If you're interested in joining a Texas Grotto (aka: caving club), see the list in Info Grottos. You should not attempt to go caving until you are properly equipped and trained. The grottos of the Texas Speleological Association (TSA) have training programs to teach newcomers how to cave safely. Proper caving etiquette (manners) are required to avoid incidents. Caves are potentially dangerous environments, yet they are easily damaged.

The most hazardous situations are caused by not being properly equipped and trained. If you're new to caving, please join a "grotto" and go through training. Since 1960, more than 20 people have died in Texas caves, mostly during cave diving or vertical caving incidents. These are technical areas of caving that require good training, good equipment, and good judgment. Don't try to be a self-taught caver - there are hundreds of Texas cavers who are willing to help you learn safe caving techniques. If you learn and follow the rules of safe caving, the most dangerous part will be driving to the cave.



BEXAR: 210.326.1576 KENDALL:830.537.6611
COLLIN:214.202.6611 SUTTON: 325.387.3424
HAYS: 512.393.9054 TRAVIS: 512.663.2287

Here are a few fundamental rules to follow to avoid these situations:

  • Wear a good climbing helmet or hardhat with a sturdy chinstrap. It is safer to wear a good-quality electric headlamp on the helmet than to carry a flashlight, so that your hands will be completely free for crawling and climbing.
  • Wear sturdy old clothes, work gloves, and good (but not expensive) hiking boots. Jeans, work pants, t-shirts, or military surplus shirts are relatively serviceable, but remember that they may be permanently stained by cave mud. Avoid baggy pants with big pockets - they will snag on rocks. Military "desert" boots or "jungle" boots are good for most caves. It is a good idea to wear elbow and knee pads - you can buy inexpensive ones at most discount stores, and they are definitely worth it. You will get muddy, but most of this stuff rinses off with a hose and can be washed OK.
  • Besides your headlamp, carry two other reliable sources of light in a small backpack or fanny pack, plus new batteries and spare bulbs. Small "minimag" flashlights are good. Do not rely on your companions for backup lights or batteries. In addition, a sturdy water bottle or canteen, and some snacks, such as granola bars, are recommended for longer cave trips.
    Go with at least two other experienced cavers.  Always tell someone responsible where you will be and what time you will return0 . Give them directions to the cave and the phone number of the owner or other responsible contact.
    Do not attempt to use ropes or cable ladders until you have been adequately trained by experienced vertical cavers from a National Speleological Society (NSS) grotto. Do not jump in a cave. Do not climb down shafts that you cannot climb up again. Do not go underwater in a cave without being totally trained and certified as a cave diver (open water scuba divers are not certified in cave diving, which is a very dangerous sport.)
    Don't smoke in caves - caves usually have poor circulation and will not clear out for a long time.  Tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals; nicotine is poisonous to many cave animals.  Don't break formations or remove already broken ones - it encourages others to break and remove them. It is against the law in Texas to take or break formations, and it is unethical because those stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations took many thousands of years to grow in most cases.  Most will never grow back because their original water source through a crack in the ceiling often is sealed with calcite.  Don't track mud on flowstone areas.  Don't mark on walls. Remember the NSS slogan, "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but (well-placed) footprints, kill nothing but time."

Beyond these rules for your personal safety, several principles will help you to "leave nothing but footprints" in the caves of Texas.

Collections of animals should only be made by a qualified scientist or his/her assistant.  Most cave animals live there naturally and you are an intruder into their home.  Raccoons, mice, and other creatures are important contributors to the ecology of caves and should not be killed or harassed.  Other wildlife that commonly use caves are cave crickets, daddy longlegs, bats, rattlesnakes, ringtails, javalinas, porcupines, buzzards, and others.  Some caves contain delicate, tiny, eyeless creatures that are found in only one or two caves in the world!  Some of these species are on the U.S. Endangered Species List, so be careful. Most animals that you encounter in caves are natural inhabitants or visitors there, so please stay away from them and do not make loud noises (see snake advice below).  Caving in Texas is a great experience, but problems can arise.  Most Texans are friendly, especially if you're polite and respect property rights.  Keep the following information in mind to make your caving trip a safe and happy one.

Over 80% of Texas caves are privately owned, 10 or 15% are on state land, and another 5% are on federal land.  Without the owners? cooperation we would have access to few caves.  You must obtain permission to enter, even for caves on public land.  Caving in state parks requires permits from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, or paying a fee to go on a wild caving tour.  More and more Texas caves are being gated to protect them.  Do not tamper with gates and please respect owners and their wishes, and you'll be welcome to come back to their caves.

Cave owners are protected from liability to cavers by the state's Sportman's Law, unless they charge a fee for entry. If you encounter owners who are worried about someone finding an endangered species in their cave, it may help to point out that endangered cave species are found mostly in urban areas like Austin or San Antonio, where there are many rare species and where caves are being destroyed.  Unlike the Balcones Fault Zone, most Texas cave areas have only common cave species and no urbanization problems.  Cavers and cave researchers are not "out to get them." Sometimes Texas cavers help owners locate water for their wells.  Owners also like to receive photographs, maps, articles, and letters. Many cave owners are very proud of their caves and deserve credit for their good stewardship.

The TSS does not provide cave location information to the general public or for strictly recreational cave trips.  This web page provides educational material to the public with the hope that it will prevent accidents and will guide readers to become well-trained, safe, and conservation-minded cavers.  Many caves have been omitted from this web page because the caving community deemed them too sensitive to publish.  Nevertheless, many of the caves on this page are also sensitive to excessive traffic.

Leave all gates as you find them. Many Texas ranches have "bump-gates."  You have to drive up to the gate until the bumper touches it, then smoothly accelerate through the gate without hesitation.  If you don't know how to do this, have someone hold the gate open as you drive through or you may damage your vehicle.

Please do not kill rattlesnakes and please do not take firearms into caves. Rattlesnakes are natural inhabitants of some Texas cave entrances. As National Speleological Society members, we are committed to leaving cave life alone except for scientific study and conservation reasons. Rattlesnakes are highly poisonous and are common on the Texas karst. Leave them alone on the surface too - they belong there.

We know of no caver ever being bitten by a rattlesnake in a Texas cave, but that's because we throw lots of rocks when we go in. This stirs the snakes up for awhile, but then they usually crawl away from the noise. This is safer than crawling into a cave with a gun in hand. Always throw several rocks into a cave before entering and listen for the tell-tale rattle. Don't assume you're safe if you don't hear one. Be especially careful throughout the twilight zone-pit entrances are no exception! And don't forget to watch for snakes when you exit the cave too. Should you find a snake you can generally get around it without much trouble. Unnecessary harassment of snakes puts you at risk. Please do not kill cave scorpions. Many Texas caves are home to Pseudouroctonis reddelli, a troglophilic species. They are purplish-black, up to about 6 cm long, and occur on walls, ceilings, and cave floors. They are usually not aggressive but keep away from them anyway. Little is known of their toxicity. Only three cavers have reported being stung, two with no reaction (except sharp pain) and one with a moderately bad reaction.

The red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, began invading caves near Austin and San Antonio in 1988.  It is a pest that originated from Brazil and has been spreading across the southern U.S. for decades. None have been seen yet in caves on the Edwards Plateau.  These aggressive ants go into cave entrances seeking moisture and food but they maintain their mounds outside.  During the winter they retreat from the caves.  Be very careful when crawling into caves in the Balcones Fault Zone because fire ant stings are painful and raise small blisters.

It helps to wear a thick, long-sleeved shirt and gloves, then have a friend brush the ants off of you once youre inside.  Do not use pesticides in or near a cave - this will not help you quickly enough and you may poison the cave ecosystem directly or indirectly.  For example, cave crickets come out to feed at night and they will take fire ant bait, which can kill the crickets.  One to four gallons of boiling hot water with a dash of detergent will kill most fire ant mounds quickly and almost completely.

Please do not disturb bats. Texas caves contain several species of bat: Mexican free-tailed bats, cave myotis, tri-colored bats, and Peter’s ghost-faced bat. If you encounter bats in a cave, please try to avoid them.  Move quietly and quickly out of their way and warn others not to enter that area.  Do not shine your lights on the bats.  Texas cavers should usually enter bat caves at night to avoid problems during exploration.  Biologists who need to identify bats should use red filters on their lamps and move softly.  Many species can be identified and measured without actually touching the sleeping bat.

Ammonia vapors in Mexican freetail bat caves are hazardous to cavers the concentrations easily exceed the known safe levels for industrial workers.  Most cavers do not enter the large roosts, but those who do should wear an industrial-type, air-purifying respirator equipped with ammonia cartridges, to which the individual has been professionally fit-tested in a test chamber.  Such respirators do not work if facial hair protrudes through the rubber edges of the mask, no matter how hard you cinch down the mask.  Ammonia poisoning can severely scald the lungs and land you in the hospital.

Histo is another occupational hazard for cavers; it is a serious fungal infection of the lungs, eyes, or other organs, and it can be life-threatening without proper treatment.  Bat caves often have Histoplasma spores.  Cavers who have not been exposed to "histo" should think twice about entering bat caves in Texas or Mexico.  Novices and cavers from the northern U.S., Canada, and Europe are especially at risk.  Symptoms usually begin about two weeks after exposure and include fever, headache, shortness of breath, painful breathing, and miasma.  The diagnostic blood test can give false negative results. Antifungal prescription drugs, such as ketoconazole, are effective against the infection.

Rabies is a fatal viral disease carried by bats and other mammals . Far fewer than 1% of bats have rabies, but cavers should not handle bats unless they have taken the preventative human-diploid-cell vaccine.  Grounded bats are more likely to be sick, so dont pick them up.  Although a study in a Texas bat cave showed that caged animals can contract rabies by just breathing it on aerosol droplets, no human case of rabies by this route of exposure has been proven.  However, this may be because most cavers receive only brief exposures to intense bat cave atmospheres.  If you are bitten by a bat, immediately wash the wound with soapy water and get immediate medical treatment.

Some Texas caves have "bad air" or "foul air."  This usually means reduced oxygen and elevated carbon dioxide.  Such caves tend to be in the Ellenburger Group limestones (Burnet and San Saba counties) and the Austin Chalk (Bexar and Medina counties) but rarely in the Edwards Group limestones.  Some bad air caves are physiologically stressful even to well-conditioned cavers, and a few are quite dangerous. The air tends to be better in the winter and spring.

In certain areas of Texas, cavers carry Draeger carbon-dioxide detectors, oxygen meters, or butane lighters for the "Bic Test".  The Bic Test uses the lighter to test the air - poor air conditions result in a large gap between the nozzle and the flame.  Exit the cave if the Bic won't light. Bad air affects each individual somewhat differently, but can cause panting, headache, exhaustion, confusion, loss of judgment, and even panic.  Most cavers don't notice the CO2 until it reaches 3% (about 100 times normal), but it can become very stressful at 6% or more.  Usually the CO2 increase is accompanied by a similar O2 decrease.  Recovery is rapid upon exiting the cave, but this can also result in nausea.  Certain notorious bad air caves, especially pits with stratified atmospheres, should be avoided or left to those with scuba equipment.

  • HEAT
    The Texas summer heat can be debilitating.  Wear cool, light clothing and a hat when outside.  Take water with you on all trips and replace the salt lost in sweating.  Never drink alcohol in or before entering a cave.  Cave temperatures in Central Texas range from 20-24° C (68-75° F), with relative humidities of 95-100%.  T-shirts or long-sleeved shirts should be comfortable for summertime caving.  Coveralls, sweaters, or thermal underwear will cause you to overheat.  But don't be fooled by the temperature of the stream caves.  Hypothermia can creep up on you; wear a wetsuit if you expect to be soaked for more than two or three hours.

    Revised from: William R. Elliott and George Veni (eds.). 1994.
    The Caves and Karst of Texas: 1994 Convention Guidebook.
    Natl. Speleol. Soc., Huntsville, Alabama.
    352 pp. + viii + 13 maps. All rights reserved.