Friday, March 31, 2017

Worming Around the Luray Caverns of Virginia

Monday, Mar 13, 2017: Washington-Luray,Virginia-Washington
Worming Around the Luray Caverns of Virginia

            We spent the next day in Washington by getting far away from it! In fact, since the blizzard was expected to be quite immense, we thought it best to stay local through the worst of it. It made sense then to go off into the wilds of Virginia on a beautiful day when the sun shone brightly and there was a less vicious nip in the air.

            Our aim was to get to the Shenandoah Valley National Park to see the Luray Caverns. Less than a month ago, whilst on our way back from North Carolina where we had been for the Memorial Service of Llew’s brother, we had seen signs pointing to these caverns. About six months ago, when Chriselle had joined me in London, the two of us had taken a ten-day trip to Eastern Europe and had visited the Postjona Caves in Slovenia—one of Europe’s biggest attractions. Since Llew had not been with us then and we had been completely bowled over by the sights within these caves, I persuaded them to drive with me to the Luray Caverns for a similar experience. And thus it was that we found ourselves heading out of the nation’s capital and into the beautiful mountains of Virginia in which these caves are concealed.

In the Heart of the Luray Caverns:

            The Luray Caverns are so-called because they are located in the small Virginian town of Luray. This sleepy hamlet would have remained unknown to the rest of the world were it not for the caves that were discovered quite by chance by three young men who were cavorting aimlessly in the area in the late 1880s. When they discovered cool air emanating from a hole in the ground, they suspected that there were hollows to be found beneath. They started digging and lo and behold, the caves revealed their hidden secret: miles of dark caverns had developed over the millennia through the action of water (a river ran close by) over rock. Over a long period of time, the drippings that carry mineral deposits develop into the stalagmites (rooted to the ground) and the stalactites (hanging from the ceiling) that give the caves’ interiors such an eerie aspect. After thousands of years, these calcified deposits join together to form pillars (of which we saw many grand examples).

            We bought tickets to enter for $28 per head and joined a guided tour which begins every twenty minutes to a half hour depending on the crowds. We were quite surprised to find that at least twenty people joined our tour. You descend deep down into the caves through stairs hewn into the rock and find yourself in a dimly-lit space surrounded by towering natural forms. For the next thirty minutes, we were led on a walking tour through man-made walking paved paths that passed by all sorts of interesting rock formations from rocks that hung like sheets of bacon to those that resembled eggs fried sunny side up! We passed the Fish Market where rocks seems to hang like slimy fish and underground grottos carved by arched rock bridges. Everywhere we turned, there were opportunities to take pictures. Often times we were in spaces so vast that they seemed like cathedrals. No wonder a musician has set up a pipe organ in the caves which is capable of making music when the organ’s hammers hit different parts of the rocks. Gives a whoel new meaning to the term ‘rock music’, eh? Everything was quite fascinating and we were enthralled through it all.   

            It was about 1. 30 pm by the time we re-surfaced from the depths of the earth to re-emerge on its surface. We were rather hungry by that point and decided to go out in search of food. Just a five minutes ride away were a few fast food places and it was in McDonald’s that we found hamburgers that sustained us (as there was not much else by way of choice). With burgers, fries and sodas, we felt ready to embark on the next part of our sightseeing—a peak into the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum that was just next-door.

The Car and Carriage Caravan Museum:

            If we were bowled over by the Luray Caverns, we were completely stunned by this amazing museum. In what looked like a warehouse space, we were whisked away to the late 1800s and to the age of the pioneer wagons that crossed the American frontier. We walked along pathways that were lined by the most wonderful collection of ancient wagons, caravans and carriages and then when technology arrived, into the age of the automobile--cars. Standing alongside these cars were models of human beings dressed suitably in Victorian or Edwardian garb. Among the more unusual items we saw were baby prams (perambulators) and carriages, covered milk vans that went delivering milk from door to door in rural Virginia as well as a host of plush cars from around the globe, many with vintage pedigrees. There were Model T Fords, of course, America’s great contribution to the Industrial Age as well as spiffy Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. We found it incredible that so valuable a collection of antique and vintage cars could be assembled here in the midst of nowhere--the collection of one man, H.T.N. Graves, the President of Luray Caverns--who set out, with his staff, to assemble the most impressive collection of vehicles from a historical standpoint. The end result is this marvelous cornucopia of treasures—some of it deeply glamorous (there is the vintage vehicle of Rudolph Valentino) and some of it genuinely rustic. Overall, it was a great pleasure to peruse these babies and we had a grand time.

Inside the Luray Museum:

            Our next port of call was the Luray Museum which is located right across the street and which offered some more striking insights into life in this sleepy region of the world. It is still incredible to me how much vintage memorabilia of yesteryear has been collected by this museum and then carefully curated in order to take a visitor on a tour of the region through past times. It would take an entire day to see the collection properly. As it was, Llew and I simply skimmed through the contents but were impressed at every turn. We saw the region’s history of mining, agriculture, metal-working, etc. we learned about the quiet daily life of a hard-working mountain and valley people who took enough pride in their work as to preserve so many aspects of their mundane lives. In going through room after room of what was essentially a log-cabin, we derived a composite idea of the Luray region and were deeply gratified by our discovery.

            By 3.30 pm, we were back in our car making our way to Washington for a last quiet evening with Corinne as we would be moving out of her home the next day.    

         Until tomorrow, see ya....

Vietnamese Dinner at Corinne’s:

            Corinne chose to treat us to a Vietnamese dinner at her home as she had picked up large bowls of pho (Vietnamese broth) filled with thin rice noodles, vegetables and bits of steak and meatballs floating in them. It made a very hearty supper indeed as we retold Corinne our discoveries of the day. It was not long before we cleared up and called it a night.

            We drifted off to bed with some dread as TV reports were riufe with awful news of the incoming blizzard—the area was expected to be engulfed with snow and we had little idea of whether or not we’d be marooned for the next couple of days in Corinne’s home while putting paid to the rest of our sightseeing plans.

            Little did we know how wrong we’d be…

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