Natural Bridge & Natural Bridge Caverns

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The tried and true “staycation” – I can’t say I’ve ever done one but after last week, I could see myself embracing them – sort of, ha-ha! I do like that I can get in my bed at the end of the day while still getting to see and experience new things, so that’s a positive. Granted, there are so many things in the world I want to see – so while a “staycation” was perfect for this month, I see actual vacations in my future.

Natural Bridge, Virginia is about a two hour drive from our house and is home to Natural Bridge State Park – wonder where they got the name for the town?

Natural Bridge is a 215 foot high geological arch with a 90 foot span, situated within a gorge and carved over time from the limestone cliffs as Cedar Creek flowed through, leaving behind the bridge – which was once the roof of a cave or tunnel. We arrived around 10:30 and purchased combo tickets for Natural Bridge and Natural Bridge Caverns and made our way outside and down the steps, alongside Cedar Creek and toward the Cedar Creek Cafe and the walking trail to, through and beyond Natural Bridge.

The first glimpse is pretty spectacular – and more so to think that the work of water and time have created such an amazing formation…water, just flowing about it’s business and in the process making a landmark to be viewed by people for years to come. It’s thought that the bridge was first discovered in/around 1742 by a man named John Howard, tasked with surveying all of Virginia and down to the Mississippi River. It’s also believe that George Washington surveyed the site in 1750 – the initials G.W. are carved on the side of the rock (the picture on the far right below, top row…but hard to see) and many take that as proof our first president was there.

 

I probably took too many pictures but then again, I’m often inclined to think there is no such thing as too many pictures! I was also pretty intrigued to realize that the highway rolls right over the top of Natural Bridge – and while I realize that bridge is literally in the name, I am still a little stunned that traffic passes over such an amazing natural wonder all day every day… I’m inclined to think that would damage the structure over time, but maybe I’m wrong?

Once you passed under the Natural Bridge, a trail wound 9/10 of a mile through the trees and passed a Monacan Indian village, a saltpeter cave and a lost river… all leading to the 30 foot tall Lace Falls. I was NOT aware that there would be any sort of “hiking” and there really wasn’t – all the paths were flat and paved here and there – but I had on flat sandals and jeans…and it was much warmer and more humid that I’d planned for. The historical interpreters in the Native American village were all descendants of the Monacan tribe that once lived in the Natural Bridge area.

Just around the bend from the Monacan village was a saltpeter cave that was once mined for the saltpeter found inside – saltpeter is used in gun powder. The cave was like nature’s air conditioning, just stepping into the wide, low slung mouth of the cave dropped the temperature and walking even further inside was heavenly! I was glistening with sweat at this point and could have just found a rock to recline on in the shade of the cave – but there was still more to see!

 

 

I had to include video of the lost river – it was found by miners working in the saltpeter cave and water was taken from the river for use in the mining but to this day, they still haven’t figured out where the river ends… so mysterious… It was fascinating to me to hear the water rushing along in the darkness – I was tempted to hop the fence and investigate even more, but I refrained because I figured that was frowned upon…

Not too far past the lost river, we came upon the viewing platform for Lace Falls – at 30 feet tall, it wasn’t exactly breathtaking but it was still pretty to look at and of course, we took all the pictures. I have the delightful shimmer of someone who has been swimming in their own sweat for far too long… my jeans were absolutely stuck to me and I could feel sweat trickling between my shoulder blades. Gross y’all. I guess for all that, the pictures don’t look too bad…

 

The walk back down the trail seemed to go much faster than the walk up the trail – isn’t it funny how that works? We cruised past the lost river, made another pit stop at the saltpeter cave for a bit of “AC”, wandered by the Monacan village and rounded the corner to find ourselves under the arching grandeur of Natural Bridge once more… this meant I had to take more pictures, ha-ha! I also snapped a picture of a survey marker embedded in a stone – marked with a G.W. and the year 1750 – and also the year 1984, which is a year near and dear to me!

We had a late lunch at the Cedar Creek Cafe with the views of the bridge in front of us and then climbed the hill (well – I took the stairs & my parents took the shuttle) back to the gift shop and our car. After a quick peek into the Natural Bridge Hotel, we made our way up the road less than a mile to Natural Bridge Caverns to join the 2:00 tour into the depths of the Earth. We walked down a long, slimy passage into the caves and then on with the tour…

 

The caverns were discovered in the late 19th century by two young boys poking around in the woods … as young boys do. The boys reported their find and were paid $1 a day to excavate and clear pathways through the caves and $1 was a king’s ransom back then, so the boys happily did the work, along with friends they brought along. The boys made it quite deep into the cave before knocking through a wall and hearing a wailing that sounded eerily similar to a woman moaning – the boys bolted for the exit, told everyone the caverns were haunted and no one entered the caverns until the late 70’s.

We saw columns, stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws and more… the tour guide took us to the deepest portion of the caves and then cut out all the lights. The darkness was impenetrable and our guide explained that the human eyes would never adjust to this level of darkness and your brain would begin to hallucinate as it tried to reconstruct the room. Yikes, right? The tour lasted about 50 minutes and was fairly interesting – however I’ve been on numerous cave tours and I’d have to say that this one was the least impressive – the cave just doesn’t contain that many formations. And we had some insanely pesky children along for our tour… loud interruptions, trying to touch and climb on all the formations and just being downright rude led to the tour being less than grand.

I’m glad we toured the caverns – I always love a good tour of caves and caverns – but I do think if I was recommending caverns to someone, there are a few more in the area that might rank a bit higher than Natural Bridge Caverns.

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I’ll pause our “staycation” recap here – I’ll be back on Thursday to finish out our visit to Natural Bridge, Virginia – with information about the Virginia Safari Park! Until then, y’all enjoy your Tuesday!

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