An Underground Wonder in Texas
Look Into the Lone Star State's Largest Natural Caverns
Many people immediately imagine Texas to be a dry, barren desert with nothing but tumbleweeds and cacti. The Lone Star State is actually full of natural wonders, some of them hidden right beneath the surface.
The Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio were discovered by four college students from St. Mary’s University in 1960. Deciding to explore the cave under the 60-foot, gravity-defying limestone bridge at the entrance, they felt a draft while spelunking, indicating a passage into another cave. Over a series of trips, they discovered what would turn out to be the largest cave in the state. Travis Wuest, Vice President of Natural Bridge Caverns, says, “The cave system in total is over 2 ½ miles. The largest cavern is a little bit bigger than a football field.”
More than just the largest show cavern in Texas, it contains awe-inspiring, ancient formations centuries in the making, like incredible stalagmites, stalactites, chandeliers, and more. “It’s very beautiful. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe.”
The Wuest family has run the commercial tours for three generations, and each is worth experiencing. “If someone only had time to do one of the tours, I’d recommend the Discovery Tour,” Wuest says. “It’s the original tour. You get to see some of the biggest rooms in the caverns.” Guests are guided through a half-mile of enormous caves and go 180 feet underground, seeing some of its most spectacular natural formations.
Since the 1990s, Natural Bridge Caverns has also offered tours like the early-morning Lantern Tour. The first tour of the day, you can explore the passages illuminated solely by lantern light. “It’s a bit more subdued and intimate.”
Wuest also has high praise for the Hidden Passage Tour. “It’s got different types of formations that you don’t see on the regular Discovery Tours.” On top of that, you even get to experience the caves in total darkness and learn about how many remarkable creatures adapt to living in such conditions.
Not that there’s much wildlife in the caves. Typically, the most people will see are the fossilized sea shells that form the limestone in the caves. Nor will they find any treasure like Tom Sawyer. But you’ll certainly feel like you’re on an adventure. “Humans have an innate interest in exploring,” says Wuest. “Caves are an opportunity to experience something they aren’t used to. It’s a completely visceral experience. The sounds are different; the smells are different.”
But is a cave tour for everyone? He says, “Some people are naturally leery of tight places, but I wouldn’t consider the commercial tours tight. Some of the caverns are about the size of a hallway at home.” Still, if caves aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to do aboveground. From the Canopy Challenge ropes course to a maze race to panning for gold, there’s plenty for everyone to enjoy. “It’s just natural family fun. It’s a chance to experience nature and reconnect with nature with your family.”
Natural Bridge Caverns have been thoroughly explored, but Wuest isn’t convinced that they’ve found everything. “I think it’s quite likely that there’s more to discover in the caves.” Though probably only small passages or additional rock formations, the prospect of finding something new is still exciting. Could you be that intrepid explorer, making your mark by unearthing a hidden secret?
-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, ALLISON BENNETT
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