Visit to Westcave Preserve

On Saturday we returned to the Hill Country to see Westcave Preserve, a 75-acre nature sanctuary located about 40 miles west of Austin. Westcave is known for its beautiful grotto hidden at the end of a sheltered canyon “created more than 100,000 years ago by the gradual collapse of an immense limestone cave.” Cedar elms along the rim were at peak color.

Our trail guide stopped often to talk about the diversity of native plants growing in the savannah along the rim and in the moist canyon below.

Texas palmettos (Sabal minor) appear as soon as you descend into the canyon.

As you near the end of the box canyon, where the cave and grotto are hidden, the sense of enclosure can only be alleviated by looking up at the sky.

A wooden bridge crosses a leaf-strewn creek toward the looming monster’s mouth of the cave opening.

Our guide led us inside the dripping cave to show us “soda straws” and other calcereous formations, along with the remains of a prehistoric oyster bed embedded in the cave wall above our heads, marking the level of an ancient inland sea that once covered central Texas.

Exiting the cave and looking to the right, you see a grotto that was formed when part of the cave’s roof collapsed, opening up this section of the cave to the sky. It reminds me of Hamilton Pool, which is just a few miles down the road from Westcave and was indeed formed the same way.

Stairs lead visitors into the grotto behind the waterfall that flows over the lip of the roof. Most of the fragile grotto is off limits to protect it.

Ferns hang from the roof, catching moisture that seeps and drips over the edge.

A steady waterfall patters over the grotto’s roof, plinking into a deceptively deep pool below—25 feet deep, our guide told us!

Westcave Preserve may be less dramatic than expansive Hamilton Pool, but it has a tranquility and sense of mystery you don’t often find there. You must take a guided tour to see Westcave, so be sure to check the website for a tour schedule and admission fees.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

18 Responses

  1. Tatyana says:

    Fantastic! Like a trip to a parallel world. Last pictures with the cave, hanging ferns and dripping water are magical. Thank you Pam!

    It did seem magical, Tatyana. I was imagining what it would have been like for the first person to have discovered this secret place. —Pam

  2. Gorgeous. That limestone really makes a pretty landscape.

    Yes, that and the ancient fault line through this area have created some interesting and beautiful geological features. —Pam

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You have certainly been getting around lately Pam. What fun adventures. Isn’t it amazing to think that TX used to be water covered?? Beautiful photos. I especially like the “mouth” of the cave with those snaggly teeth showing. The tiny ferns and lichen on the wet parts too. Wow.

    Yes, it is difficult to imagine Texas as a shallow sea, but the fossil record makes it plain enough. How things change over a few millennia, huh? —Pam

  4. Karl Katzke says:

    I visited it over the summer and my date and I were the only ones on the tour. Even in the heat of the summer, it was a beautiful, serene place and was well worth the hike.

    I bet it is cool, even in the summer, on the floor of the canyon and in the cave and grotto. —Pam

  5. We’ve heard about Westcave Preserve on tourist sites or books but didn’t know any one who had actually been there. Thanks for the first-hand report, Pam! It looks quite amazing.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Hi, Annie. Tom at Soul of the Garden went a few years ago and posted his pics of Westcave. And I believe “Central Texas Gardener” filmed there too, though I can’t find a link to the video. I’ve been wanting to go for some time. —Pam

  6. Wow… such a contrast to the hot-and-dry photos you Texas gardeners usually post. Very fun to see that. :)

    It’s been much wetter lately, Kim, although we’re still in the drought. But I believe our guide told us that Westcave Preserve is wet all year long. —Pam

  7. Ginny Burton says:

    What beautiful sights — you’ve made me quite homesick! My husband and I lived in Austin for many years before moving to Virginia. I miss the smell and crunch of pecan leaves underfoot this time of the year.

    I’m delighted to have found your blog (via Garden Rant, which I found via PATSP, which I found via Google Image). What would we do without hyperlinks?!

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Virginia! I grew up in the Southeast, so you’re on nostalgic ground for me. :-) —Pam

  8. What an amazing place, Pam, like something out of a fantasy novel or movie. Love the palms, a native plant for you–while here they’re only a houseplant. Love learning more about the natural history of other places.

    Hi, Jodi. Not too many palms are native to central Texas, but this little palmetto is one. I’m growing it in my garden too. —Pam

  9. It’s posts like this that make me realize how little I know about Texas. This wonderful cave and those ferns is not how I picture the state! And if it is indeed warmer in Madison today than where you are, that just proves again how the climate is changing. Interesting and scary at once.

    Texas is so big and varied in climate that anyone’s preconception of Texas is probably true for someplace in the state, Linda. Most people, I imagine, picture the high desert of West Texas. But Central Texas is very different, with lots of trees, rolling hills, and natural springs and rivers. Then there are the pineywoods and azaleas of East Texas, which has more in common with the Southeast than the Southwest, and the tropical flat landscape of South Texas.

    As for the chilly weather today, it’s supposed to remain below 50, and we may get our first freeze by the end of the week. If so, all of Austin will be scrambling to cover pipes and pots and tender plants. —Pam

  10. Kathleen says:

    That is really a gorgeous sanctuary Pam and so LUSH looking. I never imagined a place like that around Austin. I can tell it’s cooled off too by the long pants & jacket on your guide. I bet you are loving that!

    Yes, it’s really cooling off this week, and we’re expecting our first freeze by Friday night. I do love the cool weather, and a freeze will knock back the mosquitoes. —Pam

  11. Frances says:

    It’s wonderful, Pam. I love the monster mouth and wet ferns growing right on the rock. This place has a mysteriousness and medieval atmosphere. We used to travel a lot when the kids were young and went to every cave we passed. We all enjoyed them and remember still the bacon and eggs formation at a cave in Virginia where Gardoctor climbed up very close to see then lifted up quickly and added a little ketchup to the breakfast from a gash in his head.

    Ouch, that hurts just hearing about it! It would certainly make a visit memorable though. —Pam

  12. Jean says:

    Those are some of the best photos of the cave itself that I’ve seen! I love that place and am so glad that it’s been protected.

    Thanks, Jean. I was actually a little disappointed that my cave photos didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. A tripod in the low light would have been helpful. But it is a neat place, and I’m glad it’s so well protected too. —Pam

  13. Jake says:

    That place looks really awesome to walk and explore around. It in a way reminds me of going to Mammoth Cave and the area around the cave entrance.


    We went to Mammoth Cave a couple of summers ago. Now that’s a cave. —Pam

  14. Meredith says:

    I took my boys there a couple of weeks ago, along with Hamilton Pool, but I haven’t posted pictures yet. You beat me to it! I’m all out of order right now — still working on other projects.

    You and I seem to have made it to similar outings this fall, Meredith. It’s fun to take the kids to these beautiful places, isn’t it? —Pam

  15. Meredith says:

    P.S. I’ve only briefly checked my cave pictures — I know my camera didn’t handle the contrast between dark cave and bright sun well, though. Hopefully the rest turned out okay!

    I hope so too, Meredith. I look forward to seeing your always lovely pics. —Pam

  16. Thanks for this introduction! What a treasure.

    I hope you get to visit sometime, Kathleen. —Pam

  17. Jim Dobinson says:

    Pam, your pictures are gorgeous and makes me want to make a trip to Texas , you have captured the color and beauty of the area and the captions below the pictures tell it all. Great Site Jim

    I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, Jim. Thanks for commenting! —Pam

  18. […] Here’s how it looks from the lowest level of the pool, which includes a stylized grotto reminiscent of Hill Country treasures like Hamilton Pool and Westcave Preserve. […]