Brain Power

Millions of years in the making. Still actively growing. Uncover the history and geology behind Luray Caverns and the surrounding area.

Making Mountains

The separation of the Americas from Europe and Africa (the continental drift) occurred about 600 million years ago. A broad shallow depression from Alabama to Newfoundland was formed, and an ancient sea flooded the area that is now the Appalachians. Layers of water-borne sediments accumulated on the ocean floor, followed by limestone sediments from fossilized marine animals and shells. After millions of years, the two layers formed into metamorphic rock.

As a result of the eons-old shifting of tectonic plates, North America and Africa collided. This elevated and fractured the sea floor, causing the layer of metamorphic rock to tilt upward, creating the Appalachian Mountains.

Cavern Creation

Luray Caverns slowly came to life after the limestone of the Shenandoah Valley was formed thanks to the inland sea. Here’s how: Rainwater picks up diluted carbonic acid when it seeps through decaying vegetation in the soil. The hollowing-out of a limestone cave begins as this acidified water percolates through the limestone, dissolving and eroding layers along the way. The water fills every opening, enlarging the existing crevices, and descends into lower levels of the earth leaving huge limestone chambers.

As the water subsides, and only slow seepage continues, nature's decorating process begins. Upon entering the unique cave atmosphere, calcium carbonate releases carbon dioxide and allows lime to form, beginning as a thin deposit of crystallized calcite. As this process continues, stalactites form from the ceiling, and stalagmites form on the floor. When a stalactite reaches a stalagmite, the two grow together and form a column or pillar. An often more massive decoration is formed when the mineral-bearing water spreads over the walls or from a ledge. These crystalline deposits, or flowstone, form draperies, frozen waterfalls, veils and tents.

The formations in Luray Caverns continue to grow at the rate of one cubic inch every 120 years.

Test Your Knowledge

You’ve read some. You’ve learned some. Now put it to the test. And even if you don’t know the answer, no worries, this quiz let’s you learn all along the way.

Teacher’s Resources

Hey teachers, download these fun and easy experiments to bring geology to life. Your students will have a blast and they’ll learn something new without even realizing it!


The best way to learn something is to experience it! Luray Caverns is history and science at its best, in a live lesson your kids will never forget. Bring your students to Luray Caverns and experience a geological thrill ride!

For more information, complete the contact form and one of our Cave Experts will help you plan your adventure.

What will you discover?

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