So, yesterday the plan was to head out to Austin with my niece and nephews – see the bats fly out from beneath Congress Bridge, maybe run around downtown a little bit. They’d only been driven through Austin before, so I figured it’d be a nice little road trip.
Then, earlier this week, I started doing a little investigating on the possible caves in the area. Once I saw the pictures of the Cave Without a Name, that was it. I had to go. I presented the idea to the kids, and they were pretty interested, so I figured we’d roll out there early saturday morning, check the cave out, then drive back up to Hamilton Park Nature Preserve before going to see the bats in Austin.
What actually happened (tl;dr): We drove ten hours to see a cave.
We left at about 8am and got to the cave at about 2pm. It’s a subtle piece of land, with a little gift shop full of rocks, as well as the same old sluice system that you can use to sift larger rocks out of a bag of sand for $5. The original entrance to the cave is still open, but is blocked off so that animals don’t wander into the hole. The entrance to the cave is off to the side of the shop, a nicely fabricated set of stone stairs that lead down into the depths of the cave itself.
As you step into the darkness, you can look up to see light streaming in from the original entrance; a few long drapes of green dip down into the hole, giving the lighting quality a lovely color.
There’s a section where you have to crouch down to move through to the largest part of the cave; a section that opens out into a room that’s easily as large as a ballroom. I was actually startled at how large the cavern was. As caves go, this one was pretty spectacular – even taking into account Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park out in Montana, Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin and Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico. I actually think that this is my third favorite cave that I’ve visted on this trip.
The part of the cave that pretty much blew me away was the underground river, as well as the multiple, delicate tiers of rimstone that flowed out from a portion of the cave called the Queen’s Throne, as well as flowing through, then behind the formation, out towards the underground river. The water was so clear that it looked like sheets of glass gently held in place.
The kids loved it – they’d never seen a cave like it yet, and I was really happy that I’d gotten to introduce them to one of my favorite things.
At some point during the tour, these two guys just wandered into the cave, unescorted. Turns out they were musicians with a group that was going to be playing in the cave later that night. Apparently the cave owners have musical events there from time to time. There were chairs stacked up in several points throughout the cave, but they weren’t really obtrusive enough to ruin the view. After a brief conversation, in which it was established that the musicians were a couple hours early, the tour guide invited them to check out the acoustics, and a guy pulled out an acoustic guitar and played a very soft, almost delicate version of Hallelujah.
My newphew Alex and I joined in, singing the chorus quietly as the guy finished up. It was completely spectacular.
Throughout the cave were small plastic jars that were apparently collecting cave water for geology students from the University of Texas who were working to collect data on the effects of seasonal changes on the growth of the cave. This was the first time I’d encountered something like this. I thought it very cool that the cave owners actively worked with the colleges to let them conduct experiments in the cave to collect helpful data on environmental changes in general. It was pretty cool.
All in all? FANTASTIC road trip. It was really great to get to hang out with my niece and nephews, and we had great, in-depth conversations about almost anything and everything – plus CAVE! Win, all ’round.