This week was a big week for exploring with trips taking me to several places around state of Texas
The adventures started out just outside of Austin at Inner Space Cave. There are a lot of show caves in the area, and Inner Space is number 3 out of a hopeful 4 that I am planning to visit while I am down here. Inner Space was just as beautiful as the other show caves I have been too, and it also had a really rich history. The original cave entrances all turned into sink holes, and the cave remained sealed off from the world until highway workers were drilling during construction of I-35. Yes, the cave is directly under the highway and railroad tracks, and you can occasionally hear cars overhead while in the cave. Because the cave was completely sealed off, a lot of ancient history has been preserved in the cave including mammoth bones and tusks, sabercat bones, and 4-million-year-old bat guano. The bones weren’t fossilized so they are incredibly brittle and efforts to excavate more of them no longer happen because they are so likely to shatter (there was a mammoth tusk that had been shattered into a million pieces along the path through the cave from a previous excavation). It was really neat to see not only the history, but also the ways that our views on research and these precious artifacts have changed over time. The cave ceiling also has large sections that are fossilized coral, trilobites and other sea-life from when the area used to be an ocean. The cave itself has also changed a lot over time, and now has a large open entrance making it home to bats and frogs and other critters looking for shelter. Part of the cave is also along the Balcones Fault Line, and the formations and features along the fault line were so different from the other caves I’ve been to. It’s really been amazing to see how different all of the show caves are, even though many of the formations are the same, the environments are still so different and isolated.
After Inner Space I ventured out to Stonewall to the Texas White House and LBJ National Historic Park. I didn’t end up going to the LBJ library while I was in the Austin area, but I decided to make the trip out to the National Park site instead. There is a State Park and a National Park that operate on both sides of the Pedernales River. I started out on the State Park side which had a living history farm that showed what it was like to farm in the early 1900s and had a few exhibits and memorabilia from the era. The farm that serves as the living history farm was also where the midwife who delivered LBJ lived which was pretty cool. The National Park side was a little interesting as far as national parks go, a sitting president deciding that his home should be a national park while he is in office is a bit of a weird dynamic. It was still really neat to get to peek back into history and to see how so many of his quotes and beliefs are still so relevant today. It feels a little strange to know that we are having so many of the same fights still today that we were having 50+ years ago.
The big trip of this week was to Big Bend National Park. The park is larger than the state of Rhode Island, and is so spread out that I ended up spending a lot of time just driving between stops. Even with everything being spread out it was still such an interesting National Park to visit. The park protects 3 distinct environments: the Chisos Mountains, the Chihuahua Desert, and the Rio Grande. Many of the landscapes and plants and animals are unique to the area which was really cool to think about, and it was really neat to see conservation efforts really working to impact change in some of the species that have made comebacks and are thriving in the park. being so close to Mexico that I could have had conversations across the banks and see where the banks and water had been in different spots over time was also a really humbling feeling and a nice reminder of just how imaginary our borders really are. I camped in the park which was a first for me in a National Park, and it was amazing. Big Bend has the darkest sky in the lower 48, and the stars were just breathtaking. The sky seemed to go on for miles and was just filled with the brightest stars. In the morning, I also got to watch the sunrise and it was beautiful. It was a little bit foggy, but the sun still shined through and painted the sky bright oranges and pinks. After watching the sunrise, I visited one of the parks dinosaur exhibits. Big Bend has been the location of a lot of dinosaur bone finds, and it was unreal standing next to some of the bones found in the park. I also got excited to see that the illustrations of dinosaurs had feathers or dino-fluff on them. It’s just so neat to see how much science is still a growing field and that the new things that are being learned everyday are being incorporated into how science is presented at all levels.
As I left Big Bend, I was reminded of how ridiculous our imaginary borders and thoughts on immigration are. On the way back to San Antonio, I went through 2 different Customs and Border Patrol Inspection stations despite having never left the US. There were also Border Patrol trucks all over the highways pretty much the entire way back. It was definitely a stark contrast to the beauty of the natural borders created by the Chisos Mountains or the desert landscape to see such strong enforcement of a made-up line on a map.
I only have 2 more weeks before I say goodbye to San Antonio, and I have a few adventures left to get in. So far, I have loved getting to see so many different places, and I’m looking forward to enjoying this last few weeks I have here and seeing what they have in store for me.