Tuesday, August 26th, 1997 - San Antonio, Texas

The day began on not exactly the best of footings, and eventually ended 180 feet below the ground.

I woke up fairly early to visit Six Flags, Fiesta Texas, a theme park that is very popular around here. The guide book from the automobile association indicated that it would be open, however, it turned out not to be, but not before I made the trip to the park (about half an hour away). So, suspecting the worse, I also attempted to see if Sea World was open, another half hour away, again not open. It is unfortunate, the theme park is supposed to be quite good, I have heard they have a few really good roller coasters as well as a laser night show against cliffs that circle the park.

Since I was travelling, I figured that I might as well do something that I had been planning, namely, visiting a local cave (which happens to be the largest in Texas). I had to first return to downtown to the hotel to pick up my camera which I had left there, then I made the additional half hour trip to the Natural Bridge Caverns. The cavern was a bit off of the interstate, over some winding roads, and through various cattle farms around here. It was really neat to see the cactus along the side of the road growing in the wild. Interesting to think that people at home actually pay money for such plants and here they grow like weeds.

The caverns was a nicely appointed tourist area, where I had a conversation with a canteen employee about my “accent” (“Canadian? Could tell, you have an accent”, “No, you have the accent?”, “I have an accent? Oh, a southern drawl?”, “Yes”) It was quite amusing (you had to be there, a few people were getting into it). A knowledgeable guide took us down a winding path to the cave entrance where he pointed out the formation that gives the caverns their name, the natural bridge of stone that bridges over the entrance. These caves formed after underground rivers slowly eroded the softer layers of rocks over a long period of time then the water table dropped, leaving the caves as they are now.

Natural Bridge Caverns, Near San Antonio, Texas

It was a long way down, passing many different formations and deep, clear, pools of water. Quite fascinating to think that it is all natural, all of the colours and sheer beauty of it all. These caverns are the largest and Texas (they are ALL large in Texas “chuckle”). There were a few parts that are really surprising, a cathedral ceiling about 100 feet high, a 40 foot drop from the walkway into a former stream bed, formations that took more than 25 million years to develop. The guide made it very plain that no one was to touch the formations as the oil in the skin would cause the rock to stop forming deposits and therefore the formation itself. I took some pictures, but without a flash I don't know if they will turn out. There were a large number of people on the tour, which lasted more than an hour, covering more than half a mile, and we only saw less than half of the discovered cave system.

The guide indicated that the southern portions of the cave may be opened to the public later but remain closed for now. Considering the number of people that visit the caves, they are in remarkable shape, and very well accommodated for the visitors, many of the formations were labelled and well lit.

I took the long way back to the visitor center, walking along the path looking at the local foliage (cactus and various trees), also neat to see pecan trees.

After this, I figured I had enough time to visit another cave close by (Cascade Caverns), about half an hour away. This one was much more difficult to get to, I had to follow a very narrow, windy, road through various farmers fields (literally, at one point I actually crossed over a “texas gate” and into the middle of a field full of cattle, a cow was right beside, if not on, the road). Eventually, I came up on the visitor center which was rather run down with various signs indicating that I should “Beware of the cats” and “Do not touch the animals, cats, they may bite”. This, along with the general state of repair, or in this case, disrepair, gave me a sinking feeling. This was not appeased by the generally ramshackle visitor center (“I would like a ticket” “OK”, “Do you offer a AAA discount?” “Certainly not.”, I still don't know what that means).

After watching a dismal video for ten minutes about how caves are formed, we were shown down a path in bad repair, past light standards that looked like they were from the 50s, or earlier (and it turns out they were - this cave is the oldest public cave in operation in Texas). The path was very dangerous and slippery. The formations were almost non existent and there was not much of any sort of head room (some ceilings were only about 4 feet high). I was grateful that I wore a hat as I could hear the water hitting the top of it.

We got to the far end of the cave were there was a waterfall and a pool at the bottom. In the middle of the somewhat cloudy pool there was a drain and then my heart sunk even more. It turns out that the whole cave system was flooded in June of this year and they pumped out all of the water to open it again to the public. It turns out that in the dry season (right now) they pump water (no joke) from the pool to keep the waterfall running “So you can see how pretty it is, for our guests”. There was an inflatable boat in the pool so that the staff can remove twigs and other foreign objects from the pool that fall in via the water. What was disturbing was the blatant interference with nature and violation of the purity of the cave, in direct contrast with the other cave I visited. I guess I am just a purist, but it somehow diminished the visit greatly for me. Someone asked why I did not take any pictures and I guess this is for the same reason I do not take pictures at the zoo, man forming nature for it's own entertainment. Taking pictures of something in it's natural form is much more fulfilling for me.

Don't get me wrong, the people were really nice and helpful at this other cave, it was just the degradation of the cave that was disappointing.

Anyway, after that I finally returned to San Antonio. In case you are wondering, I have put about 1,000 miles on the car (well, 930) so far, yes, I have been travelling a bit, I don't think I will be doing much travelling in the next while, limiting my trips to San Antonio only.

⇒ Continue to Wednesday, August 27th, 1997 - San Antonio, Texas