LONGHORN CAVERN STATE PARK, TEXAS
My naturalist sensitivities had been urging me to make this excursion for a good few years now, and I finally caved. Which is not to say that I did not myself find our visit to Longhorn Cavern State Park a rewarding experience, because I truly did, and in no small measure.
The cost of admission, I note in passing, was hardly trivial. But I would gladly have paid twice or even three times what we did, in order to experience natural history (still in the making) in a state park setting, as this was, far, far from the slick commercialism of those irksome theme parks that now blot the landscape of our beloved country (and you know exactly the kind I mean).
Longhorn Cavern SP is in the Hill Country region of our revered state, a world apart from that hundred-mile-wide vehicular race track where we live, also known as Houston (Harris County, Texas). It’s hard to believe that we are talking about one and the same state.
The following paragraphs will hardly do justice to the visit; you need to just go and experience it yourself. The Cavern is situated in a region that is remarkably rich, geologically speaking. Longhorn Cavern is a series of limestone caves stretching for a several miles, that were formed by the cutting action of an underground river that receded thousands of years ago. Before the cave became a tourist attraction, it was used over the years by Indians, Confederate soldiers and outlaws, including outlaw Sam Bass.
But to call it a “tourist attraction” is patently unfair, for it egregiously underestimates the intellectual sincerity of the multitudes who throng there in all seasons for a living lesson in geology and natural history. No, no, the «tourists» go to those «other» attractions that can be found along the interstate, while *these* folks are of a far more sublime inclination entirely. These are inquiring souls who revel in the many shapes and forms that Mother Earth assumes as she caresses us in her loving embrace, as she has done for longer than anyone can remember.
Particularly poignant is the account of the Commanche Indians whose treasured lands of thousands of years were deeded by the American government to settlers as an incentive, with total disregard for the Commanches and their precedent on the land of scores or hundreds of generations. The latter were quite pissed, as any thinking, sensitive human could understand, but which those government bureaucrats
certainly were not. (You know, sort of like the bureaucrats of today.) Well, the upshot was that the Commanches took to scalping settlers as 1. an act of protest and 2. a deterrent against any future planned infringements.
Now, it was those very Commanches who were inhabiting the Longhorn Cavern at the time, except that they called it something else, no doubt. And futhermore, those Native Americans more precisely inhabited exactly *one* cave of the hundred or so that comprise the cavern, and that only during such daylight hours that sunlight managed to pour through that opening to the cave (which has since been sealed up for a variety of reasons).
The thing was, you see, that the Commanches were afraid of the dark in the very most literal sense (a cultural quirk; go figure — every people has its superstitions and limitations). So the Commanches would never, ever venture beyond that one cave, nor enter (or remain in) even that one except in morning and early afternoon.
Now, besides scalpings, the murderous by highly spookable Commanches also occasionally resorted to slightly less drastic measures, such as kidnappings, and so they did when they took hostage one of the fairest young lasses in the land, the daughter of one of those very heartless politicians that had been giving away their ancestral lands parcel by parcel without the slightest thought.
The story does have a happy ending, however. The Americans managed to rescue the young lady by storming the cavern in a surprise attack on the Commanches. The rescuers summarily collected the comely object of their mission, delivering her safe and sound back into the hands of her grateful parents and family. And that is a true Longhorn Cavern episode.
Decades later, when Prohibition was the law of this land, one shrewd entrepeneur opened a nightclub in the same cave that was formerly the Indian «Council Room». That «speakeasy» proved highly popular among the thirsty public (and we don’t mean iced tea).
While Prohibition is now long gone, the joy lives on still in that same Council Room, where wedding vows are today exchanged and concerts staged. No air-conditioning is needed here: it’s a cool and constant 68 degrees Farenheit down below, regardless of the temperature conditions that prevail up on the grassy knolls.
From 1934 to 1942, Company 854 of the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed residences, pavilions, and an observation tower in the National Park Service Rustic architectural style. They also explored and developed the cavern and built walkways. Not to mention the hundreds of tons of hardened mud they removed from the cavern to make it passable, an heroic act that occupied them for the bulk of their eight-year tenure in the Cavern, for which they employed no power tools, just pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows.
The millions of large bats that had occupied the cavern since time immemorial, resulting in a pile of guano (aka bat poop) five feet deep, could not make peace with the noise and grime occasioned by the CRC workmen. And so those bats moved on to greener pastures (or quieter caves), never to return (at least not as of yet). The cavern today enjoys instead a minuscule population of tiny bats whose guano (if any) is measured in millimeters, not feet, and which can be seen hibernating unobtrusively in small openings in the cavern walls during the winter and early spring months.
The above is but the briefest resume of the features and history of the Longhorn Caverns, but we hope it has at least whetted your appetite to travel to Barnet, Texas, in order to see that geological marvel for yourself. It is unquestionably worth the trip.