Caving in the Old ‘Hood

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I had always known the mysterious fenced off areas in the middle of the neighborhoods, and some of the seemingly random “parks” were really where developers were hesitant to put houses because of caves.

My bucket list is one item smaller. Ever since I saw sealed over cave openings in my old neighborhood (the Brushy Creek/Cat Hollow/Avery Ranch area in Williamson County), I wanted to see what was under the neighborhood. The area is in a limestone karst formation (quite near many limestone quarriees). After a cave collapsed pretty near my old house last year, I REALLY wanted to go in, so when I saw a session at the Texas Master Naturalist Conference on “Caving in Avery Ranch” I signed up.

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The mysterious entry, and all the caving equipment. Note helmets!

We carpooled over to the Avery Ranch Cave Preserve,* which is always fun (we learn so much from each other). Sure enough, there, right across from a park and another fenced in patch of land (hmm, wonder why?) is this little preserve. In it, was a locked metal door. Mysterious!

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The magic door opens. You can see that this is a typical, modern suburban setting.

All of the Master Naturalists were pretty excited to see that door open. One of them looked at me and said, “I know you.” And then I realized it was Robin England. Why is she important? Well, she used to be my neighbor (she lived on a small ranch that abutted our suburban sprawl neighborhood), but more important, all the land we were standing on used to belong to her family. In fact, the neighboring elementary school is named Elsa England. She was even more interested than I was in those caves!

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This is the current entrance. They plan to build stairs at some point to make leading groups here for cave education easier.

As they opened the cave, they told us they found it when running a trencher for utilities while they were developing the property. That’s cool, because I used to ride my bike up and down these roads when they were developing them. I probably saw them working on it.

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The different colors are from the different impurities in the limestone. A lot of them are reddish.

At last we got to go IN the cave. We went down the ladder, stooped though a low opening where you could see trencher marks, and then, the glory awaited. It was everything I dreamed of.

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This is off to the side. Look at that big, brown stalagmite!

We found it interesting that the cave was NOT chilly, but instead was very warm and humid, thanks to recent rains. It was dripping quite a bit, which showed us that it really does take a while for water to percolate down the limestone.

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You can see a drop of water hanging off one of these stalagtites.

The caving group that sponsors the cave, the Texas Cave Management Association, has built a platform so people can stand and look into the big room, and have added simple lights to highlight the area. Otherwise, it’s all nature. They have done a great job on it.

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This shows more of the little stalagtites on the ceiling.

We enjoyed hearing about how the caves are formed, discussing whether the neighborhoods around here are going to fall in (doubtful), and sharing personal stories of people finding caves when they built their swimming poole, and learning of a huge cave that got filled in with concrete when they were building the main road (Robin’s family got to see it!). But mostly we just enjoyed the beauty that lies beneath us.

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You can see how moist the rocks are, thanks to the wet weather recently.

These caves are habitats to salamanders, spiders, and other animals that process debris that come from cave openings, too. This visit made me want to protect this interesting environment even more.

Next, I’ll tell you where our little carpool group went after this.


*This link has the whole story of how the cave has been developed, so go there!

 

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

I work with Hermit Haus Redevelopment to help people quickly sell their houses. I do their social media! I'm also a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I'm also a tech writer in Austin, secretly.

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