Exploring the Caverns and Caves in Texas
There are at least 9500 known caves, sinkholes and springs in Texas covering about 20% of the state. The majority of the Texas caves occur in the limestone of the Edwards Group, Glen Rose, and Austin Chalk, distributed in the Balcones Fault zone, the Edwards Plateau , the Stockton Plateau, and the Cibolo Creek and the Guadalupe River Basins.
Texas has at least 129 caves that are 984 ft. long or longer. Honey Creek Cave in Comal and Kendall Counties is the state's longest at 20 miles. Powell's Cave System, a complex of three caves in Menard County , is at least 13 miles long. Both caves are still being actively explored and we could learn that they are bigger than that.
Texas has at least 118 caves are 99 feet deep or deeper. Sorcerer's Cave in Terrell County is the deepest at 558 feet. The largest cave in terms of volume may be Fern Cave in Val Verde County , estimated at about 10 million cubic feet.
Hundreds of ancient species, specially adapted to an energy-efficient life in permanent darkness, are scattered through the caves of Central Texas . Cave-adapted salamanders, catfishes, shrimps, isopods, amphipods, snails, spiders, harvestmen, pseudoscorpions, beetles, millipedes, centipedes, and other types have been described. Most of these eyeless "troglobites" occur in the Balcones Fault Zone. Some of these species are endangered by land development, overuse of groundwater, pollution, and pests such as the red imported fire ant.
About two dozen Texas caverns harbor a total of about 100 million Mexican free-tailed bats from April to November every year. These migratory bats consume 6,000 to 18,000 metric tons of insects annually in Texas . The largest known mammal colony in the world is the colony of 20 million or more Mexican freetails in Bracken Bat Cave , Comal County .
About 25 Texas caves have yielded important fossils of extinct vertebrate animals such as the scimitar cat, dire wolf, Columbian mammoth, ground sloth, glyptodon, spectacled bear, and flat-headed peccary. Radiocarbon dates up to 23,000 years before present have been recorded. Bats have utilized Texas caves for many millennia. The remains of small mammals found in cave soil and flowstone strata have chronicled the climatic shifts in Texas since the ice ages ended about 11,000 years ago. Central Texas was a cool, moist environment until about 3,000 years ago.
Early scientific work in Texas caves began in 1896 with the description of the Texas blind salamander from an artesian well at San Marcos . Important bat guano caves were documented in 1901; the caves had been sources of nitrates for gunpowder but became fertilizer mines for citrus and vegetable farms.
The following seven show caves are open to the public. Of the seven listed below, I have personally been to three of them, Inner Space Cavern, Longhorn Cavern and Natural Bridge Cavern.
Natural Bridge Caverns
- Website: http://www.naturalbridgecaverns.com
- Location:near New Braunfels, Comal County
- Length: 8,600 ft.
- Depth: 250 ft.
Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest Texas show cave and one of the most impressive because of its size and beauty. Some of the things you'll see include totem poles, fried eggs, and massive formations.
The name of the cave comes from the natural stone bridge at the entrance of the cave. It is all that remains of a huge collapsed room. The cave is unusual because most of it is formed in the upper member of the Glen Rose Formation (Cretaceous age), which is not usually cavernous.
Before the cave was commercialized in 1964, it was popular among cavers.
Rooms you'll see include Castle of the White Giants, named for its massive speleothems, Grendel's Canyon, which leads down to the deepest point in the cave some 250 feet below the entrance and Hall of the Mountain Kings, a huge dome where the floor is covered with flowstone, stalagmites, columns, and fried eggs.
Wonder Cave at Wonder World near San Marcos, Texas
- Website: http://www.wonderworldpark.com/
- Location: San Marcos, Hays County
- Length: 1,296 ft.
- Depth: 91 ft
Wonder Cave is unusual in that it is formed along a fault in the Balcones Fault Zone.
Wonder Cave is the smallest and oldest, continuously operating of the seven show caves in Texas, Wonder Cave was originally called Bevers Cave after Mark Bevers, who discovered it in 1896. A.B. Rogers bought it and opened it to the public some time prior to 1915. It is now part of the Wonder World theme park.
Inner Space Cavern near Georgetown, Texas
- Website: http://www.innerspace.com/
- Location: Georgetown , Williamson County
- Length: 15,000 ft.
- Depth: 80 ft.
- Discovered: 1963
Inner Space Cavern is a large cave with many beautiful formations and interesting displays of Pleistocene-age mammal bones. Inner Space was discovered in 1963 by the highway department when they were building a highway overpass on Interstate 35. A cavity was found when drilling a hole and a highway engineer was lowered on the drill stem into what is now called the "Outer Cathedral."
The cave was opened to the public as a show cave in 1966. Visitors enter the cave on a cable car ride. The large Outer Cathedral is part of the tour where visitors can see the corehole where the first highway department explorer entered.
A beautiful white flowstone, The Flowing Stone of Time, can be seen with water flowing over its flanks. The tour then passes under a high ceiling with large scallops and pendants, past the talus cone of Bone Sink, where a crumbling mammoth tusk is visible, to the Inner Cathedral. The tour then stops at the Lake of the Moon for a dreamy sound-and-light show, then moves on to the Lunar Landscape, which examines another side of the bone sink. The tour then retraces its route to the entrance.
Inner Space is one of the leading Pleistocene paleontological sites in Texas . Several sinkhole entrances were open to the surface about 13,000 to 25,000 years ago, as evidenced by dated remains of extinct mammoth, saber-toothed cat, glyptodont (a Volkswagen-sized armadillo, yikes!), camel, horse, ground sloth, short-faced bear, peccary, bat, and other species. The oldest radiocarbon-dated bone from a Texas cave came from Inner Space over 22,000 years ago. The cave contained several complete skeletons of Platygonus compressus, an extinct peccary. This species had a habit of crawling into remote passageways to die.
The cave contains a diverse invertebrate fauna, including two endangered species, Texella reyesi (Bone Cave harvestman) and Batrisodes texanus (Coffin Cave mold beetle).
- Website: www.cascadecaverns.com
- Location: Boerne, Kendall County near San Antonio
- Length: 1,700 ft.
- Depth: 132 ft.
- Length of Tour: 0:45 to 1:00
Cascade Caverns' main entrance is a pit known as the "Peep in the Deep." The Diamond Ceiling features hundreds of sparkling stalactites. The cavern also features the Cathedral Room which is the largest in Kendall County . A large waterfall crashes down the wall into a lake at the far end of the Cathedral Room.
In the 1800s, a ledge located inside the entrance pit was the 20 year home/hideout of a German man who sought solace after being scorned by his lover.
By 1932 the cave was opened to the public.
Cascade Cavern has a large number of species living there, but is best known for a type of salamander called Eurycea latitans, that is a hybrid between the spring salamander E. neotenes and the blind Honey Creek Cave salamander E. tridentifera. Bones of Pleistocene-age mammals also have been found in the cave.
Caverns of Sonora
- Website: http://www.cavernsofsonora.com/
- Location: near Sonora , Sutton County
- Length: 20,000 ft.
- Depth: 150 ft.
Caverns of Sonora is internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful caves in the world with sections being compared to the crystal-lining of a geode. Many speleothems are intricately layered; stalactites hang from calcite wall crusts, with off-shooting straight and branching helictites covered with coral, and soda straws dripping from the multiple coral and helictite tips onto flowstone, stalagmites and coral trees below. Onion ring, saw-tooth, and ricocheting helictites, dog tooth spar, angel wings, and other speleothems occur in great abundance throughout the cave.
In 1960, Caverns of Sonora opened to the public.
Cave Without a Name
- Website: http://www.cavewithoutaname.com
- Location: near Boerne, Kendall County (near San Antonio )
- Length: 14,211 ft.
- Depth: 89 ft.
- Discovered: Early 1900s
Cave Without A Name is probably Texas ' best kept secret among show caves. This cave isn't widely advertised. The entrance pit has been enlarged to accommodate a spiraling staircase leading down to an area containing large columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and draperies. The speleothems include some of best rimstone dams and cave bacon in Texas .
The cave was discovered in the early 1900s when steam was seen rising from the pit entrance one cold winter morning. A rock that partially covered the pit was moved, but no one went into the cave until the 1920s when it was necessary to rescue a goat. In 1927, a group of boys dug open a short crawlway at the base of the entrance pit and found the main part of the cave. Between this discovery and its commercialization, the cave's entrance area hid a moonshine still during prohibition years. Significant exploration of the stream passage was not accomplished until the 1970s.
Cave Without A Name has operated as a show cave since 1939, when a contest to name the cave was won by a local youth who felt the cave was too pretty to have a name. For a few years in the 1970s the cave was called Century Caverns before reverting to its original name.
- Website: http://www.longhorncaverns.com/
- Location: Burnet County near Marble Falls & Burnet
- Length: 9,850 ft.
- Depth: >23 ft.
Longhorn Cavern has few formations but lovely wall sculpting and large calcite crystals. In the past, this cavern has been a Comanche Indian hideout, a black powder factory, a dance hall, a restaurant, and a church.
Longhorn Cavern is formed in a fault block of the Ordovician-age Ellenburger Limestone on a plateau called Backbone Mountain.
Comanches are said to have kidnapped a young woman named Mariel King and brought her to the cave. They were followed by three Texas Rangers, who fired on them, grabbed Mariel, and made for the entrance. The Comanches counterattacked, and a hand-to-hand battle ensued. The Rangers escaped with Mariel, who later married one of her rescuers, Logan Van Deveer.
Later, during the Civil War, Confederate Soldiers used the cave's main room as a gunpowder factory. Bat guano from the cave was used to make saltpeter for the black powder. Several other Texas bat caves were used to make black powder during that era. Additional small rooms in the back of the cave were used as gunpowder storerooms.
Legend holds that Sam Bass, a notorious bandit, used the cave for his hideout in the 1870s. The current main entrance is named for him.
In the 1920s a local businessman opened a dance hall in the largest room and built a wooden dance floor. He also opened a restaurant in the next room, lowering food through one of the pit entrances.
A preacher built bleachers in the cave to accommodate his congregation for Sunday services. After the Depression struck, the owners sold the cave to the State Parks Board in 1931. The cave opened to the public in 1932.
Wild Caves Tour
The distinction between wild cave and show caves is that the wild caves have no trails or electric lights. However, one of the attractions is the native cave fauna. Links to all of these caves with map, directions, and information can be found here.
- Kickapoo Cavern SNA & Kickapoo Cavern near Brackettville, Kinney County
- Stuart Bat Cave
- Devil's Sinkhole
- Colorado Bend State Park, San Saba County
- Cicurina Cave
- Dynamite Cave
- Gorman Cave
- Lemons Ranch Cave
- Turtle Shell Cave
Caverns & Caves Resources
- Texas Caves and Caverns
- Texas Speleological Survey TSS Cave Records Publications National Speleological Society Study Group
The Texas Speleological Survey (TSS) founded in 1961, retains records from known caves and karst features in Texas and the source of much of my research on this hub.
- Handbook of Texas Online - CAVES
- U.S. Show Caves Directory for Texas
- Texas Cave Critters
- Three Caves in Texas-Photos
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