Click on Map below for a larger image
- Website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/longhorn/longhorn.htm
- Location: Burnet County
- Length: 3,002 m (9,850 ft.)
- Depth: >7 m (>23 ft.)
- Hours: Daily, tours start 10 a.m., closing varies with season
- Length of Tour: 1:30 (2 km, 1.25 mi.), special group tours can be arranged
- Admission: Please call for current rates.
- Phone: (512) 756-4680
- Other Amenities: Historical museum, nature trails, camping in nearby Inks Lake State Park
(phone (512) 793-2223)
- Author: William R. Elliott
From Marble Falls go
north from the bridge over the Colorado River (Lake Marble Falls) on 281
for about 8.5 miles, watching for cavern signs. Turn left (west) on Park
Road 4, and drive 6 miles to Longhorn Cavern State Park headquarters. The
road continues 4 miles to Inks Lake State Park. Burnet is another 3 miles
north on U.S. 281.
Longhorn Cavern has
few formations but lovely wall sculpting and large calcite crystals. At
different times the cave was a Comanche hideout, a black powder factory,
a dance hall, a restaurant, and a church.
Longhorn Cavern is formed in a fault
block of the Ordovician-age Ellenburger Limestone on a plateau called Backbone
Mountain. The cave is oriented north-south and exhibits a dendritic and
meandering stream pattern, which drains to the south. Passages average
7 m wide and 2 to 7 m high. The cave has a large walk-in entrance and three
vertical entrances. The large entrance that once led into the Lunchroom
area has been artfully sealed. About 90% of the known cave is mapped. Most
of the unmapped stream passages are accessible only during very dry weather.
Eyed crayfish inhabit the cave stream-they are pale but not cave-adapted.
The trail traverses about 25% of the known passage.
Paleontological deposits in the cave
were studied by Semken (1961), and included three bone-bearing units going
back to the late Pleistocene (see Toomey's chapter on paleontology in this
Once upon a time Comanches kidnapped
a young woman named Mariel King and brought her to the cave. They were
followed by three Texas Rangers, who fired on them, grabbed Mariel, and
made for the entrance. The Comanches counterattacked, and a hand-to-hand
battle ensued. The Rangers escaped with Mariel, who later married one of
her rescuers, Logan Van Deveer.
Later, during the Civil War, Confederate
Soldiers used the cave's main room as a gunpowder factory. Bat guano from
the cave was used to make saltpeter for the black powder. Several other
Texas bat caves were used to make black powder during that era. Additional
small rooms in the back of the cave were used as gunpowder storerooms.
Legend holds that Sam Bass, a notorious
bandit, used the cave for his hideout in the 1870s. The current main entrance
is named for him.
In the 1920s a local businessman opened
a dance hall in the largest room and built a wooden dance floor. He also
opened a restaurant in the next room, lowering food through one of the
pit entrances. A preacher built bleachers in the cave to accommodate his
congregation for Sunday services. After the Depression struck, the owners
sold the cave to the State Parks Board in 1931. The cave opened to the
public in 1932.
Various groups worked to make "improvements"
in the cave, but most of the work was done by the Civilian Conservation
Corps (CCC), one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's innovations to help
the unemployed during the Depression. Much of the cave at that time consisted
of low crawlways, so the CCC had to excavate much of the fill. Artificial
shafts were dug to facilitate the removal of the original floor deposits,
mud, guano, and bone-laden clay. These were dug out or washed down with
high-pressure hoses to the lower level. The original level of the clay
floor can still be seen in several passages. Bats were driven out and are
no longer present. A museum in the rustic old stone headquarters depicts
the days of the CCC.
The cave was used during the Cold War
to store Civil Defense supplies as a potential fallout shelter. In 1989
the Texas Speleological Association held a volunteer cleanup project and
removed the Civil Defense materials and an old photographic lab from the
cave. A sinkhole that had been used for decades as a dump was cleaned up
and many truckloads of trash hauled off.
Elliott, W. R. 1992. Cave fauna conservation
in Texas. 323-337 in Foster, D.G. (ed.). 1991 Natl. Cave Mgmt. Symp. Proc. Amer. Cave Consv. Assoc., Horse Cave, Kentucky.
Fieseler, R. G. 1978. Cave and karst
distribution of Texas. pp. 15-53 in Fieseler, R.G, J. Jasek, and
M. Jasek. An Introduction to the Caves of Texas. NSS Conv. Guidebook,
Fralia, B. 1989. Longhorn Cavern cleanup
project. Texas Caver, 34(5):103.1-103.2.
Semken, H. A., Jr. 1961. Fossil vertebrates
from Longhorn Cavern, Burnet County, Texas. Texas J. Sci., 13:290-310.