An Exploration of Commercial Caves

Rock wall entrance to Cave-Without-A-Name.
Rock wall entrance to Cave-Without-A-Name.
Mary and Christ formations in Cave-Without-A-Name.
Mary and Christ formations in Cave-Without-A-Name.
The infamous butterfly formation in Caverns of Sonora, Texas. Likely one of the most photographed formations in the world.
The infamous butterfly formation in Caverns of Sonora, Texas. Likely one of the most photographed formations in the world.
Example of lighting in a commercial cave. This is Caverns of Sonora in Texas.
Example of lighting in a commercial cave. This is Caverns of Sonora in Texas.
Bashful Elephant formation in Carlsbad Cavern. Example of making formations look familiar and relatable to tourists.
Bashful Elephant formation in Carlsbad Cavern. Example of making formations look familiar and relatable to tourists.
Fox Cave entrance in New Mexico. There really isn't a cave behind that elaborate rock wall, it's more of just an alcove.
Fox Cave entrance in New Mexico. There really isn't a cave behind that elaborate rock wall, it's more of just an alcove.
Grand Canyon Caverns in Arizona. This is a stuffed giant sloth replica. Example of cave owners trying to make the cave more interesting.
Grand Canyon Caverns in Arizona. This is a stuffed giant sloth replica. Example of cave owners trying to make the cave more interesting.
Grand Canyon Caverns in Arizona.
Grand Canyon Caverns in Arizona.
Inner Space Cavern in Texas. This rock wall art is totally fake.
Inner Space Cavern in Texas. This rock wall art is totally fake.
Wishing well in Wonder Cave in Texas. Throwing coins in pools is supposed to be good luck but it's not good for the caves.
Wishing well in Wonder Cave in Texas. Throwing coins in pools is supposed to be good luck but it's not good for the caves.
Hand rails in Wonder Cave in Texas. You wouldn't find that in an undeveloped cave.
Hand rails in Wonder Cave in Texas. You wouldn't find that in an undeveloped cave.

Show Me Your Cave

Most die hard, eat dirt for breakfast cavers would scoff at the very notion of visiting a commercial, show cave. To them, I say, "Think again cave boy," because show caves are some of the most interesting places underground not to mention that if not for the accessibility of most of these commercial caves, a lot of people simply couldn’t see them and that would be a shame.

Many show caves offer such intriguing histories that one can't help but want to see and know more. Take Eugene Ebell for example. Eugene is part of the great history of Cave-Without-A-Name just outside of Boerne, Texas. He visited the cave for the first time in 1939 when a contest to name the cave was won by a boy who stated, "This cave is too pretty to name." Little did Eugene know that he would end up marrying the widow of the man who owned it and own it himself when she passed away.

When I visited this fantastic cave, I was able to see (as many others before have) this humble, older gentleman repeatedly do what he has for so many years. It all started when Eugene arrived at the tired gift shop in his beaten Toyota truck. The first thing he said was, "The rest rooms are inside." He really knows his visitors. A paid $5 fee later, I was standing behind Eugene anxiously waiting for him to unlock the gate and lead me to another caving experience. As we shuffled down the 1930's staircase which was built in a blasted out hole, Eugene told of the cave's finding. He told of a goat falling 90 feet down a small, narrow pit and of the ranchers wishing they had retrieved the goat sooner so they could have at least had a goat roast. Then, he told of the young boys who crawled through a tiny passage in to a void that scared them but would have delighted them had they been "spelunkers."

Eugene went on to give the names and stories about every formation, pool, and artifact in the cave. He told of a New Yorker who wanted to taste the spring water running through the cave. When he did, he spit it out in disgust because the water had no taste. Eugene consistently and persistently added "We need a good six to eight inches of rain for the cave to really shine," to almost every sentence he spoke. He instructed me on which pictures to take and even offered to take a picture of me standing in front of a great canopy. And yes he even played his famous "rock music." Music he created by tapping on draperies with a stick. There are many more stories about Cave-Without-A-Name but I'll leave those for your trip. Just follow the faded signs on F.M. 474 and on Kreutzberg Road reading, "The Cave," and you'll find yourself waiting for the man who will guide you through one of the most spectacular caves in Texas. Just don't make fun of his "rock music." Eugene doesn't like that.

Spectacular is not however a word I would use to describe Cascade Caverns also just outside of Boerne, Texas. Visitors are led to a room to watch an overused video tape about how caves are created. This would be acceptable were it not for the fact that it was merely a tool for making the cave tour seem longer. The guide led us to the entrance of the cave and mentioned that "a long time ago" a hermit lived in the cave and that his bones were found and moved to a museum “somewhere.” That's all I know. Then we walked down the stairs into the cave and to the protected and totally unrecognizable mammoth bone.

Farther along, the tour became more interesting. Due to the aquifer, it is a wet cave and also subject to flooding in some places. Early explorers put a flashlight in a pickle jar and dove to find the other sections of the cave. It seems every soda straw has a drop of water dangling from the end. The ceiling sparkled and that was the most impressive thing about the cave. The 90 foot, inactive waterfall loses its impressiveness when the guide flips a switch and a mass of water comes rushing down in to a murky pool.

Our guide left us and allowed us to exit the cave at our leisure. I looked everything over because I had a feeling I would never be back. I took one last glance at the mammoth bone and cringed at the coin filled, copper colored wishing well near it. I was told not to waste my time with Cascade Caverns but I'm glad I did. I was not disappointed. I just was not amazed. See it if you haven't but hold no expectations. Now why didn't I receive this advise for the next cave I was to visit?

I went to (I'm afraid to say it for I may lose credibility) Wonder Cave in San Marcos, Texas. Stop laughing. From a seismic stand point, it's interesting. From a tourist stand point, not so much. The tour is way too short to justify the $8.75 fee, the colored lights are rude, and the one formation the cave has is allowed to be mauled by everyone who visits. There are many fossils in the cave which too are allowed to be touched and a wishing well stands full of coins. The history of this cave is limited to an illegal poker room in the cave and the fact that the cave was formed by an earthquake along the Balcones Fault line. Once again, I'm glad I saw it but once is enough. This cave is as commercial as any cave can be with an anti-gravity house, a petting zoo, and a train ride near by ready to take your money. I was left wondering, I guess it really is Wonderworld.

You must see Cave-Without-A-Name if you haven't, you can see Cascade Caverns if you want, and you might see Wonder Cave if you're desperate but don't let my opinions sway you. I just happen to be someone who enjoys seeing show caves in all their glory. After all, they are still caves even if they are strung with lighting and draped with staircases. Why deny them for their development? If some caves were not developed, we might never see them and I would hate to think I would never get to see something like Caverns Of Sonora in Texas or the infamous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. So, just tolerate the cheesy commercialism and go see a cave.

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