This is the third in a series of posts about a recent trip up to the Natural Bridge area about two hours north of Martinsville-Henry County. To recap, we drove up to the area and saw the zoo, Dinosaur Kingdom II, the caverns, and the natural bridge. We didn’t have to leave insanely early and we were back by dark. We even stopped for dinner in Roanoke on the way back.
Natural Bridge Caverns are nice. Worth the visit. There’s a lot to see overhead and they’ve made good use of lighting inside to showcase the fissures.
Word to the wise, here’s a typical conversation after returning from the caverns:
Me: I went to see the Natural Bridge caverns.
Neighbor: Is that the one with the big pond and the lights … (and a lot more descriptions that mean nothing if you haven’t been to Lurray Caverns).
Neighbor’s wife: No, you are thinking of Lurray Caverns.
Neighbor then regales us with stories of Lurray Caverns.
But Natural Bridge caverns is fun. I haven’t seen Lurray so I can’t tell you if one is definitely better than the other. It’s enough of a constant in conversation that I’m going to have to go see Lurray soon.
Natural Bridge has the stalagtites and stalagmites that you’d expect. One of our preteens noticed this formation that looks like a frog.
There is a pond (very small pond) with a boardwalk going around it. At the right time of year, you can see salamanders here. We were not there at the right time of year.
But the big thing in Natural Bridge is the fissures. The highlight of the tour is when the guide takes the group through one of the narrow fissures.
Inside the fissure that you are passing through, and directly overhead, is a massive boulder that fell into the fissure and got stuck. After everyone has passed under the boulder, we gathered in a room with a relatively level floor and hand rails. The guide then extinguished all of the lights so that we could experience “cave dark”.
Needless to say, the caverns may not be the best activity for anyone with a fear of the dark or of being deep underground. It is pretty cool though. And I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Take a jacket. Even on a hot day, the caverns are around 50 degrees.
After you have toured the caverns, you have to drive a short distance to get on the trail to see the Natural Bridge and Lace Falls at the end of the Cedar Creek Trail. “Karst” was a new word for me and I still couldn’t use it in a sentence.
I probably shouldn’t take pictures of placards that no one can actually read after the photo has been scaled and posted to the Internet, but I can’t help it. I have transcribed the sign below and put in bold the parts I found interesting:
The arch is composed of solid grey limestone. It is 215 feet high (55 feet higher than Niagara Falls) 40 feet thick, 100 feet wide and spans 90 feet between the massive walls. The span contains 450,000 cubic feet of rock. If man had scales to weigh it, the mass would balance about 72,000,000 pounds, or 36,000 tons. The rocks that compose the rocks, that fold and break in the layers, were imposed on them during the Appalachian Mountain building process toward the end of the Paleozoic Era, more than 200 million years ago. At it’s highest point, the bridge is approximately 1160 feet above sea level.
This was Nature’s working material. Her tool, Cedar Creek. A simple mountain stream flowing towards the seas. With these, Nature achieved her miracle. She pained her masterpiece with dull red and ochre, soft shades of yellow and cream, delicate tracings of blueish-grey.
Before white men came to our shores, the Monacan Indians considered this ancient wonder a sacred site, and called it “The Bridge of God”.
According to legend, in 1750, the youthful George Washington, engaged by Lord Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia, surveyed the surrounding acreage of Natural Bridge. During his visit, he scaled some 23 feet up the left wall of the bridge, and carved his initials “G.W.”, which may still be seen today.
On July 5th, 1774, Thomas Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge and 157 surrounding acres from King George III of England for the “sum of twenty shillings of good and lawful money.” (about ($2.40). Jefferson visited the bridge often, surveyed the area and even drew a map in his own hand. In 1803 two years after becoming the President of the United States, he constructed a two room cabin on the grounds.
From the literary classic, Moby Dick, to such paintings as The Peaceable Kingdom, Natural Bridge has been used to portray the ultimate natural wonder. Edward Hicks, one of America’s foremost folk artists, used the Natural Bridge in his oil painting of about 1825-30. Amongst many famous artists to paint or sketch an image of the bridge was Frederick Edwin Church of the Hudson River School, who came to paint the bridge in 1852, followed in 1860 by David Johnson, a second generation Hudson River School artist.
The Lee Highway, U.S. Route 11, crosses over the Natural Bridge, even today.
First thing, I’m kicking myself for not reading this whole placard while I was actually there. It was “TLDR” (too long didn’t read), in modern parlance. I would have liked to have known to look for George Washington’s initials.
Secondly, did I seriously just read that there’s a state highway on the top of this thing? I’m a little stunned at first. My next thought is, “do the people up there know what they are crossing?”. Seems like there should be some kind of disclaimer. Then I’m thinking about litterbugs tossing trash or debris over the side either intentionally or unintentionally. This just can’t be. I must have read that wrong.
If the students were here, I could ask one of them. I am really going to enjoy becoming a little a old lady and harassing college-aged kids just trying to get through their day. I’ve still got a good two to three decades before I get there but I’m making good time.
But there were no students. The replica Monacan Indian Village was closed while we were there. I believe that it is closed for the duration of the Covid pandemic so it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will reopen.
One of my companions who had been here before said that it was not a village but situated for educating groups on different topics. It looks like fun. And shady. It would be nice to at least read the placards.
After the village, the creek is the star of the show as you make your way to the falls. It’s shallow but beautiful and the rock formations are really intriguing. They seem to be evidence of the highly technical geological term “smushing”. 🙂
There are small fish throughout. Small. A lot of the older men here have told me how they used to come here and fish. I’m not disbelieving anybody but between water flow, visible fish size, and access, I’m not understanding how anyone would have been able to fish here.
Too be honest, the waterfall is a little underwhelming. the trail ends a good distance away from the falls. You can see them. If you have a decent zoom, you can snap a picture. Our preteens felt a little duped by the marketing lingo for the falls. “30 Foot cascade” sounded a little … more.
Be that as it may, everyone snapped a photo and sat and rested a while before turning back and heading back out. Don’t oversell Lace Falls to any in your party that are on the grouchy side and you’ll do fine. It is a beautiful walk and a nice thing to do outdoors.
Shortly after I got back and before I started drafting this post, Facebook advertised the Dixie Caverns in Roanoke to me. Then Facebook asked if I would like my targeted advertising to be more like that. I said “yes”. There was no way to respond how creepy that was in the first place though.