Christmas Blues – Weekend Getaway

Christmas was looking pretty down for me this year. It’s an odd year, so that means that I don’t have my kids for Christmas day as my ex and I alternate the holiday and the kids always spend the rest of the school break visiting her in Florida. It’s really the only drawback that I have to our custody arrangement. I get them for the school year and they go and visit her for most of the breaks. Christmas is hard on me when they’re gone and I don’t feel much like celebrating, so I try and use the time to focus on me instead. And focusing on me usually means disappearing into the woods or going off on some adventure.

This year’s adventure was a last minute Christmas Weekend getaway to a cabin in the woods just outside Shenandoah National Park. I had planned on doing some hikes in Shenandoah, relaxing in the hot tub, and just decompressing for a few days from the stresses of life. But Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate and the park was completely fogged in after some heavy rains. Lucky for me, one of the best natural treasures in this area is completely unaffected by the weather. That’s because it’s below ground.

The Luray Caverns are the largest series of underground caverns in the Eastern United States. They were discovered in 1878 when wind from a quarter sized hole blew out the candle of some guys exploring a cave in the area. After digging for over 4 hours they lowered themselves down on ropes and gazed upon one of the most impressive natural caverns in the world.

I had been to the Howe Caverns in NY State when I was boy so I had an idea of what to expect when I came here. But having the perspective of an adult, especially one who has come to appreciate nature and all her wonders as much as I have, made this trip so much more rewarding. The guided tours run every 20 minutes and usually take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. I think I was passed by about 6 of them as I took my time and enjoyed the experience and the occasional solitude in between the tour groups.

There are so many cool things to see in the Luray Caverns. There’s the Washington Column, the first column that the discoverers saw. The Double Column, a pair of fluted pillars standing side by side that have been nicknamed the Bride and Groom columns and have witnessed hundreds of weddings over the years. Pluto’s Ghost, an eerily white pillar. The Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument that literally plays by tapping an electrically controlled rubber mallet against the ancient stalagmites and stalactites. And my favorite, the Dream Lake. Dream Lake is a small, spring fed pool that’s only about 18 inches deep. The water is so clear and so still that the reflection of the surrounding stalactites creates a mirrored effect and the illusion of stalagmites and people honestly believe that they cannot see the bottom of the pool, or that there is even any water there at all.

Luray Caverns - Dream Lake

Luray Caverns – Dream Lake

The rain and fog may have washed out the hike for Saturday, but the experience in the Luray Caverns more than made up for it. And I was even able to get a short hike in along the Appalachian Trail up to Hawksbill Gap before having to head home on Sunday. At 4,050 feet, Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. The trail is about 2.9 miles round trip if you take the Appalachian Trail loop and the views of the park and surrounding valleys are well worth it if you have the time.

I came back home feeling refreshed and invigorated and while still missing my kids, not dwelling on it so much. Sometimes you just need to get away and get in a little nature therapy. It always seems to work wonders for me. Until next time. Namastè!

Adventure on, Gecko Wrangler


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