Moody photo of the inside of the cave at Longhorn Cavern State Park

Everything’s Heavy at Longhorn Cavern

The last stop in my June 2019 four-state-parks-and-a-state-natural-area trip was Longhorn Cavern. There’s no camping at this park, but the enormous Inks Lake is just up the road.

It was starting to rain as I arrived. I signed up for a cave tour and then hung around a bit outside and explored some of the trails–they’re all easy and very short (the longest is just over half a mile). It was nice to be able to walk around in the woods while waiting for the tour to start, rather than just hanging out at the gift shop, and I enjoyed poking around some of the historic CCC structures and trying to take their photos in the increasingly wet weather.

I returned to the visitor center and waited on the cozy back porch with my fellow tourists for our guide to arrive; the rain picked up and started coming down in earnest. The nice thing about a cave, of course, is that it’s all underground–I slipped and slid a few times just outside the entrance, but once inside the bad weather was confined to a few holes in the ceiling.

Longhorn Cavern is a treasure–big and comfortable and with excellent lighting design that really shows off all those weird, alien-landscape cave structures. In some places the walls looked rough and crystal-like, in other places creamy and smooth. The tour guide had a lot of great information, both geological and historical–for instance, one of the cavernous rooms was used as a dance hall and concert venue in the ’20s, and food and other supplies were lowered through openings in the top. The tour was about a mile long, every ambling twist and turn bringing another interesting texture or ancient structure into view.

There wasn’t much wildlife, just the occasional hibernating bat. The guide informed us that these were tricolored bats (named so, I half-remember, because they were brown, dark brown and brownish gray.)

I have one little regret: in order to keep up with the tour and out of everyone else’s way I didn’t use my tripod for any photos and just cranked the ISO up as high as it could go. It was a great low-light photography learning experience, but I do hope one day to photograph a cave at leisure. It was a little heartbreaking to be literally surrounded by stunning, abstract patterns of light and shadow and texture and not being able to take a few thousand slow and careful photos.

There were a couple of kids on our tour and they seemed to enjoy the tour as much as me, albeit in a more expressive way. Most of the parts of the cave you explore are open and airy; the floor is usually paved with cement. There was a part where all the adults had to hunch over for a little bit.

Our tour guide mentioned the weekly Wild Cave Tour, which is where you pay to crawl through the mud and squeeze through the tiny spaces of the unfinished parts of the cavern. I later learned that one of my friends had gone through this. According to her, “We wore hard hats and crawled around in some spaces. Even went through an underground lake. We had to crawl through it so you got totally soaked.”

She added, “Definitely not the average cave tour. Totally worth the time.”

Expect to spend about an hour and a half on the regular tour; you can bring a picnic lunch or get food at the visitor center. I arrived early and booked the first tour of the day and there was no line, however their website recommends you book your tour ahead of time. I’m sure they get a lot of Inks Lake traffic.

Longhorn Cavern is a five out of five, and any trip to Inks Lake should include this tour.

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