Today we started with a trip underground to Luray Caverns, which is, as the name suggests, erm, a set of underground caverns in Luray :). It was pretty spectacular, we walked about a mile and a half around the network of caves looking at gazillions of stalactites (growing down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (growing up from the floor – see I still remember the lessons learnt in primary school). My favourite part was Dream Lake, which is a small pond with stalactites growing above it. Because it’s underground and there is nothing to disturb the surface of the water, it’s completely flat and like a mirror, so you can’t even see the water; the reflection creates the illusion of another set of stalagmites below it and is mindblowing.
The other highlight of the caverns was the Stalacpipe Organ. It’s a traditional organ but instead of normal pipes it’s connected to the stalactites so that each note played on the organ is sounded by hitting a stalactite. After the big build up (as it’s the USP of Luray Caverns) it was actually rather quiet and underwhelming. Weird, yes. Kitsch, certainly. And just a little bit freaky. But still not quite Phantom of the Opera enough for me.
The only thing to spoil the tour was the actual tour guide, who had the most annoying whiny high pitched stage school voice ever. This isn’t me being anti-American. In fact several of the Americans on the tour also felt the same way. The difference is that they were very happy to grumble loudly about it, whereas the reserved Brit just seethed inwardly.
We then spent the afternoon on the northernmost 40 miles of the Skyline Drive. As the name suggests, I think this is more of a drive than a hiking opportunity, although there are some well hidden short hikes along the way for the day tripper. We stopped off at many lovely outlooks to take photos across the Shenandoah Valley. The Drive parallels the Appalachian Trail (for the serious hikers) for much of its 105 mile length and today we completed maybe a mile or so of the Trail at different points. So, only another 1,999 miles to go before I can tick the Appalachian Trail off. The highlight of the Drive today was the 1 mile trek to Little Stony Man Cliffs which gave us some brilliant views of the red trees across the valley and also down to the tiny road far below that we had just driven along.
Today was the first time that’s it’s actually felt autumnal here for me. (What’s the American word? Fallish?) I’ve been finding it incredibly difficult to believe that it’s halfway through October. Only 9 days ago I was sunbathing in a bikini on the beach near where I live. Although we are currently a couple of hundred miles north of home, this weekend has still been full of blazing hot sunshine and around 20 degrees. Today it was quite cloudy to start with (which gave the brilliant sensation of being above the clouds when up in the mountains) and there are quite a lot of leaves on the forest floor here, so it finally felt a bit more “normal” for the time of year, at least for me.
It was pleasantly sunny up on Little Stony Man Cliffs and I was even regretting not having taken my sunglasses up there. Ten minutes later as we got back into the car we noticed a few spots of rain on the car. As we pulled into a visitor center a mile or so further on, from out of nowhere there was a huge flash of lightning and plenty of thunder preceding a torrential downpour. Another half hour later, the sun was back out again and we saw some lovely rainbows. As they say, if you don’t like the weather in Virginia just wait fifteen minutes …
We took the opportunity for a coffee break and I was most disappointed to discover that in the middle of all this lovely nature they only serve Starbucks!!! It gets ruddy everywhere 😦
We checked into our hotel (not as nice as last night’s, but far superior to the first night!) and then went in search of some food. We’re staying in Luray which feels like proper smalltown America and is utterly charming with the spectacular backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains to frame it. After the alarming number of posters across the state proclaiming that “Virginia is Romney Ryan Country” it was very heartening to see a big Obama campaign office on the main street in Luray. Anyway, we found a little independent Italian restaurant which didn’t look that promising but BOY did it deliver. For the last two months when eating out I have been desperate to find a restaurant that offers a simple dish of pasta with tomato sauce. Nothing complex, in fact I think it’s the most basic thing that restaurants in Italy always offer. For some reason, none of the big chain places we have been to have been able to provide this. Tonight’s little place totally succeeded where all others have failed. Full tummy, happy me.
And now I’m tucked up in my hotel bed with Flashdance on the telly. What’s not to like?