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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Cave Without a Name (Boerne, Texas)

The following article originally appeared in my "Canyon Lake Outdoors" column in The Hilltop Reporter weekly newspaper, for which I am the assistant editor. The Cave Without a Name is just such a terrific place that wanted to share it with my readers on this site as well.

Amazingly, of more than 4,300 known caves in Texas, the vast majority are on private property and a mere seven are run as commercial enterprises that are open to the public. One of those, however, is not just down the road from Canyon Lake, it is an exceptionally beautiful natural site and a genuine Hill Country treasure.

Located north of Boerne and just off of FM 474/East Blanco Road, “the Cave Without a Name” is worth a visit by anyone in the area interested in doing something a little different or looking for a fun way to occupy out of town guests for the afternoon. One of the most appealing characteristics of the cave during much of the year, especially one as hot as this has been, is its constant cool temperature, which can make a visit to it on a hot day a particularly pleasant experience.

“It was discovered in the late ’20s, when ranchers noticed steam coming up around a big rock that used to sit here,” said site manager Mike Burrell, who has worked at the cave for about 11 years. “The cave is always about 66 degrees, always about 100 percent humidity, so on really cold winter days, that relatively warm, moist air hits the cold air and condenses.”

When the landowners eventually moved the rock, they discovered a sinkhole descending 55 feet into the ground. (That hole is about 30,000 years old and eventually converged with the cave itself, which is about 500,000 years old.) Great numbers of prehistoric animal bones have since been found in the cave but no evidence of a human presence. Indeed, it would seem that the first people to make any use of the cave were moonshiners, who set up a still in one of its upper chambers during Prohibition.

“It was not until after Prohibition was over that some kids snuck in here,” Burrell said. “They were the first ones to go beyond where the still was and find the big part of the cave.” After they reported what they had found, people started to explore the cave with ropes and ladders.

In 1938, an entrepreneur from San Antonio named Jimmy Horn purchased the site, installed lights and gravel trails over the natural muddy floor, and in 1939 opened it to the public as an attraction. The following year, Burrell said, Horn held a contest to name the cave, and it was won by a little boy who said that it was too beautiful to have a name, and it was thus simply called “the Cave Without a Name.” For a brief period in the 1960s, one of the site’s subsequent owners did dub it “Century Caverns,” but this caused resentment among locals, who expected to see something new associated with the unfamiliar name but instead discovered it to be the cave they already knew.

Features of the cave include several large galleries containing stunning arrays of stalactites and stalagmites of every size, towering columns, and formations such as flowing draperies, soda straws, and pools of water. One of the most striking attributes of the place is how different one chamber is from another and the variety of features that can be found within them. One great cavern even functions as a natural amphitheater and is used for events like concerts and weddings.

Today, visitors to the cave are able to experience about a quarter-mile of its overall length, much of which has a subterranean stream running through it. There are, however, about three miles of explored passageways at the site — some underwater and accessible only to people with scuba gear — and portions of both that and some upper galleries that can be viewed from the cave floor have still not yet been investigated.

“We have not found the end to it,” said tour guide Luke Pennington. “We’ve kind of reached the end of where [scuba] tanks are going to take you.”

The Cave Without a Name is located at 235 Kreutzberg Road, Boerne, TX 78006. It is open year-round every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Labor Day to Memorial Day. For more information about visiting the cave or upcoming special events at it, call 830-537-4212 or go to www.CaveWithoutAName.com.