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Spelunking

By Emily Moskal and Cyrus Harp

If you want to explore unknown frontiers, you could become an astronaut. Closer to home, step into the deep bowels of a cave and you may set foot where no man or woman has ever been — a subterranean frontier.

Cavers must overcome utter darkness, constricting crawlways, disorienting mazes of passageways, waterfalls, deep shafts and raging torrents to experience the bountiful rewards of the underworld. It’s worth the effort to discover the immense subterranean chambers, pristine still pools, crystalline chandelier ballrooms, moonscapes of translucent flowstone, gothic cathedrals of stalactites and stalagmites and otherworldly creatures that await.

spelunking

Texas is home to many caves — 5,621 at last count — including some of the most magnificent in the United States. Caves are especially common in the limestone of Central Texas. Many popular caves are accessible by walking on lighted pathways; others require hiking into wilderness, squeezing through keyhole entrances, and slithering, climbing and descending any way you can.

Cavers explore known caves, map and survey them, dig to open up unexplored passages and perhaps find new whole cave systems.

To venture beyond the easily accessed caves, you can join a caving organization. The Texas Speleological Association, part of the National Speleological Society, is the statewide organization for cavers and all things caving, but other resources include the Texas Cave Management Association, Texas Cave Conservancy, Texas Speleological Survey and Bat Conservation International.

Local, smaller organizations (usually called “grottos”) meet regularly and are a great way to get started if you live near a city. The Underground Texas Grotto serves the Austin area and meets twice a month on the UT campus, or contact other metropolitan groups: the Dallas-Fort Worth Grotto, Maverick Grotto (Fort Worth and Tarrant County), Greater Houston Grotto, Bexar Grotto (San Antonio area) and the Aggie Speleological Society (Texas A&M University area).

Gear Up

Most easy-access caves require just a headlamp or flashlight and sturdy hiking shoes, but advanced exploration requires more equipment.

  • Helmet - rock-climbing style with headlamp and two other light sources
  • Long pants; knee and elbow pads
  • Boots or sturdy shoes
  • Water
  • Dry bags with fold-over and buckle closures - zippers get ruined by mud for any gear you don't want damaged by the damp, debris and mud.

    Where to Go

  • Longhorn Cavern State Park Burnet
  • Kickapoo Cavern State Park Bracketville
  • Colorado Bend State Park Bend
  • Government Canyon State Natural Area San Antonio
  • Inner Space Cavern Georgetown
  • Natural Bridge Caverns San Antonio

     

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