Remembering the Titans

So, what is the greatest cave I have ever entered? I go against this great state of Texas when I say this, but the greatest cave I have yet explored was in Arkansas! I had the opportunity to go on a wild cave tour through the Blanchard Springs Caverns while on a summer vacation with an old boyfriend and his family.

 

First we all went on the general tour, what they call the discovery tour. You walk through the cave with other touristy types, seeing the formations and different rooms of the cave. The first thing you notice when you get into the cave is how the temperature drops. I believe this is a result of the cool water, but the humidity level stays at about 100 percent so it is not unbearably cold.

 

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This is a picture of a flowstone seen in the Blanchard Springs Cavern. This stone in particular is about 20 yards long. (Photo taken by yours truly)

The wild cave tour is where the adventure truly kicks off. First, you revisit the trails that you walked on the discovery tour, but it all begins when you cross over that chain-link rail and step off the path. Feeling like quite the rebel, I was filled with excitement and joy to know that I would get to see parts of the cave that only true spelunkers venture into. As the trek continues, you walk on dirt so fine that it almost seems like sand. One of the more fun parts of the tour is sliding down the side of a hill on your bum because it is so steep.

 

As far as caving goes, this cave is fairly easy to navigate; there are no belly-crawling spaces or many low ceilings. No, this cave features hills and inclines that you have to climb. Instead of feeling claustrophobic you experience an overwhelming sense of how big the underground world actually is. It makes you wonder about all that yet to be discovered.

 

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This is picture taken from inside of the cave. You can see here how large the inside of the caverns are. (Photo courtesy of Blanchard Springs Caverns).

By far the last room on the tour is the greatest sight I have ever seen. Forget ocean views and purple mountains, the grandeur of the formations you see here take the cake. The giant cavern is as long as three football fields and is referred to as “The Titan Room.” The Titans are a group of massive missile-shaped formations 50 stories tall. They are definitely the main attraction of this tour and will simply take your breath away.

 

Another great feature of the caverns occurs above ground on the hiking trail. The trail takes you to a natural spring where water flows back out of the cave, filling up to create a swimming hole. The water is crystal clear and feels to be no more than 60 degrees. It was too cold to get in during my visit, but it looks like a very refreshing destination for a summer dip.

 

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Here is a view of the water that runs out of the cave into a natural pool. The area is so lush and green, a nice change of scene after being in the dark cave. (Photo courtesy of Blanchard Springs Caverns)

That concludes my adventures Arkansas, thank you for joining me in my trip across state lines! Next week I am going to talk about my visit to Jacobs Well, a unique underwater system in Wimberley, Texas.

Caving Without Borders

Today I am going to take y’all on a journey beyond the Texas borders to explore the caves of our neighbor, Arkansas. One tour guide referred to the state as having hollow hills because of how many caving systems are available to explore.

 

We drove the eight plus hours from Austin, Texas to reach the lush, rolling hills of Arkansas. The first stop was at a cave site called Cosmic Caverns. The small building sits centered on an empty stretch of road surrounded by neon green fields punctuated with tall trees. We pulled into the parking lot on a grey and cloudy day; the whole green scene was a lovely contrast to the dark skies above.

 

The cave tour takes you, along with other novelist spelunkers, out the backdoor of the building to what looks like the entrance into an old mineshaft. The steps are steep and the walls are slick and slippery. I felt like I was walking down into an old castle dungeon. Cosmic Caverns is one of the warmest caves in Arkansas and has a humidity rate of nearly 100 percent, making it feel even warmer inside its dank rooms.

Here is a picture of a flowstone forming on the wall inside of Cosmic Caverns. You can also see what looks like the beginning of cave bacon on the bottom edges. (Photo credit: Cosmic Caverns)

Here is a picture of a flowstone forming on the wall inside of Cosmic Caverns. You can also see what looks like the beginning of cave bacon on the bottom edges. (Photo credit: Cosmic Caverns)

As you walk along the path you get to see a variety of cave formations along the surfaces of the cave. There is an abundance of soda straws, formations that look like stalagmites or stalactites but are hollow in the middle. Cosmic Caverns features the longest soda straw in the Ozarks, it measures over nine feet long and is located in a newly discovered area called Silent Splendor.

Cosmic Caverns also houses not one, but two bottomless lakes within its structure!

 

Here is a look at one of the bottomless lakes found in Cosmic Caverns. (Photo courtesy of Branson Ticket & Travel)

Here is a look at one of the bottomless lakes found in Cosmic Caverns. (Photo courtesy of Branson Ticket & Travel)

 

One lake that you see is called South Lake. South Lake is thought to be bottomless because with all of the technology available today they have yet to locate its end. The infinite depth is home to a species of cave-dwelling trout that are said to have been there for the past 50 years, and have lost their vision as well as most of their color in their adaptation to life in dark water. As I looked over the railing into the depth of the water I wondered where the underground lake could possibly lead – what was on the other end? I like to imagine that you’d pop up in some natural spring in the forests of China. Or maybe you’d find an off-the-chart grotto that is filled with treasures and where crystals are growing on the walls.

Where do you think the bottomless lake ends? Check back next week as I continue the journey in Arkansas and tell you about my experience in the largest underground cavern I’ve ever known to exist.

Going below and beyond: exploring Texas caves

Aside from the live music and continuous stream of social events that take place in and around Austin, there are also a variety of ways to disconnect from the public and reconnect to nature. Yes, you can explore the greenbelt or sunbathe in the park, but I personally prefer to go to the dark side.

 

Central Texas offers a selection of dark, dank holes to crawl into…

It’s a safe bet to say that if you were a child growing up in central Texas you likely went on a class field trip to the Natural Bridge Caverns. Located just outside of San Antonio, this is one of the better-known cave attractions. They offer guided walking tours, allowing anyone to see the great underground rooms. This is where I first learned about cave formations: stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and my favorite, cave bacon! Natural Bridge also offers an Adventure Tour that takes you off the path to follow the same route that wastaken by the cave’s discoverers in the 1960s. I have yet to do this, but it is going on my spelunking bucket list for sure!

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Here you can see a large formation of cave bacon shown growing on the wall. (Photo courtesy of Natural Bridge Caverns)

 

Another popular site in the area is the Longhorn Cavern State Park. Here you can take your family on a walking tour of the cave, or if you’re up for it you can go on a spelunking adventure tour. Longhorn Cavern is one of the few caves that have been formed by running water. It was used by Comanche Indians over 400 years ago, and is said to have held Confederates during the Civil War in addition to famous Texas outlaws who were hiding from the law. The park is located in Burnet and boasts nature trails and other activities for those who prefer to stay above ground.

 

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Photo by Mario Cantu, Courtesy of Longhorn Caverns State Park

 

The other destination for field trips in central Texas is the Inner Space Caverns, located just miles outside of Austin. Like the others, they offer tours for first-timers and beginners, and wild cave tours for the more advanced crawlers, like myself. I visited this cave as a child on a school trip, and remember the spectacle. There are lights hidden among the formations that illuminate the natural beauty of the cavern. There are also “cave drawings” that make the visiting kids excited and interested in the history of Texas caves.

 

While these three sites are certainly the most popular and provide fun for the whole family to enjoy, there are many other lesser-known caves to explore. Some are not as easy as others to navigate. The next time you find yourself making a trip to a Texas state park, ask about the cave tours they offer at your location!

 

What are some of your favorite cave experiences? Comment below and I just might add it to my never-ending list of things to do!

My First Descent

Hello readers! I am a communications student at the University of Texas at Austin, and an avid lover of anything outdoors. I especially love to go caving, which is what this blog will be dedicated to. Below is a recap of my very first time spelunking, the start of a beautiful relationship between me and the underground world. Enjoy!

This is me inside of Airmen's Cave, sticking my arm through the hole of a ledge. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Loverro)

This is me inside of Airmen’s Cave, sticking my arm through the hole of a ledge. (Photo credit:  Daniel Loverro)

Crawling headfirst into a dark, dank hole was not how I wanted to spend the first sunny Saturday afternoon in April. Yet somehow my shorts and tank top were swapped for blue jeans, kneepads and a headlamp. Yes, my more adventurous friends convinced me to tag along on their excursion into the depths of the Austin Greenbelt into a cavern called Airmen’s Cave. With camelback in hand and butterflies in my stomach, we hiked along the riverbed to a hole in the cliff-side. This is where we would enter the unknown.

 

Two pilots wandered off from the Bergstrom Air Force Base and discovered Airmen’s Cave in March of 1971.  Until recently Airmen’s was open for all brave souls to discover, but according to the University of Texas Grotto club it has been gated off by the city to preserve its ecological system and to keep hooligans out. You are still able to enter, but now must be accompanied by a tour guide. In my opinion this takes away from the wonder of feeling like your crawling in uncharted territory, but you can at least rest assured that if it’s your first time you won’t get lost one hundred feet under the Mopac expressway.

 

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The entrance to the cave, called the Birthing Canal, as seen from the inside of the cave.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Loverro)

 

Walking up to the cavern in the side of the cliff, I was not aware that the very first challenge was going to involve something called “The Birthing Canal.” If you have any inclination to feel claustrophobic in small spaces, I do not recommend this adventure for you. This first squeeze is so tight that I could not even move my arms and had to literally inch myself along using my fingertips and toes. This is the point where I wondered what in the hell I was thinking crawling into the hole that I was now sure I was going to die in. Lucky for me, the first squeeze is the toughest part.

 

I hope if you go that you expect to get dirty, because the next section of the journey requires some army crawling. The ceiling is so low that we had to crawl in a single-file line, keeping our heads in a groove so that we could look up and in front of us. Once we made it to the end, the cave opened up even more and we stood bent over treading over the rubble from a fallen cavern ceiling. Not to worry, if you see this, it means that the room has naturally stabilized itself.

 

The pathways winds through some tight rock halls, and eventually you crawl under some more low ceilings, until finally you are rewarded with a cool, muddy room, known as the Aggie art museum. Here you get to relive your childhood sliding around in the clay. Many people build little figures and slap their initials on the wall, leaving a trace of their adventure behind for all future spelunkers to marvel over.

 

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The Aggie Art Museum is a room filled with wet clay that is used to make art on the walls and ceiling.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Loverro)

After resting for a while we began our journey back to the world above.  When I crawled back out of the birth canal, the sunlight blinded my eyes, having adjusted to the low lighting. Having been reborn, I was happy to be above ground yet again, and proud that I was able to overcome my fears of scary mole-people and other such unknowns of the underground system. It is a fantastic feeling of accomplishment, and has turned into an immediate obsession.

This blog will explore the caving attractions in Texas, and even beyond, and attempt to inspire readers to get out and try a new adventure.