Texas Speleological Survey

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This page last updated September 13, 2013

Kickapoo Cavern

Click on Map below for a larger image

  • Cover photo
  • Website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/kickapoo/
  • Length: 428 m (1,404 ft.)
  • Vertical Extent: 39.7 m (130 ft.)
  • Author: George Veni
  • Special Instructions: Stay on the path marked to the cave and on the path down the slope inside the entrance. Indian middens occur outside those areas and could be disturbed by caver traffic.

Directions:

Go 23 miles north from Brackettville on 624. Turn left at the Kickapoo Caverns State Natural Area sign and drive about two miles to the park headquarters. Guided tours to the cave leave from here.

Description:

Kickapoo Cavern is a huge passage containing the most massive speleothems known in Texas, with helictites and other more delicate speleothems in smaller, "normal" size side passages.

The bulk of Kickapoo Cavern is within its main passage which extends south from the entrance for 270 m with an average width of 28 m and a mean height of 10 m. Most of the passage is floored with large pieces of breakdown. Midway along its length the passage is nearly blocked by the large columns for which the cave is best known. The cave's largest side passage, measuring an average 14 m wide by 4 m high, extends 74 m to the east from the base of the columns. This passage is well-decorated and most of the speleothems are active. The southern portion of the main passage is nearly blocked off by another wall of columns, beyond which the passage forks into two smaller passages that are each about 40 m long, 6-8 m wide, and 2-4 m high. The easternmost of the passages is the Helictite Room, named for the abundant helictites in its ceiling.

Kickapoo Cavern is the most famous and visited cave in the Brackettville area. A large midden (a pile of burned rock and organic debris) spills into the cave as testimony of visitation by Indians long before Europeans and their descendants settled the land. The cave has not had a detailed archaeological study, but most likely served as an occasional camp for the migratory Indians who lived throughout the region. In dry periods, the Indians may have gathered water from a rimstone pool in the cave's first side passage. Although cultural material has not been found that far inside the cave, Indians usually camped near water sources, and so they probably knew of the pool. The cave is named for the Kickapoo Indians, although it is not certain if they were among the tribes who visited it.

Knowledge of the cave in more recent years can be traced as far back as an 1889 trip report which indicates it was well known even at that time. Most graffiti dates from shortly after that period to about 1958 when it was closed due to excessive vandalism. Soot from torches used in the early days of the cave's exploration can be seen in the Helictite Room. The cave was purchased by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1986, and under both its previous private and current state ownership it has been considered for development into a show cave.

Most of the cave is extremely dry and has little organic material. Consequently, its population and diversity of invertebrate fauna is low. On rare occasions, a Townsend's Big-eared Bat (Plecotus townsendii) may be found in Kickapoo. Prior to its gating, cave swallows (Hirundo fulva pallida) lived in about 50 nests in the cave's entrance area. Watch for large, dark scorpions on the walls; they are Vaejovis reddelli, a troglophilic species.

Kickapoo Cavern formed by slow-moving phreatic groundwater which created large passages in the Devils River Limestone. Stream incision along the margin of the Edwards Plateau truncated the passage to form its entrance. Lowering of the regional water table drained the water from the cave, resulting in massive ceiling collapse throughout its length. A 3-m-deep sink in the floor just inside the first side passage, exposes a section of wall from the original solutionally formed conduit. Airflow-corroded holes through the flowstone-covered floor along the southern and southwestern portion of the main passage may reflect air circulation from uncollapsed passage segments, the entrances of which are buried under the breakdown. The lack of modern airflow and the antiquity of the surrounding large, inactive speleothems (dated as older than 350,000 years) suggest that the holes formed during some paleo-air-circulation regime.

Bibliography:

Cunningham, H. T. 1990. Trip report: the great Kickapoo Cave-1889. Texas Caver, 35 (5): 103.

Smith, A.R., and J. R. Reddell. 1965. The caves of Kinney County. Texas Speleol. Surv., 2( 7):13, 16-18.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 1990. Down Under Texas. Video for Made in Texas television series. VHS, 28 min. Available from the Department.

Veni, G. 1992. An introduction to the age of Texas caves. Texas Caver, 37(5):82-83; reprinted in GEO², 1992, 20:3-4.

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