GEORGETOWN — The pitter patter of water dripping from stalactite formations hanging above me was constant as my feet sloshed their way through a cave.

The tour guide led my group along a man-made path, where stalagmites lined the floor as they emerged from the ground, like traffic cones warning us not to veer off course.

Several feet beneath Interstate 35 in Georgetown lies Inner Space Caverns — a natural cave that visitors can walk through to view sediment and ancient ruins.

As a Georgetown native, I first visited the caverns more than a decade ago for an elementary school trip. Since then, I’ve driven past its entrance hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, as I traveled along the highway.

But it wasn’t until I trekked through the cave last week that I was once again amazed by the history beneath my hometown.

The cavern was first discovered in 1963 by a Texas Highway Department core drilling team, which was drilling 6-inch samples to see if the ground was stable enough to support a large highway overpass.

As the crews drilled one of the test holes, their tool dropped about 25 feet and the crew knew something was down there.

Three years after the cave was discovered, it opened to the public.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of visitors have explored its depths during the general tour, which guides them as far as 70 feet below ground.

My tour guide, Zane Hancock, was well-informed about animal and plant life in the cave millions of years ago, its discovery in the 1960s and the science behind the formations visitors see during their 13 stops in the roughly hourlong tour.

The cave was formed about 20 million years ago when water dissolved the underground limestone through weathering. All the formations in the interactive tour, like the stalagmites and stalactites, are made from calcite and were created when carbonic acid hit the limestone in the cave.

As paleontologists began exploring its depths, they found fossils and bones of at least 44 different species, including the Colombian mammoth, giant ground sloth, black-tailed prairie dog and saber-tooth cat. Eleven of the species they found are now extinct.

The dark enclosure of the cave might not be ideal for people who are claustrophobic, but other than a steep hill at the end, the hourlong tour is an easy and entertaining walk.

General Manager Taunya Vessels said the cavern averages 130,000 visitors annually, including 25,000 school children.

“We do value our school kids quite a bit,” she said. “It kind of combines nature and education. You learn a lot about caves and how they’re made and how formations develop. It’s neat because it’s something that the whole family can do together. It’s something you can do in a day.”

If you go

  • What: Inner Space Caverns
  • Where: 4200 S. Interstate-35 frontage road in Georgetown
  • When: Summer hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
  • Cost: The main tour is about an hour long and costs $19.95 for adults and $11.95 for children age 4 to 12. Children 3 and younger are free. Retired and active-duty military with a valid ID card receive a 20 percent discount off all tour prices.
  • Note: A physically demanding Wild Cave Tour is nearly four hours of off-trail exploration through an undeveloped part of the cave. Participants must be at least 13 years or older and teenagers must provide a signed parental consent form and be accompanied by an adult. Cost is $100, or $80 for retired and active-duty military. The Wild Cave Tour is by appointment only.
  • Information: Go to www.innerspacecavern.com or call 512-931-2283.

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at SarahRafique.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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