101 Discovery Room Welcome to Luray Caverns ‐ the largest and most popular cave in eastern America! Shortly after its discovery the Smithsonian Institution proclaimed: “there is probably no other cavern in the world more completely and profusely decorated.” The New York Herald dubbed it “the discovery of the century.” Luray Caverns is a United States Registered Natural Landmark. William and Andrew Campbell and Benton Stebbins first discovered this natural wonder. It was on August 1 3, 1878. They had found a promising sinkhole, which is a depression in the ground. Andrew and Benton felt a cool breeze coming out of a quarter‐sized hole. They dug away at that hole and created an entrance just large enough for Andrew to slide down with a candle. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. They named the first formation they saw Washington Column after our first President.
102 Amphitheatre Your one‐hour tour covers a mile and a quarter. Please stay on the paved walkways. And for preservation of the caverns, federal and state laws prohibit touching the formations. Feel free to ask your Ranger questions. Take any photos you’d like; flash photography is allowed. Explorer/photographer Benton Stebbins’ wife, Amelia Stebbins, made the first illustrations of the wonders discovered here. This was before photographic technology could handle this special environment. National publications published her drawings and called the caverns a fairyland in stone. As more and more people flocked to the site, trains‐full of explorers crowded the little depot in town and flocked to see the now famous beautiful caverns of Luray. Scientists estimate the caverns to be about four hundred and fifty million years old. Luray Caverns are solutional caverns. Water mixed with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, created a mild carbonic acid in the soil. When that solution seeped through the ground, it hollowed out the bedrock creating these cavern rooms. By slowly eroding the weaker minerals, the harder minerals were left behind. These are the walls and ceilings.
Take a look at all the natural decoration around you. Cave formations are called speleothems. The two forms you see the most of are the rounded, upwardly protruding formations in the floor called stalagmites, and their pointy counterparts hanging from the ceiling called stalactites. Formations also come in different colors. The three natural colorations are just represented by the different types of minerals collected by water. The white is calcium carbonate. The red is iron oxide. And the grayish‐black is manganese oxide. The green colors we’ll see today are what we call cave moss ‐ just like an algae grows in front of the lights wherever there’s moisture.
103 Fish Market Look up and to the right of the natural bridge. You see the consecutive row of short curved formations? They were so long and thin and they were in such a perfect line, and of almost uniform length, that when the explorers saw them it reminded them 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 grows at the slow rate of three hundred years per cubic inch. Look to the left of the fish market. When that natural bridge was first discovered it was filled in with silt and mud. The early discoverers used a raft and poles to get through the thick, deep silt that was once here. It was so high they had to duck under that bridge when they poled through on the raft.
104 Dream Lake You’ve now reached Dream Lake. It’s filled with illusions that excite the imagination! You may think you’re gazing at a small sea of underwater stalagmites, but that’s just part of the dream. What you’re really seeing is a perfect mirror reflection of the ceiling. A second look reveals a bird’s eye view of an enchanted forest to the right morphing into a majestic desert on the left. Dream Lake is the largest body of water in Luray Caverns. The deepest part of the lake is between 18 to 20 inches.
105 Pluto’s Ghost This huge abyss below is called Pluto’s Chasm. And that large, white vision is known as Pluto’s Ghost. The caverns discoverers first dubbed the brilliant formation, The Specter Column, then realized it was of such mythological beauty that they referenced ancient gods. And Pluto’s Ghost will follow you today, too. As we explore the cave, we’re following a figure eight path. The calcite column of Pluto’s Ghost is right at the center of the figure eight. Now look above you. That massive ridge of rock shows the sedimentary layers of the caverns here. The bands of blacks and reds represent two different minerals ‐ the red, iron; the gray, manganese.
106 Skeleton Gorge Just over this railing is an area called Skeleton Gorge. Human skeletal remains were found right there. The bones were most likely washed into the cave rather than buried here. Who did they belong to? At first it was a total mystery, but researchers learned that they were 700 year‐old bones of a female probably in her teens. Now they’re in the collection of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.
107 Pluto’s Ghost (2nd View) Way down in the chasm you get a second view of Pluto’s Ghost — the large white column below you. Right next to you is another column that seems to echo the eerie vision below. This is Prosperina Column, named for the Roman goddess of the Underworld, who accompanies her corresponding god, Pluto.
These columns were formed when the stalactites from above met the stalagmites from below.
108 Titania’s Veil You’ve now reached the oldest part of the cave, known as the Main Body. Rooms become larger now and the formations are less active, yet more massive. When water was active here, it created one of the most spectacular formations. Look to your left. You’ll see a large, wonderful example of white flowstone. It’s called Titania’s Veil, named after a character in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Flowstone occurs from the flowing water that leaves even layers behind. And it will almost resemble a stone waterfall, especially when it’s wet.
109 Giant Redwood and Overlook You’re standing near an immense formationcalled the Giant Redwood. It’s the largest and oldest formation in the caverns. The Giant Redwood is estimated to be about 7 million years old. Rock formed by water creates so many shapes and sizes. Many of them ‐ like the Giant Redwood ‐ mimic the shape of other things. As you walk to your next stop you’ll have a breath‐taking view of a cluster of ornate columns. They’re called the Totem Poles, because they resemble Native American icons. When you reach them you’ll be at Overlook Chamber, where the stunning panorama also includes Giant’s Hall.
110 Saracen’s Tent Another remarkable type of cave formation is drapery. The best examples of drapes in the entire cave are Saracen’s Tent. And in fact, they’re so perfect that National Geographic has said that not only are they the best in our cave, but they’re among the best in the entire world. They’re called drapery because once they get larger they’re so lang and thin, they really look like a delicate curtain.
111 Fallen Stalactite Geologists learn a lot by reading rocks. That fallen stalactite sits quietly still, but its filled with information about how it fell, why, and how long ago. Look at the flat end to the right. It’s flat because this end was stuck to the ceiling before it broke off. Most likely a powerful earth disturbance caused the break. Look at the left end of the fallen stalactite. It’s attached to a tall upright formation. This formation is called the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It, too, shifted because of the same earth disturbance. We can determine when the stalactite fell by the growth that fuses it to surrounding formations. They take 120 years to grow an inch. It’s been lying there for 7000 years.
112 Giant’s Hall You’re now in the deepest part of the caverns ‐ one hundred and sixty‐four feet down. This chamber is called Giant’s Hall because it is the room with the largest airspace in the caverns. You’re also in the same room as the tallest formation at Luray. It’s that magnificent Double Column stretching forty‐seven feet to the ceiling. The Double Column offers one of the best examples of the two basic caverns formations ‐ the stalactite and stalagmite. The parts of this DoubleColumn don’t exactly meet, but are joined side by side forming a column. On the front side, to the right, is a very uniform or fluted stalactite from the ceiling all the way to the floor. To the back on the left side, is a stalagmite formed from the floor in distinct mounds or ridges almost all the way to the ceiling.
113 Cathedral This room was once known as the Ballroom because of the occasional dances held here, complete with a local band, hoop skirts, dress pants and a plank floor. Later it was called the Cathedral, referring to the ethereal nature of the huge chamber. It’s one of the most decorated chambers in the caverns. But its biggest claim to fame is The Great Stalacpipe Organ. The organ is the largest musical instrument in the world. When you press down on a key on that console, it sends a signal to a solenoid, or a plunger, and they gently tap a stalactite. And that is where all the music comes from, the stalactites.
Stalactites of different sizes create different notes for the organ. They’re spread out over three and a half acres in the caverns.
114 Pluto’s Ghost You’ve reached the third and closest view of Pluto’s Ghost. You’re about to enter the last quarter of the tour.
115 Wishing Well Everyone loves a wishing well and this one at Luray Caverns has its own spectacular story. Every year if you look down, you’ll see about two to three feet of coins at the end of the year. And as you look at the black chart, you’ll see all the different charities we’ve donated to so far. The pool of water is the deepest body of water here. It’s six feet deep at the center. Notice the very pretty green color. If you remember, green is not a natural color down here, The copper in the pennies turn the rocks and the well green. And the water has its effects on the coins as well.
116 Morrison’s Hall Just beyond this low brick wall, back through all those stalactites is a hidden shaft leading to the surface above. In 1901 the then‐owner of the caverns built a house over that shaft called Limair Sanitorium. It was the first air‐conditioned house in the United States. A powerful fan pulled up cool air from the cave. The air temperature in the caverns averages 54 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. So on a pretty hot day in the summer, the air circulating in Limair averages about 70 degrees.
117 Fried Eggs These are two of the most memorable sights in the caverns: a couple of fried eggs. The Fried Eggs started off life as a couple of stalagmites. During the enlargement of this tunnel, somehow the two 6
stalagmites got sheared near their base and a little tradition built around them that as people would go past, they would rub them for luck. But that’s no longer a tradition, so please help preserve them in their present condition and admire them without touching.
118 Veteran’s Plaque This commemorative plaque pays homage to the local war veterans of Page County. Each of the four plaques honors the sacrifices in four wars: World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Several local groups placed it in the caverns in 1928. They wanted the memorial to be viewed by as many people as possible, and Luray Caverns is host to a half‐million visitors each year.
119 Conclusion This is the last stop on your tour. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring this extraordinary environment. Included in your admission ticket is the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum displaying everything from a Conestoga Wagon to the oldest carriage on this continent, the 1727 Portuguese Nobility Carriage. Plus a pre‐civil War bicycle! Admission is included in your ticket. Your ticket also includes The Luray Valley Museum & Gardens, a gateway to how life was lived on the frontier’s edge. You’ll see rare artifacts housed in restored structures, adlacent to the Garden Maze near the caverns’ entrance.