Considered to be one of the national landmarks of the United States, the Luray Caverns are found in Virginia, 90 miles from Washington DC. We came across these imposing caverns on our way to with family and friends. The experience was unique and unforgettable.
The Luray Caverns are the largest caverns in Eastern USA. The creations are remarkable and when one looks at them it is difficult to believe that they were formed just one drip at a time. The earthy colors have originated from iron and clay soils dripping to the ground along with the calcium carbonate "drips."
When we entered the massive caverns, the first thought that came to my mind was ? who could have been the discoverers of these wonderful caverns? I’m sure from the time they were discovered, they have thrilled many a visitor with their natural beauty.
The First Discovery
After gathering at the main passage, our tour guide and escort brought our attention to a cross mark which depicted the place where Andrew Campbell and his three companions had been the first to witness this beautiful cavern.
Cross mark which depicts the place where Andrew Campbell and his three companions first witnessed this beautiful cavern
It all began when they went in search for caves. In the course of their travels, one day on August 13, 1878, they discovered cold air rushing out of a sinkhole atop a big hill of Luray, Virginia. The air blew out a candle held by Andrew Campbell. This led them to dig for about 4 hours to get in the caverns and they slowly slid into it one by one. They couldn’t believe their eyes as they found themselves in the largest caverns in the east, a wonderful world of stalactites and stalagmites sparkling in the candle light.
Growth of Formation
As the large volumes of water subsides and only slow seepage continues, nature’s secret decorating process begins. Upon entering the unique cave atmosphere, the tour guide explained the growth of formation of the caverns. She explained that the solution of calcium carbonate releases some of its carbon dioxide and allows a precipitation of lime that begins to form a thin deposit ring of crystallized calcite. As this process continued, stalactites formed from the ceiling. As the drops fell to the floor, deposits built forming stalagmites. When a stalactite grew down from the ceiling and came in contact with a stalagmite that grew from the floor, a column or pillar was formed.
Luray Caverns is an active cave where new deposits accumulate at the rate of one cubic inch in 120 years.
Some of Luray’s impressive formations include:
Stalactites are formed often in a fluted and uniformed fashion from the ceiling down. Stalagmites build with distinct heaps and crests on their way toward the ceiling. Drip Stone, covers the ceilings and floors. It is also abundant on cavern walls. An often more massive decoration is formed when the mineral bearing water spreads over the limestone walls or builds its deposits from a protruding edge. These crystalline deposits, or flowstone, form draperies and frozen waterfalls, veils and tents.
The Smithsonian Institution report of July 13 and 14, 1880 comments "? 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."
All coloration in the caverns is natural, caused by the mineral content of the seeping ground water. White is the color of calcium carbonate in its pure form. Other elements absorbed from the soil and rock layers create impure forms of calcite. Reds and yellows which dominate are caused by iron and iron-stained clays. Black is the result of manganese dioxide, blues and greens are the result of solutions of copper minerals. There are many factors that shape and mold these fascinating formations. Some of those factors may be rate and direction of the seepage, the amount of acid in the water, the temperature and humidity content of a cave, the influence of air currents, the effects of the above ground climate, the amounts of annual rainfall and the density of the plant cover.
This glittering white formation is pure calcite and the result of wide-spreading crystalline deposits. These deposits, or flowstone, spread laterally coating walls or ceilings as opposed to dripstone resulting from dripping-water deposits.
Huge chambers display a diverse variety of ancient stone formations.
This underground rift rises to a height of almost ten stories. This expansive opening is left from the main horizontal channel of water that created Luray Caverns. At its heart you’ll find the figure of Pluto’s Ghost, a column appropriately named after the Roman God of the underworld.
Seemingly hand folded, this formation is one of the most perfectly formed drapery structures in the world. The translucent draperies appear to have been parted for an entrance way.
Saracen’s Tent closer view
It is a formation that looks as though a fountain is frozen. The colour is white as it is formed of calcite.
Located in the Cathedral is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument. Stalactites covering 3 ? acres of the surrounding caverns produce tones of symphonic quality when electronically tapped by rubber-tipped mallets. This most unique, one-of-a-kind instrument was invented in 1954 by Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle of Springfield, Virginia, a mathematician and electronic scientist at the Pentagon.
He began his monumental three year project by searching the vast chambers of the caverns selecting stalactites to precisely match a musical scale. Electronic mallets were wired throughout the caverns and connected to a large four-manual console. When a key is depressed, a tone occurs as the rubber-tipped plunger strikes the stalactite tuned to concert pitch.
This golden column is formed when a stalacite and stalagmite meet. This column is very huge. Some formations of this type are over 7 million years old.
Enormous chambers are filled with towering stone columns, shimmering draperies and crystal-clear pools. Located in Giant’s Hall, the Double Column, reaching to a height of 47 feet is the tallest and one of the most spectacular formations in Luray Caverns.
As we went around these spectacular caverns and absorbed the natural beauty within, we wished we would stay here longer. But thoughts of the one and a half hour drive to head back home made us hit the road soon. However, the beauty of these caverns will be cherished for a long time to come.
Sardines in the Fish market!
Author: Rosanne DSouza- USA