This cave is the largest one in Texas and very, very cool. I love exploring caves (on guided tours, not crawling around on my own) and I’ve been to many of them here in the U.S., as well as in Mexico and Switzerland. This one is the most interesting one I’ve seen, ever.
A natural limestone slab bridge with a span of about 60 feet gives the caverns its name, and is the result of a sinkhole collapsing beneath it. This part of the caverns were a known phenomenon for many years, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the size and scope of the cave were explored. Students from St. Mary’s University in nearby San Antonio made several trips and were able to make their way into several miles of cave. At that point, property owner Mrs. Clara Wuest, decided she wanted to open the caves up to the public and asked state and federal agencies to help provide funds. Both the Texas Park System and the National Park Service agreed it was a worthy project, but she was told there were no funds available. Mrs. Wuest and several others got to work raising funds on their own, and begin the cave’s exploration and development into what it is today, which is a very well run private enterprise that is both fun and educational.
I appreciated that the cave was treated like the precious natural phenomenon that it is, because I’ve been to many where that was not the case. Inside this cave, visitors are told repeatedly throughout the tour not to touch anything in the cave, and the tour stops to point out a placard indicating that doing so is a felony in Texas. There are also reminders not to throw coins into any of the water and a full explanation of what that does to the cave. There aren’t any attempts to light formations with colored lights, so you are able to see an accurate representation of the natural color of everything. Finally, at the end of the tour there is a discussion about the impact of white nosed fungus disease in the U.S. and how it’s impacting the bat population. Everyone is told that the shoes they are currently wearing should not be worn in any other caves for a period of at least a year. Good job.
There are actually two caves here that you can see. I did the “Discovery Tour”, which goes through the northern cave as it was originally discovered and developed. There is another tour called “Hidden Passages” that goes into the southern cave, which is another section off of the original cave. The second option treats visitors to the additional experience of “total darkness”. The Discovery Tour enters in the area of the natural bridge, where fossilized animal remains were found (bear), as well as artifacts including 5,000 year old arrowheads and spearheads. Pathways continue down 180 feet below the surface, through mostly open walkways with a few narrow spots, and past the most dramatic and surreal formations I’ve ever seen. The formations are enhanced by what looks like a waxy covering that is basically the result of the high humidity in the cave. That high humidity also makes this cave feel much warmer than any others I’ve visited. The average temperature is about 70 degrees, but with nearly 100% humidity, it feels more like the mid to high 80s. That’s something to consider if you are planning to visit, because those 180 feet translate into about 18 flights of stairs that you’ll need to climb on the way out.
Along the way, the tour passes through rooms that include a cluster of thin but very tall stalagmites, a stop at an underground lake that is incredibly clear, and two large and very dramatic rooms with huge formations. I took these photos along the way to capture what I could, but with dim lighting and little time (and no tripod) it was a bit tricky. I hope I captured at least part of the scale and drama of this extraordinary cave. Once you exit the cave (through glass doors dripping with condensation as a reminder of the humidity), there is a 1/4 mile relatively flat walk back the visitors center. You could easily spend an entire day here if you wanted to fully avail yourself of the many offerings that have been added, including a zip line, and explorer course, a mining sluice, a maze, and a stop at Big Daddy’s shop filled with sweets, treats, and brew. It’s all very well done and looked like a lot of fun. I also discovered during this visit that Bracken Cave is nearby, and hosts the world’s largest bat colony. You can purchase tickets for their nightly emergence from the cave, and I would definitely do that if I was in the area during the time of year when this happens. Unfortunately, this time I around I was a bit early.
Overall impression: Wow. Go here if you can. Nature creates hidden places that are so otherworldly they really have to be seen to appreciate.
Costs: Admission to the Discovery Tour is $21.99. There are discounts for advance purchase. They were happy to give me a $3 discount for AAA membership when I asked if any were available, and I was told there are also military discounts as well.