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West Cave is not a show cave but part of a nature trail in a lush, green canyon shaded by tall cypress and oak trees-an enchanting experience. West Cave is about 20 miles west of Austin, near the Pedernales River and Hamilton Pool Preserve (a beautiful Texas-size "cenote" swimming hole in a county park just east of the river). Hamilton's Pool is formed in a huge sinkhole with a waterfall on one side!
Originally known as Hammett's Cave, for Hammett's Crossing on the nearby Pedernales River, "Westcave Preserve" is operated by a nonprofit conservation organization and owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The nature trail and talk are educational, taking in an unusual part of the Hill Country. The trail leads from a plateau top overlooking the river into a small but verdant canyon formed by the headward cutting of a creek. A 12-m-high waterfall drops into a deep, green pool that overflows into the creek.
The cave itself is rather small, being only 46 m long with a 2.5-m ceiling and two entrances. Part of the north end has been walled off by travertine deposited by the waterfall. The north end is floored with soil and curves toward the south to a short drop from a window overlooking the shelter behind the mossy waterfall. A series of water-filled rimstone pools gradually rise to the ceiling at the south end of the cave. You only need a small flashlight.
West Cave was part of some un-appropriated public school land from 1839 until 1937, when it was sold to Chester Lay of Austin. The cave was then operated as a commercial venture but failed after a few months. The property suffered from various abuses until John Ahrns acquired the place in the 1970s and began restoring and showing it as an educational nature preserve. Westcave Preserve Corporation was formed in 1976 to protect and restore the place. Many plant species, both rare and representative of the Hill Country, may be seen on the tour.
Craun, V. S. 1948. Commercial caves of Texas. Bull. Natl. Speleol. Soc., 10:33-45.
Revised 7/2014; original page author: William R. Elliott. All rights reserved.