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.

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