TPWD News Release — June 28, 2012
BURNET — Add one more reason to visit or revisit Longhorn Cavern State Park this summer other than its constant 68-degree environment. Workers have rewired the National Registered Landmark and replaced decades-old incandescent lights with hundreds of energy-saving, 12-volt halogen lights to better illuminate the cavern’s most outstanding natural features.
“We’ve instituted a new slogan: ‘See Longhorn Cavern in a whole, new light,’” says Michelle Devaney, who along with her husband Shawn, manage the 645-acre state park for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as concessionaires. “Even people who have visited the cavern before should return to see the eye-popping difference the new lighting has made.”
TPWD spent approximately $700,000 in voter-approved park bond funds during the nine-month capital repair project to replace the old lighting system installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and to lay more than two miles of wiring and install a sophisticated switching system. Cavern visitors will be able to see the contrast between the old and new lighting systems in the Indian Council Room.
An official “reopening” of the revamped Longhorn Cavern lighting system will feature a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony, as well as cave tours, live music and a chance to meet the people who made the project possible. It is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday, July 19. The event is open to the public by advance reservation only and.tickets are available online at: www.longhorncaverns.com .
The old CCC-installed lighting was designed to create an ambient glow through the use of incandescent lights shielded by manmade enclosures. The guiding principal of the new lighting system design by Rodney Horrocks of Hot Springs, S.D., was to wow visitors by directly illuminating the cavern’s prominent natural features, such as the Queens Throne and Hall of Gems, according to Mark Winford, TPWD’s cavern renovation project manager.
“Much of the new lighting focus is upward and around, rather than down at the floor,” Winford explains. “Visitors will be able to see for the first time such speleothems (rock formations) as an impressive flowstone that starts at the ceiling and pours down the wall that hadn’t been lighted before. It is quite impressive.”
Winford notes that the new low-voltage lights produce very little heat and therefore do not contribute to algae growth like the older lights did in the high-humidity cave environment. Miles of new cabling are ingeniously hidden in cracks and crevices, and masked by earth-colored grout. A newly installed intercom system allows tour guides to stay in touch with personnel on the surface.
Longhorn Cavern’s cultural history rivals its natural history. Its first visitors were prehistoric creatures such as mammoths, giant bison, bear and a host of smaller animals. The first evidence of human presence dates back to a time when Native Americans sought refuge in the cavern. Local legend holds that the Comanche held council meetings in the cavern’s largest room. Early Texas frontier settlers, Confederate soldiers, Wild West outlaws, Roaring 20s “party animals” and the CCC frequented the cavern in ensuing years.
The “boys” of the CCC Company 854 spent eight years (1934-1942) carving the park out of the rugged Hill Country terrain and transforming the silt-filled cavern into a show cave that draws more than 40,000-plus visitors a year. They used much of the 2.5 million cubic yards of extracted materials to build Park Road 4, explored and lit two miles of cavern walkways, built limestone walls and arches, and erected various park structures, most of which still stand today.
Unlike Texas’ other show caves, Longhorn Cavern is the only one formed not just by the seepage of surface water through porous limestone and seeps, but also by calcium carbonate-rich underground rivers that surged through cracks and holes several million years ago, dissolving and eroding solid limestone during the downcutting of the Colorado River. The result is a wonder world of odd-shaped rock formations, smooth-domed ceilings, gaping sinkholes, tight crawlways, rock carvings resembling animals and human faces, rooms of sparkling crystals and alabaster halls of dolomite reminiscent of exquisite Italian marble.
The park offers daily guided tours that last approximately an hour and a half for the approximately 1.5-mile round trip. Visitors should wear low-heeled shoes with rubber soles for safety since some passageways may be damp. The Visitor Center opens at 9 a.m. except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For ticket and schedule information, visit www.longhorncaverns.com or call (830) 598-CAVE (598-2283). For Longhorn Cavern State Park information, visit: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/longhorn-cavern.
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