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Park Pick: Crossroads of Nature

Kickapoo Cavern State Park offers wonders above and below the ground.

By Linda Hedges

Simply put, Kickapoo Cavern State Park is a diamond in the rough — a little-known jewel in the state park system.

Situated in the southwestern Edwards Plateau on what was formerly a working ranch, the park looks and feels like the Texas Hill Country, with a little bit of Chihuahuan Desert and South Texas Plains thrown in for good measure.

“My favorite thing about Kickapoo Cavern State Park is its diversity,” park Superintendent Alan Crowe says. “It’s at the junction of three ecoregions, so the plant and animal life is extremely diverse and includes rare and endangered species.”

As a crossroads of nature, the park is a prime location for wildlife observation. During spring, park sounds turn cacophonous with birdsong as migrants pass through and resident populations return to nest. A total of 240 species have been recorded within park boundaries, fully half the number that regularly occur in the entire state. Among them are the endangered black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler, which seek out their own specialized environmental niches. Colorful woodpeckers, flycatchers, swallows, tanagers, buntings and orioles round out the mix.

Kickapoo Cavern

Below ground, the park’s namesake cave presents a window into the past as it chronicles roughly 4 million years of nature’s handiwork. Top billing goes to Texas’ largest speleothem — a gigantic natural column formation that rises as tall as an eight-story building. Visitors on a guided flashlight tour of this undeveloped cave (available through advance reservation only) make their way through massive limestone blocks that fell eons ago from the cavern’s ceiling; the original floor lies some 16 stories beneath. Although mostly dry now, dripping water played a vital role in creating the cavern’s cone-shaped stalagmites, rippled flowstone and popcorn-like cave coral.

A second underground wonder, Stuart Bat Cave, serves as a roost site for up to a million Mexican free-tailed bats from spring through fall. At dusk, park visitors can watch the air come alive from a viewing platform as these flying mammals stream into the night to search for insects. Each bat can eat up to three-quarters of its body weight in insects every day, including pests like mosquitoes and moths. The population of bats inhabiting this cave could consume up to 10 tons of insects nightly — the weight of two elephants!

To get there, take U.S. Highway 90 west from Uvalde or east from Del Rio to Brackettville, then follow Ranch Road 674 north for 22 miles to the park entrance, just north of the Edwards/Kinney county line on the west side of the road.

The park — open Friday through Monday only — offers camping, picnicking, mountain biking, bird-watching, evening bat flight viewing (in-season) and cave tours (by arrangement only). Unauthorized entry into caves at the park is strictly prohibited to ensure resource protection and visitor safety. For more information, call (830) 563-2342 or go to www.tpwd.texas.gov/kickapoocavern.

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