This morning, after I dragged my lazy butt out of bed (hey, it’s my one day to sleep in), I realized the temperature was cool and it was drizzling. So even though I ran five miles yesterday, I took advantage of the slightly cooler temps for a three-mile run around the neighborhood. Well, it was cool and drizzly when I started…. but by the time I finished, it was sunny and warm. Naturally.
After my run, we decided drive out to the Hill Country, maybe visit one of the state parks. No real destination in mind–we were hoping to see the last of the bluebonnets, but we really didn’t find any.
So we headed toward Inks Lake State Park–the Highland Lakes (particularly Travis and Buchanan) are really low due to the ongoing drought, but Inks is a constant-level lake so it should still look pretty scenic. But then we spotted a sign for Longhorn Cavern a few more miles down the road. We’d been to Carlsbad a few years ago (only a few days after a wildfire burned a huge swath through the park) and loved it, so we kept driving.
The only way in to Longhorn Cavern is via tour guide, so while we waited for the next tour, we checked out the old park administration building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.
As we walked down the stairs toward the entrance, the temperature dropped at least ten degrees. Walking inside the cavern itself, it became even cooler–68* year-round. Clearly this is a wise summertime activity!
The land was privately-owned until the late 1930s. During Prohibition, a section of the cavern actually functioned as a Speakeasy–with a bar, a dance floor, and a stage. In the next room, they held church services. Go figure.
But the landowner, sometime after Prohibition ended, ran into some financial trouble and sold the land to the state. As part of the CCC, hundreds of workers (for $1/day plus room and board) then excavated the cavern from the small section used for the Speakeasy to a six-mile underground state park. Using wheelbarrows and shovels, it took them several years to remove the dirt and sediment deposited by the river that initially created the cavern. It must have been backbreaking, exhausting work. But the results are pretty impressive.
The “rock-weiler” stands in what’s known as the Throne Room. It’s natural formation, although it’s no longer situated in its original location. The story goes, some years ago a woman wanted a picture astride the dog, and not surprisingly, it broke. It was repaired and slightly relocated. I can’t find anything to verify this, or the supposed $70,000 fine the woman had to pay, but that’s the lore.
I didn’t get a picture of the Cave Bear, but rubbing its shiny nose supposedly gives you good luck. Another section looks like natural limestone, but it’s actually limestone concrete and chicken wire, constructed by the CCC to seal up the original speakeasy entrance.
Finally, we learned that the cavern was designated as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. These barrels (now used as trash cans) were filled with provisions and placed around the cavern. As it’s only about 50 miles from Johnson City, there were plans for LBJ to shelter here, should that become necessary, along with up to 1500 of his fellow Americans.
We emerged back into 80-degree temps, which was kind of a shock. We had walked approximately a mile and a half and dropped 120 feet below the surface. But it was gradual and never seemed arduous. I had to pay attention to my footsteps in the dim light, as I was wearing flip-flops and the ground was kind of uneven. And a few sections were very very low–even I had to duck in a couple of spots. But it’s an interesting place and was a
great grand way to spend the day.