Texas Speleological Survey

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This page last updated September 13, 2013

Longhorn Cavern

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  • Website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/longhorn/longhorn.htm and http://www.longhorncaverns.com/
  • 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

Directions:

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.

Description:

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 volume).

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.

Bibliography:

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, 19.

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.

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