Cave Without a Name - Boerne, Texas

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Cave Without a Name is known as one of Texas' best secrets amongst show caves. A lack of advertising and semi-remote location keeps the attendance low, but this allows for smaller tour groups which is good news for photographers. Discovered in the 1920s and opened as a commercial show cave in 1939, Cave Without a Name offers several well-lit rooms and a wide gravel floor that is perfect for setting up tripods without blocking traffic. The cave is protected by law and visitors are expected to stay on the gravel trail while never touching any of the formations. Nearly 80% of the cave remains active and human contamination places the formations at risk.

Directions (from Austin): Take 290 West to the Henly/Blanco shortcut (165). At Blanco take 281 south 7 miles to 473 West. Follow this scenic road 15 miles to 474 South where it is another 9.6 miles to Kreutzberg Rd. At this intersection will be the first sign to the cave. Follow the signs 3.6 miles to the cave's visitor center.

This trip was actually a scouting mission for an upcoming photography club field trip. I wanted to check out the cave to make sure it could handle a large group of people. The 90 minute drive took me through the Texas Hill Country which in itself is a beautiful subject. The 165 shortcut and 473 both have great views of the rolling hills and the roads wind through farms and ranches (both "normal" and exotic). Upon arriving at the visitors center I was greeted by a tour guide (Doris) who explained that there were two groups already in the Cave and that she would be happy to take me on a tour once one of the groups returned.

After a short wait we were ready to go. Fortunately I was alone on the tour so not only did I get a personal tour I also was allowed as much time as I wanted to setup and take my photos. The tour starts above ground at the original cave opening. In the early 20th century, steam was seen rising from a rock in the field. Upon moving the rock, the cave opening was exposed, however people didn't enter the cave until a goat had the misfortune of falling into the opening sometime in the early 1920's. A few years later in 1927, three teenagers dug through the mud at the bottom of the entrance hole and discovered the main cavern. During prohibition a still was operated in the cave entrance with evidence of wood burning staining the entrance roof. As the entrance had not yet been enlarged, the equipment, wood, and supplies were lowered in by rope.

The cave remained mainly unexplored until 1939 when the cavern was opened as a commercial show cave. A new entrance was blasted into the rock, a layer of gravel was added to the cavern floor, and lights were added to illuminate the 6 rooms. The cave got its name "The Cave Without a Name" when a local youth and cave-naming-contest-winner stated that it was too beautiful to have a name. However in the 1970's it briefly operated as "Century Caverns".

After descending the 80 vertical feet by way of 126 stairs, I found myself standing in a large cavern surrounded by structures such as stalactites, stalagmites, helectites, soda straws, and popcorn. As my guide and I explored each of the 6 rooms I learned of both the natural and human history of the cave including the unfortunate episodes of vandalism that have destroyed many irreplaceable features. Why people find amusement in the destruction of such beauty baffles me.

Throughout the cave there are signs of excavation with the layers of mud and debris yielding a wealth of evidence of animals who have fallen through the entrance shaft. Bones ranging from bears to saber-tooth cats have been found throughout the years with new bones being found after nearly every heavy rain. Restoration efforts are also ongoing throughout the cave. Areas of the cavern floor that were covered by gravel when the cave originally opened have since been cleared, revealing structures including a floor of rim stone dams. New cave growth continues with formations growing at amazing rates - in the "food court" room a new stalagmite can be seen forming on top of the gravel floor which represents 1-2 inches of growth in just 60 years.

The lighting in the cave is supplied by tungsten flood lights located primarily on the cavern floor. The light is dim with Light Values ranging from 0-5 Lv. As the supplied lights are already positioned to give a good view of the formations, a flash is not required if you remember to bring a tripod. Flash photography will likely yield unacceptable results unless you can set up multiple slaves. This was recently done for a photo shoot in the cave, but if you elect to have extensive equipment (like multiple flashes), a reservation and additional cave reservation fees will likely be required.

I got outstanding images using a tripod, mirror lock-up, and exposure bracketing. All of the images in the gallery are composites formed by the merging of multiple exposures - one for the highlights, one for the midrange, and one for the shadows. I shot using the Tungsten color setting on my 10D, but I found this a little warm so minor tweaking was required during post-processing. Of course shooting RAW gives you more flexibility, but we all have our own methods! As the cave is still active the air is heavy with humidity, and in some rooms there is a mist that hangs in layers which adds a nice dramatic affect.

Summary: Off the beaten-track, Cave Without a Name is a medium-sized show cave with many active formations that create stunning views. The cavern floor is wide and lined with gravel which offers a secure base for tripods. The cave operates 9am-6pm during the summer and 10am-5pm during the winter. After-hour reservations are available though you may be able to get a personal tour during slow hours. Admission is $11/person with an additional $2-off coupon available online. For information, see the Cave Without a Name website.

All images and web content © Christopher Rake 2004-5