on this typical valley farm. Scenic pathways lead to the “Field of Lost Shoes” and the high bluffs 200 feet above the graceful Shenandoah River.

Lodging

Turn your visit into a resort getaway at Caverns Country Club Resort. Nestled in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking the Shenandoah River, the setting creates one of the most scenic golf opportunities in the Mid-Atlantic region. High above the banks of the river, 6,499 yards of gently rolling fairways seem to touch the mountains with beautiful vistas of nearby farmlands. 18-hole, par 72 course. Call (540) 743-7111 for daily tee times and greens fees. Seasonal specials are available. The resort offers vacation packages for golfers and non-golfers which include special rates for lodging, golfing and dining.(Caverns Country Club Resort, 540-743-6551 or toll free at 888-443-6551).

There is also a modestly priced motel at Luray (540-743-6551 or toll free 888-941-4531)

Luray Caverns is 89 miles from Washington DC.

Luray Caverns, 970 U.S. Hwy. 211 West, Luray, VA 22835, 540-743-6551, www.luraycaverns.com.

See also:

Luray Caverns offers thrilling natural wonder, fascinating new museums and slideshow

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© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

Luray Caverns Continues to Thrill Visitors with its Natural Wonder, Mystery in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

For 130 years, Luray Caverns has lured and dazzled people drawn by the marvel, the wonder, the works of art fashioned by Mother Nature herself, and the sheer thrill and mystery of being submerged in an underground world. © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Drawing visitors for more than 130 years, Luray is now a complete destination attraction with new museums, activities, lodging

by Karen Rubin

For more than 130 years, the Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, has lured and dazzled people from all over the country and all over the world, drawn by the marvel, the wonder, the works of art fashioned by Mother Nature herself, and the sheer thrill and mystery of being submerged in an underground world so alien to what we experience.

I remember coming years and years ago, and when I returned just recently, it was even more thrilling – I appreciated and delighted in the marvel all the more.

View slideshow: Luray Caverns is natural wonder, thrills with beauty and mystery

And if the experience is that jaw dropping for adults, you can imagine the utter sense of being transported to some fantastical Wonderland that kids must feel.

But in the many years since I had last visited, Luray Caverns has turned into a full destination with a variety of attractions, all superb in quality and authentic in their own way – the natural wonder of the caverns (among the best in the world) is complimented by an extraordinarily fine Car and Carriage Caravan Museum -one of the best collections in the country – and a Luray Valley Museum, with artifacts going back to colonial times (and a 1535 Bible, one of the first to be printed in German), that the Smithsonian Museum would salivate over. Added to this are the amusing attractions that round out a veritable smorgasbord of activities – the Garden Maze, the Ropes Course and even a Singing Tower – making for a day or more of complete enrichment of mind and body. (Your ticket to the caverns also admits you to the Car and Carriage Museum and to the Luray Valley Museum.)

In its way, Luray Caverns has the dramatic appeal of a theme park – with a multitude of blockbuster attractions in one compact space – and yet, the remarkable thing is that this is an attraction is about authenticity, the interactivity and the unique experience of “being there”, all set in one of the most scenic and interesting places in the country, the Shenandoah Valley.

Luray Caverns is set in the midst of a territory that has been central in American history from Indian days, through Colonial times and the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. It is astonishing to realize that Luray Caverns is but 89 miles from Washington DC, a short drive to Shenandoah Valley and the Skyline Drive, 14 miles down the mountain road to the New Market Civil War Battlefield, and a short distance to Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent Monticello.

Touring Luray Caverns

In Luray Caverns, you are dazzled with the wondrous beauty and the thrill and mystery of being submerged in an underground world © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

As I waited on line for my time-stamped tour, I saw visitors who had come from all the country and all over the world.

It has been this way since the caverns – designated a United States Registered natural landmark in 1974 – were discovered in most dramatic fashion.

“Cold air rushing out of a limestone sinkhole atop a big hill west of Luray, Virginia, blew out a candle held by Andrew Campbell, the town tinsmith, on the morning of August 13, 1878.” So begins what has become the legend of Luray Caverns. Campbell, three other men, and his 13-year-old nephew, Quint, were exploring the area, looking for a cave. The opening where the blast of air came was no bigger than a quarter, “but with the help of local photographer Benton Stebbins, the men dug away loose rocks for four hours before, candle in hand, Campbell and Quint slid down a rope into the cave. They could scarcely believe what they saw. The party had discovered the largest series of caverns in the East, an eerie world of stalactites and stalagmites seen by the light of a candle.”

At the time of the discovery, Sam Buracker of Luray owned the land on which the cavern entrance was found. Because of uncollected debts, a court-ordered auction of all his land was held on September 14, 1878. Andrew Campbell, William Campbell, and Benton Stebbins purchased the cave tract, keeping their discovery secret until after the sale.

The new owners immediately began to develop the caverns as a tourist attraction.

The first Grand Illumination took place on November 6, 1878. Two hundred people from all over the county and as far as Arlington, Virginia, came A thousand candles illuminated the antechamber making it nearly as bright as day.

A second Illumination, on December 27, 1878 drew 600 people who paid $1 per adult and 50 cents per child. A band was hired and people paid 25 cents more to dance on the newly constructed floor in the Ball Room area of Giant’s Hall.

Shortly after its discovery, the Smithsonian Institution sent a delegation of nine scientists to examine the caverns, who reported in July 1880, “… it is safe to say that there is probably no other cave in the world more completely and profusely decorated with stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation than that of Luray.”

The New York Herald dubbed Luray Caverns the “discovery of the century.”

Tallow candles were used to light the caverns until September, 1881, when 13 arc lights were installed – the first instance on record in which a cave had been lighted by electricity. The lighting system was powered by an engine driven generator near the train station in Luray at the former Luray Inn. The current had to travel a circuit of 7 miles, at the time, the world’s longest single engine transmission of electrical current. In 1921, a new lighting system was installed throughout the entire caverns by local electricians and company maintenance workers. Under the supervision of the General Electric Company in 1936, the company rewired and re-illuminated the caverns with the most modern type of lighting. This system was used until 1983 when a Cumberland Tennessee company installed an indirect lighting system using more durable, up-to-date equipment. This system is still in use today.

In the early days, visitors walked on wood planks; In the early 1950′s, a modern system of brick and concrete walkways and ramps was constructed throughout the tour route.

Today, we walk down a concrete staircase, into a cavernous hall, lit with a warm, golden-orange light that shows the formations to great effect. You realize that without the artificial light, we would be plunged into absolute darkness. Instead, we find ourselves in a fairyland of stone.

During the course of our one-hour tour, we will cover 1 1/4 mile.

The first formation we see is also the first formation that Campbell saw, a large column which they named Washington Column for the first President.

The caverns are “solutional” – meaning that they were formed when water mixed with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, creating a mild carbonic acid in the soil; the solution seeps through the ground, hollowing out the bedrock, creating the cavern rooms. By slowly eroding the weaker minerals, the harder minerals are left behind, forming the walls and ceilings.

Based on how long this process takes, scientists estimate the caverns to be 450 million years old.

The formations – the stalagmites that grow upwardly form the floor and the stalactites which hang from the ceiling – are imaginatively named, adding to the fantasy.

Fish Market: to the right of a natural bridge, is a row of short curved formations of flowstone which reminded the early explorers of an old-fashioned fish market. Flowstone occurs when water flows down a wall or over a cave floor, depositing layers of mineral-rich water. It takes 300 years to grow one cubic inch.

Dream Lake in Luray Caverns looks magical, like a small sea of underwater stalagmites but actually, a perfect mirror reflection of the ceiling © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Dream Lake is aptly named – it looks magical, like a small sea of underwater stalagmites but turns out to be a perfect mirror reflection of the ceiling. Dream Lake is the largest body of water in Luray Caverns – the deepest part is 18-20 inches. This section is my favorite in the Caverns.

The path makes a figure-eight, and we come upon Pluto’s Ghost, which is right in the center of the figure eight, so we will be seeing it again.

But I’ve lingered too long taking pictures and I find my group has gone ahead and here where the trail goes up or down, I don’t know which way to go. As I ponder, a section has gone dark as I realize the lights are on a timer. This gives me a momentary sense of panic that I will be plunged into dark, but I soon hear another tour group coming along, and I go to link up with them, much more careful this time not to linger.

We look over a railing to a section called Skeleton Gorge, named because human skeletal remains were found here, most likely washed into the cave rather than buried here. Researchers established they were 700-year old bones of a Native American female, probably in her teens (the bones are now in the Smithsonian)

We get a second view of Pluto’s Ghost and just next to you is another column that seems to mimic what you see below: Prosperino Column, named for the Roman goddess of the Underworld – the columns were formed when the stalactites from above met the stalagmites from below

The dazzling formations in Luray Caverns © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Titania’s Veil, in the oldest part of the cave where the rooms are larger and the formations are less active but more massive, is one of the most spectacular formations. Titantia’s Veil, named after a character in Shakespeare’s Midsummer night’s Dream, resembles a stone waterfall, especially when wet.

Giant Redwood and Overlook is the largest and oldest formation in the caverns, estimated to be about 7 million years old.

Saracen’s Tent is the best example of “drapes” in the caverns, which National Geographic has said are among the best in the world.

We come upon a fallen stalactite, which, based on how long it takes to grow to fuse to surrounding formations (120 years to grow an inch), is estimated to have been lying here for 7000 years.

We come to Giant’s Hall in the deepest part of the caverns, 164 feet down. This is the room with the largest airspace and the tallest formation of the caverns: Double Column, stretching 47 feet to the ceiling, is one of the best examples of stalactite and stalagmite. The parts of the Double column don’t exactly meet but are joined side by side, forming a column.

A massive, open room called the Cathedral, once known as the Ball Room because of dances that were held here, is popular for weddings © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A massive, open room is called the Cathedral but was once known as the Ball Room because of dances that were held here, complete with band, hoop skirts, dress pants and a plank floor. Later it was called the Cathedral because of the spiritual nature of the chamber. It’s one of the most decorated chambers, but its biggest claim to fame is the Great Stalacpipe Organ – the largest musical instrument in the world. When you press down on a key on the console, it sends a signal to a plunger, which gently taps a stalactite, creating the musical tone. the stalactites of different sizes create different notes – they are spread out over 3.5 acres in the cavern. It is no wonder why this room is used for weddings.

Weddings became commonplace here even before the 1900′s Ceremonies in this unique subterranean environment generated widespread publicity in the decades of the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. Even though weddings have been held in various chambers within the caverns, since 1957 most have taken place in the Cathedral accompanied by music from the Great Stalacpipe Organ. More than 450 weddings have been performed in Luray Caverns.

Luray Caverns’ Wishing Well, turned green from the copper in the mounds of pennies collected © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Another enchanting area is the Wishing Well – in a place with very little differences in color, here you come upon a pool of eerily green water. The green color of the rocks and well comes from the copper of thousands of pennies that are thrown in – by the end of the year, the mound is 2-3 feet high.

At Morrison’s Hall, under a low brick wall, back through the stalactites is a hidden shaft leading to the surface. In 1901, Colonel T.C. Northcott, who leased Luray Caverns, built a sanitarium, “Limair”, by installing a shaft into a cavern chamber which was connected to the house above, making it the first air-conditioned home in America. The shaft, five feet in diameter, was sunk into a nearby chamber and an 42 inch fan was installed. Powered by a five horsepower electric motor, this fan changed the entire air of the house every four minutes. The cool, naturally purified underground air filled every room. The bacteria-free air, ideal for those with respiratory illnesses, was filtered through limestone which removed dust and pollen. On the hottest day in summer, the interior of the house is always a cool and comfortable 70 degrees.

The lighting is wonderful – not enough to make the rock formations artificial, but enough to show the texture and dimension.

Even with the lighting (and flash is useless), photos never properly convey the awesome magnificence of caverns – you need to see the three dimensional expanse, the context, the textures the shapes, the scope, just how big the cavern is, or how deep, or this sense of almost falling as you walk deeper, or that damp chill that wafts, or that moment as you lag behind the group to shoot photos and the lights go off in a section, and you realize that the lights are on timers and you better shuffle along and catch up. Caverns have to be experienced – you simply can’t take home because what you see is only part of it.

Exiting the caverns, you come into a rather excellent gift shop – the items are well made, interesting and reasonably priced.

You come out of the caverns – back to the “world” – and after stopping at the lemonade stand or to buy an ice cream or fudge, you go next to the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum.

Luray Caverns is now owned and operated by the fourth generation of the Graves family and there is a sense of being hosted personally – there is so much here that reflects the family’s personal interest.

You’ve already seen one of the wonders of the world, and there is still so much to see.

Luray Caverns, 970 U.S. Hwy. 211 West, Luray, VA 22835, 540-743-6551, www.luraycaverns.com.

See also:

Known as a Thrilling Natural Wonder, Luray Caverns Also Offers Dazzling Museum Collections

____________________

© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.