Luray Caverns, a much needed distraction

Day seven in Hampton, VA. We arrived back at our suite here around 11:00PM last night after a day in the Blue Mountains. Kevin had gently persuaded me to find something to do. He knows telling my stubborn ass is not productive after five years of marriage.

I Googled ‘things to do in VA’ and I was gobsmacked to see Luray Caverns is only a few hours drive. The brick of depression launched off my chest and I packed a bag. Chip was excited too. He just wasn’t sure about what.

I have always wanted to go but it’s a long drive from Maine. Though I’ve driven the length of the East Coast several times, the route never took me close enough to the far western end of Virginia to constitute the visit—especially when the kids were little. It was so far from my mind I’d forgotten it was there.

Bright eyed and something about bushy tails, I hopped in the car. It was good to get out of the city and see cows. We stopped at a cute little winery, artisan coffee shop, and a Hardies along the way. They had us wait five minutes for our Hardies order then got it wrong, and it didn’t settle well with me later. First and last time at Hardies.

We were surprised to see a few stands of bamboo along the roadways. When we pulled off for gas there was a large, thick patch that was well over 20-feet-tall. Kevin really wanted a piece for a flagpole to use on Yolo to fly the American flag on the stern. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten my machete back in the barn.

When we got there, I was so excited to get in the cave I was ready to tell the next person who wanted to stop us to say how cute our dog is that he has rabies. On the long car ride there through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I thought maybe I’d psyched myself up too much about the epic cave over the years that I’d be disappointed, I’m glad to report that’s not the case.

I have never been so awestruck from a sight in my life. Before that, there’d been a tossup between my first time in a foreign country when we went on a cruise in Bermuda, and accidentally coming out of a mountain pass in Tennessee just as the sunrise hit the heart of the Appellation Mountains. That was before everyone had a GPS on their phone and our outdated clunky one had made that trip to Florida with a six-week-old a very long one.

The Luray Caverns public trail is 1.25 miles snaking through consistently 54°F massive caverns. The well cared for pathways lead us past massive stalactites like monstrous jagged teeth jutting down from the ceiling, with stalagmites awaiting the eternal slow drip just below them. It’s not just history, it’s still forming.

Occasionally a drip plopped on the brim of my old farmer’s hat. I’d worn it since reading an article on how people gave you more space if you wore a wide brimmed hat. I might just never take it off.

Well-placed lights showcased striking formations but it was hard to take photos. The place was packed. A couple people even took tripods and kept blocking other people. I still made the best of it. We finally came to the The Great Stalacpipe Organ.

I can only image this idea was cooked up by a geologist, a music professor and an engineer while passing the peace pipe. It’s the world’s largest musical instrument. It’s a truly ridiculous musical masterpiece that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The good kind of ridiculous.

Instead of blowing air through pipes like a traditional organ, The Great Stalacpipe Organ uses 37 hollow stalactites spread out across the 3.5-acre cave. Tapping varying sizes with an electric solenoid-actuated rubber mallet system produces a variation of tones allowing the organ to play a tune using the cave itself. No really.

On the way back we stopped at a huge pillar monument that had caught my eye earlier that day. I was curious, and wanted to read the inscription. Chip was curious too.

After a little sleuthing I found myself 40 tabs deep in the history of that area. I just said yesterday how much I detested the history of colonization and poof, here it is.

German explorer John Ledere visited the valley in 1669 and drew a map of it showing it was naturally a cleared and open area. Obviously, this makes it a lot easier to build a town on. Old growth forests were’t far away for lumber.

Apparently nearly all of the early settlers in Shenandoah County were German and Swiss. Most of them were Lutherans and Mennonists, and Calvinists. I find it entertaining people were simply swept up into tidy groups according to religion.

Adam Miller is the first documented white settler in the Shenandoah Valley in Massanutten in 1726 according to his naturalization certificate. Swiss settler Abraham Strickler purchased land from Jacob Stover, a Swiss land agent. I’m so confused how they cut up land that no one owned, called it their own, then sold it. And who invited the Germans and the Swiss? I thought the Britts were the ones land-grabbing.

History lesson aside, we had a good day trip ending in a late dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse where Kevin’s steak was so salty he could barely taste it. Mine was a little tough. We took it back with us. I’m going to rinse it off and turn it into a stir fry today. Chip said he’s okay with that.

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