Monday, February 18, 2008

Maverick and a Cave

I had planned on riding to Maverick County Sunday, but after a dreary rainy Saturday, I almost felt like moping around the house another day. But I woke up Sunday morning to a nice sunny day, forecast for a bit on the cool side, but no more rain, so I set off to Maverick County after all. I dallied a bit to let the day warm up some more, but it really wasn't that cold. I set off with my chaps on and jacket fully closed up with liner. I put on a bandanna over my mouth, with the idea mainly being to block any pollen, but the cedar hasn't been bothering me nearly as much lately. It did help block the wind and it was cool enough out that it was nice to keep my face warm. After gassing up and hitting I35, I had to mess with my GPS because it was trying to tell my that, since my start/end point was not where I activated the route, I was almost done with the ride and I needed to head back home and the ETA was only minutes away. At 80 miles an hour I re-activated the route, despite OKing that I would not operate it while driving every time I've started it up, and got it into proper working order. I sped down I35, skirted San Antonio on 410 to US Highway 90. I got gas, a drink and a snack in Hondo, and continued on to Uvalde, where I got on a farm road. Since my mapping software doesn't show county lines, I guessed the Zavala county line for a waypoint. It turned out to be several miles off and I was worried I had missed the county line sign. I soon came upon it, however, and got my Z, as well as turning around to get Uvalde County. Since the farm road cuts the corner of Zavala County, it wasn't 10 miles before I was into Maverick County. Once I got to US 57- just an intersection, there was nothing there- I turned and headed back home. The wind had picked up at the Maverick county line, and once I turned it went from being to my right to my left side. I had to lean into the wind a noticeable amount for a while, but eventually as I headed back east it died down to a level where I could still feel it, but it wasn't pushing me around so much. I could tell I was close to the Mexican border (other than that I had studied the map) by the roadside stands selling Mexican goods and the truckloads of junk headed the other direction. It was also pretty evident in the little one-horse town I stopped in for gas. It was only about 50 miles from there back onto I35. I decided that since I was making good time, I would plan on stopping at Wonder Cave in San Marcos, about 100 miles up I35 from where I got back on.
I decided I would try to stretch my tank a bit and not fill up before going to the cave, hoping not to arrive 5 minutes after a 3 o'clock tour left. I walked into the gift shop at 5 minutes before 3 to get a ticket for what turned out to be a 3:15 tour. The cave is quite unique- it is dry formed, having been created when the Balcones Fault opened and was blocked from closing up again. There is some water that flows in the cave, but very little and there are very few speleothem. I was also disconcerted that they tell everyone that they're allowed to touch anything, their theory being that the few formations are already dead. The crack is not wide, only maybe 20 feet, but it left a long enough gash to be interesting. The initial stairs down to the bottom are pretty steep and offer lots of opportunities to crack your skull. The unique cave offers a very different set of rock layers than most caves. Whereas most caves are water-formed they are softer sedimentary rocks, but since Wonder Cave was formed by an earthquake, it has the full strata of the area- all the way to below the bedrock (which has flint stones throughout) of the sea that covered Texas millions of years ago. The lighting was bad- they leave most of it on all the time, so there is lots of algae looking green growth, and one spot where water flows is covered in moss; also some lights have colored gels. I couldn't tell if any colors in the cave were natural, but I suspect not. The most interesting parts of the tour, to me, were the layer of what the guide called "cave coral," swiss cheese-like rock; and the petrified mud tunnels of prehistoric clams, the crown jewel of which being one and a half fossilized clams (which looked more like prawns)- the other half having been broken off for scientific study. At the end of the cave they blasted in an elevator shaft to the surface. They had also blasted a ventilation shaft, which kept the humidity low and made the cave feel cooler. Instead of just taking the elevator to the surface, we went up to the top of an observation tower, where you can see the rolling gulf plains to the east of the fault and the hillier area to the west. The view was otherwise unremarkable, the area around the cave is crowded with development. I did test out the full extent of my camera's zoom to snap a picture of my bike in the parking lot. The 6x is quite noticeable over the 3x of my old camera. We all crammed back into the elevator to go back to the surface level, accidentally by way of the cave again, where the tour continued to the "anti-gravity house," just a gimmick illustrating an optical illusion. I rode the short distance home, fortunately remembering to get gas, getting home about 5.
I had thought about doing some more riding today, since I got Presidents Day off (or is that President's Day? or is it Presidents' Day? I've seen it different ways but not sure which it should be), but after rollerblading in the morning I decided the best use of my afternoon was to do some house chores in anticipation of my family visiting in two weeks.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Westcave Preserve

Saturday morning I rode to Westcave Preserve, off of Hamilton Pool Road just west of the Pedernales River. I've passed it countless times but never even knew what it was until recently. I was looking for information on caves in Texas when I came across a little information about Westcave because it has a small cave. When I realized that I knew exactly where it was and that it was closed, I decided I would check it out. For whatever reason, I allowed a lot more time than I needed to get there and despite stopping for gas and a soda, I arrived at 9:30 for the 10am tour. When I first got there, I was concerned the tour would already be filled since there were lots of cars in the parking lot. However, it turned out they were all there for a meeting of some sort. Until almost 10 it looked like I was the only one there for a tour, but a couple from the area showed up with their 3 grandchildren and one's boyfriend. The guide gave us the history of the preserve, the stream that is a minor tributary of the Pedernales, as well as items of local interest such as the future of the bridge across the river. Our first stop was a deck overlooking the Pedernales which gave a nice view into the canyon. We then proceeded into the canyon of the small stream. The upper layer of the canyon consists of near-vertical limestone walls, leading down to a v-shaped floor with lush vegetation, including some bald cypress trees estimated to be 400 to 600 years old. The starting point of the stream is a grotto which has a dry stream bed on top and two springs that seep through the porous rock to create a waterfall. The grotto is not very deep, but it is really cool and we walked back into the first part of it. The rest of the grotto is closed off because it holds small pools of water and the also don't want the vegetation damaged. Under the limestone shelf, there is a mass of stalactites where one of the springs comes out. There is a column at the other spring, as well as some smaller formations on the roof. Apparently the grotto was much larger at some point a long time ago before the roof collapsed. The evidence of this is most obvious in a large now exposed wall of what were drip formations, but now have been worn down by the elements since they were exposed. The guide said the theory is that the wall that was formed by dripping closed off a portion of the original grotto to become a small cave.
The cave is quite small- only about 25 feet deep and about 100 feet wide. It is fairly active however, as evidenced by the amount of growth since it was bought from a private owner and turned into a county park. Previously lots of people would trespass, trampling the vegetation and broke almost any cave formation they could reach. The activity was also evident by the stalagmites growing in areas where dirt was cleaned off of the cave floor, allowing growth on the rock floor. The outer wall was not solid, and there were some spots where light came through, in addition to the large natural entrance and a hole at the far end where we weren't allowed to walk. As a result, there was no real darkness in the cave, although the guide's flashlight did help to see the darker areas. At first I was having problems taking pictures- the shutter was open too long, even with the flash on, for my hand to stay steady. Then I realized it was still on the landscape setting, and it worked much better once I switched to night snapshot mode. On the hike back out of the canyon I was well ahead of everybody and paused several times to let them catch up. It was a lot warmer at that point (about 11:30) than when I got there, so I took my jacket off and carried it. I had taken my chaps off once I pulled into the place.
From Westcave I rode to Inks Lake State Park, off of the lovely Park Road 4 (except for the slow-moving cars). I was mostly interested because the Statesman readers voted it the best place to go camping. I didn't check out the camp sites or much of the lake, I just showed my parks pass and parked by the hiking trail head. I laid my jacket across my seat, hoping that nobody would mess with it. I grabbed my camera and the granola bar I had in my pocket and set off on the trail. There are actually a few trails that branch off of the basic trail that go to more of the park, but since I didn't have any water and didn't want to be gone too long, I just stayed on the standard trail. It was a decent hike, only a little bit of elevation. The trail was kind of hard to follow over the sections of bald granite. At one point I somewhat deliberately veered off, only to find the trail again by accident. The view was pretty typical hill country- nice but not spectacular. I didn't see anything I felt compelled to photograph. I rode home back PR4, 1431, and Lime Creek Rd to get back about 3:30.
Sunday I did some house work in the morning, then met up with Dave and Jimmy to ride to Boomerz for a benefit for a guy hurt in a motorcycle accident. It wasn't real full at first, but after a while the place was mostly packed. We were just hanging out drinking beers, chatting with other bikers and listening to the band. We were about to leave and actually do a bit of riding when Tula won a raffle prize of a $25 bar tab, so we stuck around until 7. Since I didn't have much of any food in the house, I stopped at BJ's for dinner, which was pretty tasty. When I got home I turned on the drag race and promptly fell asleep.