Which Natural Bridge?
The Natural Bridge of Virginia is one of many natural stone bridges located in several states in the United States and also found in various other nations. This article deals with the one located in the state of Virginia, in the United States. The stone feature will be referred to simply as Natural Bridge from this point forward.
Natural Bridge is located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in Rockbridge County, which derives it's name from the bridge located therein.
Natural Bridge is a stone arch of limestone which towers 215' above Cedar Creek which flows under the arch. The walls of the arch are 90' apart. The arch itself varies from 150' wide to only 50' wide. It is composed of an estimated 450,000 cubic feet of limestone weighing about 36,000 tons. The arch itself is the remnant of a cavern roof which is somewhat unsettling as US Route 11 utilizes the arch as a bridge across the chasm of Cedar Creek. Natural Bridge is higher than Niagra Falls by 55', making it an impressive ediface indeed.
The first known encounter with Natural Bridge was by the Monacan Indians. The Monacans are of the Siouan dialectic family but were surrounded by tribes possessing different dialects and tribal affiliations. The Monacans regard it as a sacred site. Legend has it that the Monacans were fleeing a pursuing party of Shawnee and Powhatan Indians when they came to the brink of the Cedar Creek chasm. They prayed to their gods for help and upon opening their eyes saw the rock span and a way of escape. The first record of white immigrants encountering the natural wonder is in 1742 in the diary of John Peter Sellings. George Washington surveyed it in 1750 for Lord Fairfax (Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron). He is reputed to have carved his initials into an upright, and the initials 'GW' are indeed there, but there is no historical authentication for this occurance. Natural Bridge was purchased by Thomas Jefferson on July 5, 1774 as part of a 157 acre tract from King George III of England. He purchased it for a price of 20 shillings. In 1828 a cottage was built with 2 rooms, 1 of which was for guests. This begins the history of Natural Bridge as a place to visit.
A bit further along
Natural Bridge has expanded with the location of addition features of interest over the years. On the same site are located Natural Bridge Caverns which are the deepest caverns in the eastern US with a depth of 34 stories. It is an example of a karst cave, forming from the dissolution of the limestone by mildly acidic water. The caverns were first explored by Col. Henry Parsons in 1889-1891. Parsons was the owner at that time. Due to the difficulty of the entrance it was not open for public enjoyment until 1977.
Back to the present
The present day incarnation of Natural Bridge includes:
- Natural Bridge hotel/conference center
- Natural Bridge Wax Museum and Factory Tour-the wax museum displays over 150 wax replicas.
- Toy Museum- the world's largest, containing toys from 1740-2000 with over 45,000 items in the collection
- Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum and Dino Kingdom
- Cedar Creek Nature Trail
- World's Oldest Tree- a 1600 year old Arbor Vitae,55" in diameter, recently deceased
- Drama of Creation,a sound/light enactment of the 7 days of creation, based on Genesis
- Summerhouse Cafe and Lake
- Monacan Indian Living History Village
- Saltpeter Mines-mining of saltpeter, an essential ingredient in gunpowder
- Lost River
- Lace Waterfall
There's lots more to see!
Nearby are located other attractions for visitors to enjoy. Foamhenge is a full size styrofoam recreation of England's famous Stonehenge. The Natural Bridge Zoo is Virginia's largest zoological exhibit as well as a breeding center for rare and endangered animals. Natural Bridge Speedway features auto racing on a 3/8 mile dirt oval. Natural Bridge Dragstrip shares the site with the speedway. Lexington, Virginia is only 8 miles away from Natural Bridge. There you will find Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Academy. On the grounds of VMI will be found the George C. Marshall Museum. Downtown Lexington is quite small but offers the ambience of a college town with an eclectic assemblage of shops and restaurants. Lexington is also the site of the graves of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The Appalachian Trail passes through Rockbridge County, offering hiking opportunities.
Y'all come stay a while, yah heah?
Accomodations in the area are abundant with several other motels available. There are campgrounds nearby, as well as several bed and breakfasts.
And we'll have fun, fun, fun
Other activities available nearby include golf, canoeing/kayaking on the James River, fishing, and mountain biking. Sightseeing by auto on the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a scenic journey for its 469 miles from its start in northern Virginia in the Shenandoah National Park to its southern terminus in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Natural Bridge is on the National Historical Landmarks and the Virginia Historical Landmarks listings.
A final note:
Several of the attractions are of a seasonal nature, being closed in winter. As in planning any vacation or outing, research availability of attractions before the trip.