Parade Wave, Show Cave

Before I knew it, the last day of my visit with Brooke and Aaron had arrived. It also happened to be the shortest day of the year and bitter cold to boot. When I woke that morning, the first sight that penetrated my flickering eyelids was the dazzling sparkle of ice crystals arrayed in lacy fingers on the window outside my room, illuminated by the rays of the rising sun. The sight made me gasp aloud and coo like a contented baby.

The household began to stir slowly and after sharing a hearty breakfast enhanced by excruciatingly campy Xmas LPs (is that a THERMIN?!?) and eased by the liberal application of Aaron's homemade eggnog, we gathered our parkas and blankets and headed off to the frozen north toward Luray caverns.
Our first stop was the American Celebration on Parade museum which sits on the grounds of Shenandoah caverns. There, a fellow by the name of Earl Hargrove Jr. (who runs a company that stages trade shows, conventions and every American presidential inaugural event since 1949) has assembled an impressive collection of parade floats housed in a giant warehouse where mere mortals can wander around and gander at the immensity of it all.

Immensity, as you might imagine, is exceedingly obvious the moment you enter. And not long after the concept of how big these rolling stages really are sinks in, the question of how they manage to move along the street become extremely compelling. Understanding this urgent need to know, the museum has thoughtfully provided Plexiglas portals on some of the floats to allow visitors to take a peek at what goes on behind the crepe paper curtain.
Actually, there wasn't much if any crepe paper in evidence. I was truly surprised by the lavishness of the decorative materials that were used. Why, there was enough scrunched up gold lame on one of the floats to outfit an entire chorus line of Rockettes! For some reason I'd imagined the giant rolling dioramas would be made of flimsy, disposable materials but these floats were beautifully executed and have held up really well over the years. In fact, many of the floats have enjoyed several incarnations - makeovers are common and themes continually updated.

Another feature I particularly enjoyed was a float that allowed you to sit in the driver's seat and imagine what it would be like to try and navigate one of these monsters down a fun-lover-packed urban streetscape. Naturally, I had a bit of trouble seeing over the dashboard and decided that I probably didn't want to pursue float driving as a side career.
Our extensive tour afforded us ample opportunity to pause in strategic spots and perfect our parade waves. We were then able to display them proudly as we exited through the creepy gift shop, much to the amusement of the teenagers at the register.
After pausing to let Brooke pose with the giant Cootie in front of the museum, we hightailed it over to Luray caverns so we could catch one of the last tours of the day. Luckily, we got there with just enough time to cavort about an enormous privet hedge maze that sits adjacent to the cavern.

It felt good for a while to dash about in the brisk afternoon air, scurrying down leafy corridors, pursuing the tantalizing nearness of other people's voices - surely only a turn or two away. Periodically, a way station would appear inquiring, "Are you lost??" I was only lost once, near the end, but by then I was weary or maybe just plain cold and had no compunction about revealing the path instead of determining it. My patience with maze working is apparently much better suited to navigating Central Market or such.

We headed back to the rallying spot at the cavern to wait for our tour and there was a merry fire blazing in the huge stone fireplace flanking the entrance to the cave. It felt good after having braved the cold to run around in some bushes.

Our tour guide (who apparently was playing at 45 r.p.m. even though she was recorded at 33 1/3) introduced herself and whisked us efficiently through the cavern along with a tall quiet family from Curacao who were making their very first cave tour. Cave virgins! I bet all those rock jokes sounded fresh and funny to them and they were actually scared when the lights went out!

We paused along the way to enjoy the huge underground lake that forms a magnificent mirror of its surroundings and wandered past all sorts of beautiful formations, but a curious detraction began to nag at me as we walked along. Luray is one of the oldest show caverns in our nation. It opened to the public in the late 1800s, and in that non-eco-friendly era, visitors were encouraged to snap off a bit of the cavern to take home with them for a souvenir. Every single area within reaching distance of the path is scarred with stalagmite stubs and stalactite nubs, sort of like an acne incited by humans.

When we eventually arrived at the room containing the fabulous Stalacpipe Organ, my jaded distaste quickly fell away. I did have to work to disguise my impatience, however, doing my best to pay attention to our pert guide as she unspooled her well rehearsed and long winded introduction. Finally, finally the moment arrived. She pushed the magic button and tiny rubber mallets installed over a 3 1/2 acre area inside the cavern began to strike various stalactites in succession and combination, filling the cave with pure vibrating tones that coalesced into song. This amazing instrument (the world's largest, mind you) was conceived by Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle who was a mathematician and electronics geek at the nearby Pentagon. I love it when dorks create art! The organ is played live occasionally, especially at the frequent weddings that are held there, but this day we were serenaded by an invisible robot, more than adequately rendering some unmemorable standard of musicdom. It was lovely.

The tour concluded directly after the recital and we thus proceeded to mount the 80 some-odd stair steps necessary to regain the earth's surface. When we emerged, warm and sweaty, the night was dark and wicked cold. We bundled ourselves up, got in the car and began searching for some dinner as we headed back toward the homestead.

We soon stumbled upon a brightly lit Mexican restaurant in the quaint little town of New Market and decided a margarita sounded real good and we'd just have to take our chances on what passed for Mexican food in these parts. Actually, I always enjoy eating Mexican food outside of Texas, just to see what those wacky non-Texans will come up with, trying to imitate the real thing. The venue we chose was a rewarding one, however, as the owners hailed from the state of Michoacan in Mexico rather than being third generation Scandinavians from Maryland. When we told them we were from Texas and wondered if they had some HOT hot sauce, they brought us out a special bowl of fiery chile paste, for use by professionals only. Also presented with the chips was a hilarious bowl of - get this - coleslaw. I'm guessing that the tomato salsa (I'm not sure there were any peppers in it) was a little too spicy for the average Virginian, so a pleasing bowl of coleslaw was offered as a tongue cooling palliative. It was actually quite delicious on the chips, but we couldn't help laugh at the whiteness of it all. What on earth will those wacky white people do next?
After packing our bellies full of tortillas and frijoles and margaritas, we climbed back in the car and headed back to Christiansburg. We'd packed it in on the shortest day and were all a bit tired. The pleasing sounds of Ratatat sung us gently to our destination, neath the glittering stars of a clear winter night.

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