Wild caves are often largely unexplored. Unlike show caves, like the famous Carlsbad Caverns or the lesser-known Dixie Caverns, wild caves haven’t been developed to allow easy access by the public. There are no handrails, no illumination, no stairs and ramps. Wild caving should only be undertaken by people with special caving equipment, who have some basic caving skills. Novices should only go with experienced guides. That’s just the adventure we had visiting the wild section of Inner Space Cavern Georgetown, TX north of Austin.
Inner Space Cavern Wild Cave Tour
There are basic and intermediate tours open to the public that take you through some of the more developed areas of Inner Space Cavern. Then there’s the one we chose: the Wild Cave Tour. This is not your ordinary cave tour. When you sign up, they ask for your height and weight and size. It’s not long into the tour that you realize why. Some of those spaces you have to squeeze through are tiny (not to mention muddy)! The tour is not for the claustrophobic, either. You definitely need experienced guides for this physically challenging yet amazing experience. We were lucky enough to be the only people scheduled for the Wild Cave Tour that day (they can take up to 8), and it really made it seem like that much more of an adventure. We were intrepid explorers, geared out with knee and elbow pads, helmets and lights.
Our two guides led us off-trail through totally undeveloped (wild) sections of Inner Space Cavern. Our clothing in the photos is dirty for a reason. We never expected to squeeze through some of the holes and crevices we encountered in the three to four hours we were underground. Most of the time was spent on hands and knees or elbows and knees over dirt, mud or rock. One of the early crawls is surely to weed out the faint of heart who may want to turn back later. It was a crawl so low you had to pull yourself through on elbows and toes. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet tall. In another spot, we were taught how to lift one arm up overhead to make your shoulders narrow enough to drop down a through a hole in the ground. You have to be able to crawl, bend, hoist and stretch to get through the tour comfortably. All of that leads to a great sense of accomplishment at the end.
In addition to the standard formations of stalagtites, stalagmites, draperies, cave bacon and soda straws we saw coral, rimstone pools, ancient flowstone and helictites. This part of Texas, believe it or not, used to be a sea bed thus the coral. Helictites are similar to stalagtites and stalagmites but they seem to defy gravity and grow horizontal to the ground. Getting to try a drink of cave water at the Dragon’s Mouth was another unique experience. At what felt like “the bottom,” we had a chance to play in the thick, sticky mud. We made some little sculptures and took a break before heading back. At one point, we also turned off all the flashlights and stood in silence for a few minutes. It was absolutely quiet and absolutely black. Now, the total darkness thing is done on most commercial cave tours, but this was different. Being that far off the trail, deep underground, in the cool dampness was an eerie feeling. I felt like anything could happen, and what if it did?
A Bit of History
Inner Space Cavern was discovered in 1963 by the Texas Highway Department core drilling team. They were testing the ground to see if it could support some highway structures for Interstate 35, when their bit dropped! Below 40 feet of limestone was what is now known as Inner Space Cavern. Initially, quite a bit of area was explored, and these early spelunkers found narrow passageways, larger cathedral style rooms and muddy tunnels. Since it was discovered, no natural openings to the cave have been found. That’s pretty unusual when it comes to caves, and makes it pretty cool. They do have a spot they think was the prehistoric entrance to Inner Space Cavern, but it’s totally blocked. You can see the original hole they made and dropped those first people down through in the 1960s as one part of the general tour. Much more exploration has been done over the years, and the map of the cavern today is impressive. There have even been bones of prehistoric creatures such as mastodon and sabre-tooth tigers discovered in the caverns. They saw many animals fell into the caves and never escaped, often becoming trapped in the thick mud at the bottom of the watering holes.
All of the guides we came into contact with were very knowledgeable and happy to answer questions on the history, geology and plants and creatures in and around the caves. Since we opted for the wild caving, our photos of Inner Space Cavern are almost nil. It really is a beautiful cave, though, and well worth a visit the next time you find yourselves traveling I-35 between Austin and Dallas!