Monday, August 30, 2010

Under the Karst

I drive through the Hill Country whenever I can, which hasn't been nearly enough over the years. The other Dees Stribling loose in the world, my musician nephew, knows the meandering farm and ranch roads, the towns and especially the Hill Country's many music venues much better than I do -- which I only imagine as dance halls, beer halls, holes-in-the-wall, road houses, juke joints and dives in wide places in the road. Lucky fellow.

With two children in tow, holes-in-the-wall weren't part of the plan this time around. But I had a much larger hole in mind as we headed out from San Antonio on the morning of August 16. I took Lilly and Ann to Natural Bridge Caverns, out in Comal County but barely beyond metro San Antonio. It's off I-35 near the towns of Selma and Schertz, and it probably shows my age that I automatically think of these towns as notorious speed traps, since they were when I learned to drive.

It's wetter down in Natural Bridge than I remember, though considering its position in the Edwards Aquifer system, dampness underfoot and steady dripping from the ceiling shouldn't be a surprise. It's been nearly 30 years since I last visited the cavern, which was only discovered 50 years ago. How fast do living limestone cave formations grow? Maybe the flowstones, stalactites, stalagmites and such have grown a few millimeters since I last saw them.

I haven't mastered the art of taking digital snapshots in darkish places yet. Or rather, taking good snapshots in such spots. That might mean consulting the instruction manual. But the cave's own web site has much better images than I could ever take, freely available under media photos.

The public parts of the cave are more than 200 feet deep, meaning that you walk down and then up that far. Such an expenditure of energy meant that lunch was inevitably next, and we found what we needed in New Braunfels at a Sonic. There are more than 3,500 of them nationwide, and the corporate headquarters is in Oklahoma City. But I persist in associating them with Texas, for the same reason Selma and Schertz remain fixed in my mind as speed traps. Some of the notions that get stuck in your head at 16 have amazing staying power.

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