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Natural Bridge Caverns offers highs, lows

 
Natural Bridge Caverns  offers highs, lows
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ — Created by natural forces millenia ago, Natural Bridge Caverns near New Braunfels offers a great day out for the whole family.

Imagine standing on solid ground and all of a sudden, the earth gives way and everything around you falls into a deep sinkhole. You are left standing on a 60-foot-long limestone slab bridge spanning the remaining sides.

If you were just 17 miles north of what is present-day downtown San Antonio about 5 million to 20 million years ago, you would have witnessed the creation of the iconic natural stone bridge at what is known now as the Natural Bridge Caverns.

It is believed that the Balcones Fault Zone formed in Texas due to settling of the coastal regions and tectonic stresses created cracks in the rock. Moving underground water carved the passages of the cave. As the water receded, the layers of rock collapsed and formed not only the domes inside the cave, but most likely caused the sinkhole creating the natural stone bridge.

Discovery,

development

On March 27, 1960, four students from St. Mary’s University discovered a cave that would become known as the Natural Bridge Caverns, the largest commercial caverns in Texas. Landowner Clara Wuest wanted to share this discovery with the world and funded the development of the caverns. Work on trails and lights began in 1963 and continued until opening day, July 3, 1964. The caverns have been open ever since and are still owned and operated by family members.

The first section discovered was called the North Cavern; as exploration continued, the South Cavern was discovered in 1968. In 2008, the Caverns’ owners changed the names for the passages. The “North Cavern” was changed to “Discovery Passages” and the “South Cavern” became “Hidden Passages,” to better reflect the discovery and exploration history of the caverns. There are numerous tours available, from easy to extreme.

Discovery Passages Tour: This was the original tour and remains the most popular, introducing visitors to an underground world of natural beauty and amazement. It takes you 180 feet below ground level to view ancient formations that were centuries in the making and are still growing today. The Hall of the Mountain Kings is the largest room in the caverns, measuring 350 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 100 feet high -- the size of a football field. This tour lasts approximately 75 minutes.

Hidden Passages Tour: The Hidden Passages are highly decorated with unusually long soda straws, stalactites, waves of cave ribbon, and other intriguing formations. A unique experience offered only on this tour occurs when all the lights are turned off and you experience total darkness. Tours leave every 40 minutes and take approximately 70 minutes.

Lantern Tour: This is the first tour of the day, departing at 9 a.m. You enter the Discovery Passages, illuminated only by the light of your cave lantern, just like the original discoverers did decades ago.

Adventure Tours: The Hidden Passages Adventure Tour and the Discovery Passages Adventure Tour allow the more daring and adventurous souls an opportunity to strap on rappelling gear, helmets, and headlamps to explore the unknown with an experienced guide. Tours last three to four hours, are only offered on Saturday and Sunday mornings, are limited to six people, and require reservations.

Be prepared

Inside the caverns, the temperature is 70 degrees, with 99 percent humidity. It is rather hot and sticky, so dress appropriately, including non-slip footwear, as the pathways can be wet and slippery. Take a camera and some cold water with you. If you can, stay near your guide so you can hear the explanations of the geology and ecology of the caverns.

Something for everyone

Just like the caves, the Natural Bridge complex has continued to grow and add new attractions for the entire family. The Canopy Challenge and Zip Line is a world-class playground for all ages. This 60-foot tall, four-tiered adventure course tests your ability on 47 obstacles; your goal is to reach the top, while safely tethered to a complex system of overhead beams. Once at the top, you can ride one of the four zip lines and “fly” through the beautiful Texas Hill Country. There is also a Canopy Kids Course for kids ages 3 to 6.

The AMAZEn’ Ranch Roundup is a unique family--friendly maze experience built to honor five generations of ranch ownership history in the Natural Bridge Caverns family. Experience a sense of discovery finding your way through the maze, and time yourself to see how well you do. Parents or other spectators can watch from a platform above and shout directions to those below.

If you have ever dreamed of panning for gold, this is the place for you. The Mining Sluice, located around the Discovery Village Trading Post, is a series of troughs with water running through them. Inside the store, you can purchase bags of “mining rough.” Pour it into the screen tray and lower the tray into the running water; while you gently sift and shake the tray, the water washes away the dirt and slowly reveals your treasure. Choose from gem and mineral bags, fossil bags, or arrowhead bags.

And don’t miss stopping by Big Daddy’s Sweets and Treats for a great cup of coffee, fresh-squeezed lemonade, old-fashioned soda, fudge, jerky, rock candy, Jelly Belly jelly beans, and souvenir items.

Natural Bridge Caverns is truly a family affair where everyone can enjoy their own particular adventure and learn something while having fun.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

 
 
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