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June 2009 cover image loblolly pines at Sam Rayburn

Park Pick: Kickapoo Cavern

Bats and amazing formations can be found underground.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Outfitted with headlamps and flashlights, youngsters from Eagle Pass arrive every summer at Kickapoo Cavern State Park, eager to explore the primitive cavern that conceals the state’s largest known formations.

“During our morning visit, the kids also see plants and animals that we don’t have in our area, and we’re just 65 miles southwest,” says Carol Cullar, director of the Rio Bravo Nature Center, which hosts the ecology camp. “We always spot Carolina wrens, scrub jays, mealy sage in bloom and pinyon pines.”

Venturing inside the cave, though, thrills the children more. “Kickapoo Cavern’s impressive,” says Mike Knezek, park manager. “Primitive, too. There’s absolutely no light. That’s why we tell people on the guided tour to bring two flashlights. One’s a backup in case the first goes out. You also need to be in good physical shape and wear sturdy shoes because it’s a fairly rough hike underground.”

Rough, but well worth the effort. The payoff comes midway down the rocky, 1,400-foot-long passage when visitors reach the cave’s two massive columns. At 80 feet high and 30 feet across, they’re believed to be the largest speleothems (cave formations) in Texas. One of two side passages leads to the damp Wishing Well Room, where formations are still actively growing.

Another cave — the second largest of some 20 in the 6,368-acre Hill Country park — hosts a half million Mexican free-tailed bats during spring and early fall months. Evening flights from the Stuart Bat Cave can be impressive but unpredictable. Visitors should call ahead for the bats’ estimated departure (Saturdays only).

Birdwatchers flock to the park to glimpse gray vireos, varied buntings and roadrunners. The population of endangered black-capped vireos is the largest of any state park. Endangered golden-cheeked warblers have also been sighted in the area. Kickapoo Cavern State Park is open daily by prior arrangement only, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We keep the park gate locked, but if someone wants to come in earlier to birdwatch or hike, they can call ahead,” Knezek adds.

Wild cave tours run 1:30-4 p.m. Saturdays. Park entrance fee, $3 (12 and under free); tour fee, $7. Liability release required. Stuart Bat Cave bat flights, $5 fee. Reservations required for both. Kickapoo Cavern State Park is located 22 miles north of Brackettville on Ranch Road 674. For more information, call 830-563-2342 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/kickapoocavern.

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