Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Discovering the Caverns of Sonora

Sonora Caverns, Sonora Texas
 The billboard caught my attention. Driving for miles with little diversity in the landscape, deviations catch the eye of passengers whizzing by at 80 miles per hour (the speed limit) or more.

Hopefully drivers ignore the boards, the chauffeur’s attention on the road ahead.

Billboards appear sparingly on desolate Interstate 10 west of San Antonio, a good thing anywhere, including the plains of Texas. The signs form a blight on the landscape (in my humble opinion), but one promoting a tourist attraction grabbed my attention - Sonora Caverns

Never heard of them, but that was not unusual. I knew about major sightseeing places, but not smaller, less popular but nonetheless often interesting ones.

Reaching for my AAA tour book and iPhone, I researched the site. The caverns received positive reviews and sounded fascinating, deserving a detour. I was amazed major travel websites and publications included Sonora on lists of the top caves/caverns in the world.

Signs off the highway directed us to the Caverns, eight miles off the exit. The two-lane meandering road seemed deserted and surroundings uninhabited, only barbed wire fences announcing the fact this is privately owned land. No buildings in site. A few grazing cattle ignored us as we followed the road to a crooked sign at the top of a mountain and the end of the road announcing Sonora Caverns.

We were not the only people around, a surprise. A dozen RVs occupied a campground at the end of the parking lot and half a dozen cars in the lot indicated activity.

And the most ominous sign – a bus.

Not to be arrogant or snotty, hub and I have taken bus trips. But at times a large bus indicates lines at the rest rooms, long waits for a tour, and/or crowded viewing areas.

The bus transported students, probably fourth through sixth graders. Just beginning their tour, the cashier in the gift shop informed us the next tour would begin in an hour, when a guide would be available. No wandering around the caves without an escort permitted.

We waited. We did not want to forego the opportunity, which hopefully would be worthwhile.

This new friend kept us company while waiting for our tour.
We strolled through the gift shop, sat on the porch in comfortable rocking chairs, and took pictures of the resident peacocks and roadrunners. Finally an employee announced our tour.

Six people crowded around the tour guide, a retiree on a second career, as he explained the ground rules. Photography allowed. Do not touch, handle, or take any stones, crystals or other natural phenomena. Stay together, watch your step, and no food or drink. Cameras were the only objects permitted in the caverns with us – no backpacks, pocketbooks, etc.

First impression on entering the cave was the humidity, registering 98%, the warmth (72 degrees but feeling over 80), and darkness. Our guide switched on dim lights as we progressed through the caverns, turning lights off leaving one cavern and others on when entering the next room, the term used by the guide. Each room is named, for example the Christmas Tree room.

Moving from one cavern to the next, we descended 155 feet below the entrance.
Each cavern presented magnificent rock and crystal formations in a palette of whites, beiges, browns, and deep reds.

Two hours later, after a two mile walk and negotiating 360 stairs, our tour of the caverns and lecture about the cave’s history, geology, and formations concluded.

Veering off the main travel path can offer rewards, and at other times disappointment. This particular detour offered an astonishing wonder. 

Fossils of creatures millions of years ago,
when the caves were under the sea.

1 comment:

  1. Another great stop on your trip. I'm not sure I could handle it, though, since I have claustrophobia, cavernophobia, and busophobia.