Delicate soda straws and unusually beautiful formations never exposed to outside air are highlights of the Hidden Passages Tour at Natural Bridge Caverns near New Braunfels and San Antonio, Texas. Accessed by 180 steps with several landings at scenic points, this second cave is dramatically lit to maximize presentation of several glistening formations. For sheer beauty, take the 70-minute Hidden Passages Tour and see some of the most spectacular underground scenery anywhere in the U.S.
|Gorgeous formations on the Hidden Passages Tour
In 1960 four college students requested permission to explore the area around a 60-foot natural limestone bridge and a large sinkhole. As suspected, they found huge underground passages that led to additional rooms and openings. In all, they explored two miles before returning to the surface to share their discovery with the landowners. Natural Bridge Caverns, billed as Texas’ Largest Underground Adventure, has been attracting visitors since it opened to the public in the mid-1960s.The guided Discovery Tour takes visitors along the path taken by the first explorers through Sherwood Forest, Castle of the White Giants, and Hall of the Mountain King, a room the size of a football field. For 75 minutes you can view gigantic stone monuments in beautiful chambers 170 feet underground. If you’re really adventurous, check out the three-hour “wild cave” tour where you negotiate obstacles through mud or on your tummy and climb up a 25-foot mid-covered slope.
|This natural bridge protects the opening to the original cavern discovery.
Plan to hang around all day so your family can enjoy other attractions at the site. Travis Wuest, whose grandmother was the original entrepreneur, continues to create activities on the property, all geared toward helping families learn to appreciate the geology of the area and the natural beauty found there.
|More spectacular formations at Natural Bridge Caverns
For example, Canopy Challenge Adventure Course and Zip Lines opened in July 2012. Big kids and adults navigate a winding maze of 47 bridges, obstacles and balance beams while tethered to a cable for safety as they climb up the 60-foot four-tier adventure course. Little kids get a similar experience at a scaled-down Canopy Kids course. Although it takes place high in the air, the experience is not unlike cavern discovery, which also required agility and a bit of daring.
|A fun and challenging adventure
Wuest, who grew up on the family ranch and has been around the caves all his life, says he and his brother are finishing the legacy begun by his grandmother and father. Because of his personal ties to Natural Bridge Caverns, keeping it a family destination and learning experience is a priority.
|A zebra approaches a car in the wildlife park
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier