A Visit to Westcave Preserve.
Westcave Preserve is located off Hamilton Pool Road and is the last of the three parks situated in this part of Travis County, the first being Milton Reimers Ranch run and maintained by Travis County Parks. The second is Hamilton Pool also run by Travis County Parks and the last is Westcave Preserve. The Preserve has been open to the public since 1976 and originated as the Westcave Preserve Corporation. In 1983, the property was purchased by LCRA who then partnered with Westcave Preserve to keep the site open to the public. In 2013, Westcave announces its expanded vision and new name: Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center.
This park is a little different than the other two inasmuch that it runs guided tours each leaving at specific times to walk to and view the cave, pool and waterfall. Access to the Westcave is limited but access to the Uplands Trails is not limited except for the available days and times.
I paid my $10 fee and waited with several others for the designated time for the Tour to start. We all gathered on the back side of the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center which is the large stone building located in the main parking area. I took a couple of pictures of the impressive view as we waited.
There were about 20 of us in the group ranging in ages from very old (me) to very young. For this tour, we had two guides one of whom was in training and he started us off by narrating the evolution of the way the different rock formations washed away over millions of years to form the canyon and the pool. He pointed out the different layers of rock, some hard and some soft and how the action of water had caused all of the erosion and that over a period of millions of years, the pool had moved back some considerable distance from where it originated.
We set off along the walkway which on the top of the valley is blacktop and then gravel much different to what we would encounter the further down the hill that we went. We had a discussion of the historical ownership of the area and also the type of trees that grow here. Part of the way along is a modern looking viewing deck to commemorate John Covert Watson and was donated by
Keith and Ellen Lain.
In the same area as the trail starts to turn down into the gorge is a stone seat built to commemorate John Muir.
The original owner, John Covert Watson hired John Ahrns as the Manager and he helped build many of the walkways and trails. It is rumoured that he was also responsible for the site opening to the general public and had the foresite to turn the area into a Nature Preserve for others to visit and to learn. Later, the property was acquired by LCRA who now partner with the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center as the original Westcave Preserve is now called.
The trail leading down into the gorge is for the most part, pretty good with steps and handrails in most places. There are a couple of places that the rocks underfoot are a little slick because of the moisture and care is needed in here. Our group all safely made it to the bottom with no accidents with me bringing up the rear. I didn’t realize just how slow I have become as I don’t notice it when I am hiking alone but when I am with others, most of whom are probably 30-40 years or more younger than me, then it really shows. Just in case, the second of our two guides brought up the rear behind me. I’m not sure if that was to catch me if I fell or that was his position in the line.
We finally arrived at the grotto which contains the pool itself. The waterfall was not flowing even with the recent heavy rains. The pool itself is spring fed and maintains a constant level except for the aforementioned heavy rains. After viewing the pool and the lush growth surrounding it, we climbed the steps leading into the cave which is on the right hand side of the pool. There are no lights inside and it was pretty dark. I had to use the flash on the camera and then Adobe Lightroom software to bring the pictures to life to where they are visible. I purposely left a couple dark to give the viewer an idea of how dark it is inside this cave. It is also pretty wet and when questioned, the guide did not think that at any time, anyone had lived in this cave except for maybe an animal or two and probably many Bats. There is an engraving chiseled out of the floor with few readable words and a date that looks like 1863. This site has been visited by mankind and animals alike for thousands of years.
We stayed inside the cave for 15 minutes or so until all of the questions had been answered and then went back outside to view the grotto where again, the guide answered everything to everyone’s satisfaction. This was the end of the tour and we were allowed to make our own way back. I stayed behind and took a lot of pictures both of the grotto and the stream that led away from it. It was pretty dark down in the bottom of the canyon as the sun generally only shines on the tops of the trees which would account for why the Spruce were so tall. The guide had also mentioned that it was at times 10-15 degrees cooler in the summer time.
I worked my way slowly back to the Center taking a lot of pictures along the way. At one point, I was brought back to the reality of time when a helicopter made several flyovers of the area. I took a couple of pictures just because compared to where I had just come from, it was a step into the future.
When I got back, I decided to walk the Uplands Trail which took me away from the canyon and out into uplands grassland with all of the contrasting views that it brought to me. There is an old house located in this part of the grounds which has seen better days. I wonder what stories it could tell.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the Westcave Preserve and the Uplands Trail and walked back to my car a very happy man. It doesn’t take much to please me nowadays and getting out on the trails and communing with Nature is probably top of my list.
I plan on going back in the Spring or Summer when the trees all have leaves and there is greenery all around. It will be very interesting to compare the difference.
Below is a slideshow set to music of the many pictures that I took of Westcave.