The Wonder Cave
Wonder Cave is a natural cavern in the Purgatory Creek system on the Balcones Escarpment in southern Hays County (at 29°53' N, 97°57' W). Its entrance is one mile southwest of the county courthouse in San Marcos. The cave is reported to be the only commercially operated dry-formed cave in the United States-"dry-formed" because the fissure was opened not by erosion but by the earthquake that produced the Balcones Fault. The fault line itself is visible in the cave's ceiling. Originally named Beaver Cave after Mark Beaver, who discovered it in 1896, the cave for a while concealed Beaver's illicit distilling and gambling enterprises. In recent years it has become part of an amusement park that features tours of the multichambered cave and a wildlife park.
The cave was discovered by Italian miners in 1898. They mined out approximately 15% from the formation and brought them to the surface. The formation consist of calcite which they placed in a self built oven for 2 week about 1100 degrees. This formed a powder which was taken by ox wagon to Pretoria & Johannesburg to make cement, toothpaste, use to extract gold and the like. Mining was stopped in 1902 due to the outbreak of war and low productivity.
This is the 3rd largest chamber is South Africa, the largest being Cango Caves and second largest Sudwala Caves.
The Wonder Cave is a natural limestone cavern situated in the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Just over an hour's drive from Johannesburg or Pretoria, the cave, discovered by gold prospectors in the late 1890s, is well preserved, with natural wonders worth admiring.
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The Wonder Cave is South Africa’s third largest cave and one of the most beautifully decorated.
Easily accessible from the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, the approach to the Wonder Cave gives little clue of the geological wonders that lie beneath.
Like many of the limestone caves northwest of Johannesburg, early miners discovered the Wonder Cave while prospecting for gold and you'll see evidence of their blasting and mining activities during your tour.
The Wonder Cave is a huge single limestone cavern measuring 125m long, 54m wide and 60m deep. Reasonable fitness is required to tour the Wonder Cave. Whilst no crawling or arduous physical activity is required to complete the tour, the 88 steps that lead you into, and out of, the cave tend to leave most visitors a little breathless!
Formed between five and 10-million years ago, the Wonder Cave is remarkable in that its ancient dripstone formations are largely intact, and still growing.
Among the fantastical natural flowstone sculptures you'll see are stalagmites, some resembling weird mushrooms and jellyfish, others that look like fingers, depending on your imagination.
The variety of stalactites in the Wonder Cave is also impressive. Some clusters resemble crystal chandeliers; others petrified stone curtains.
The largest formation measures 15m in length and weighs 50 tons; other flowstone sculptures are as slender and delicate as gossamer.
In the Northern Chamber, the first area of the cavern visited on your tour, is a natural pool reminiscent of a font such as one finds at a shrine.
Coincidentally, the next flowstone formation you are shown is called the Madonna, and it's hard not to imagine supernatural powers at work as you wonder, slack-jawed with awe, at what time and nature have wrought in this subterranean limestone cathedral.
Wonder Cave is unusual in that it is formed along a fault in the Balcones Fault Zone. The cave is historic but has relatively few speleothems.
The smallest and oldest, continuously operating of the seven show caves in Texas, Wonder Cave was originally called Bevers Cave after Mark Bevers, who discovered it in 1896. A.B. Rogers bought it and opened it to the public some time prior to 1915. It is now part of the Wonder World theme park.
The cave is an almost straight crack in the Edwards Limestone but the walls have been modified by water and parts of the fissure are filled with breakdown. Small speleothems are found in some areas. Beaver's Well is about 28 m (93 ft.) deep from the surface to the water. Troglobites such as Typhlomolge rathbuni (Texas blind salamander), Palaemonetes antrorum (blind shrimp), and Cirolanides texensis (blind isopod) were found in the cave's water at one time but have not been seen recently. These species are also found in nearby Ezell's Cave and in the San Marcos Pool of the Edward's Aquifer.
The 1970 survey covered most of the cave's three levels. There probably is some additional, unsurveyed upper level passage between the ventilation shaft and the big dome in the Main Hall. There are rumors of a lower level stream and an extensive upper level. The Crystal Palace is nicely decorated but is no longer on the tour. At the end of the tour an elevator takes visitors to the surface. If you have bought a combination ticket, you continue to rise another 30 m to the top the Texas Observation Tower where you can get a fine view of the Texas Hill Country from a glassed-in platform.
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