Discover Austin: Westcave Outdoor Discover Center - Episode 105

To the west of Austin is a gorgeous 76-acre preserve dedicated to conserving the land and teaching about nature.  We’re going to visit Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center on this episode of Discover Austin.

I’m Craig Smyser with 1835 Realty.  Located along the Pedernales River and not far from Hamilton Pool, the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center offers a glimpse into a gorgeous ecosystem that you may not even know existed so close.  The crown jewel at Westcave is the grotto.  It’s a gorgeous area with a spring-fed waterfall.  The large bald cypress tree in the grotto is the oldest one at Westcave at an estimated age of 350 to 400 years old.  Guests are able to walk into the back of the grotto which also offers beautiful views.

Next to the grotto is a cave.  It’s not a large cave, but is rather unusual in the realm of local caves because there is a small opening like a window on one side.  With the cross breeze, scientific events in the cave happen 2 to 5 times faster than other caves so it is a good and unique place for research.

The grotto and cave are located in part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.  This means that visits to these areas are done only by guided tours.  The hike is about a mile round trip with a lot to see along the way.  A variety of different tours and programs are available, but capacity is limited so be sure to make reservations online ahead of time.

The Uplands is a 45-acre section of Westcave highlighting wildflowers and bird watching.  The are two trails – a half mile and a full mile to enjoy.  There are also two bird blinds allowing you to spend time watching and identifying birds.  There’s an old homestead from the early 1900s which will eventually be restored.  Shortly before our visit, they had done a prescribed burn, which is something that takes place every few years.

In 2003, the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center opened.  It’s a LEED certified building with geothermal heating, solar power, and rainwater collection.  This is where tours start and classes are held.  Because of the direct north/south orientation of the building, they were able to incorporate a solar calendar on the floor that tracks the sunrise, sunset, and more.  There’s also an analemma which tracks the sun’s movement throughout the year.  It’s named after Skaaren because his trust was a major contributor to the building.  He’s best known for being a writer on such blockbusters as Top Gun, Batman, & Beetlejuice. 

Research is a main component of Westcave with a variety of ongoing projects, many of which involve the cave, the grotto, birds, and other animals.  The center is support by donations, grants, and user fees.

Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center is a beautiful place to visit with a wide array of tours and programs.  I encourage you to find one that interests you and make a reservation. 

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