Investigating the World

Concert In A Cave Without a Name

concert In a Cave without a name

Cave formations, blind troglobites, bat colonies, and guano used for fertilizer and gunpowder are all things that I associate with a cave; however, last fall I added acoustics to my list.  Our friend “Dino” Don Lessem; his wife, Val; and his daughter Erica visited us from the Northeast, and we decided to treat them to an earth science experience deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country — a concert in a cave.  

Thirty-four miles east of our home in Comfort, there is a cave without a name — except that is its name: Cave Without a Name.  Concerts are held below the earth’s surface on a monthly basis, and I was able to get tickets for us to experience “The Haunted Show” presented the weekend before Halloween by the Rahim Quazi Trio.  

Concert attendees form a line outside before entering the cave, and when they descend they are either cooled down or warmed up (depending on the time of year) by the cave’s constant 66-degree temperature.  When it was our turn to go down, we were glad to be out of the wind and warmed by the living, limestone-solution cave that has welcomed guests since 1939.  The original sinkhole, used by moonshiners in the 1920s, is now a spiral of 126 steps that takes visitors about 90 feet below the surface.  

The concert was excellent and greatly enhanced by the acoustics of the naturally domed Throne Room, and by total darkness during the performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  During a brief intermission, guests were encouraged to explore the speleothems, which include soda straws, flowstones, rimstone dams, and massive cave columns.  

As part of the audience of about 150 temporary guests listening intently to the performance, I wondered how many permanent residents, including a rare  salamander, were feeling the vibrations, too.  On our way up and out of the cave, a single tricolored bat (formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle) flew past us into the depths to join several dozen that hibernate there over the winter.  We felt privileged to have experienced the swoop of its wings, knowing that no one has ever undergone that while exiting the aisles of Carnegie Hall!

Cave Without a Name is a National Natural Landmark.

Brain Refreshments

Speleology is the study of caves and the area surrounding them.

Spelunking is the exploration of caves.

Speleogenesis is the formation of caves.

Speleothems are cave formations. The precipitation of calcium carbonate that has been dissolved in water results in these unusal formations.

• Solution caves, like Cave Without a Name, are the most common type of cave.

• Karst topography is formed when underground water erodes sedimentary rock such as limestone. Sinkholes, caves, and springs that disappear underground are features of a karst landscape.

• Some caves, like lava tubes, are formed at the same time as the rock surrounding them. These are also called primary caves.

Sea caves are found along coastlines and are formed by the erosional forces of waves and tides.

• The Kendall County salamander, or
Cascade Caverns salamander, is a rare troglobite native to Cave Without a Name and Cascade Caverns. These salamanders are neotenic, meaning they continue to look like juveniles even as adults (e.g., gills are external, skin is translucent).

• Caves have been used throughout history by humans for shelter, burial, food storage, rituals, and ceremonies.

• Early gunpowder was made from saltpeter that was extracted from bat guano mined from caves.
(saltpeter = potassium nitrate, KNO3)

(saltpeter = potassium nitrate, KNO3)

• Guano from cave-dwelling bats is used as manure. It has a high concentration of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. These elements, whose quantities are listed on fertilizer sacks, are needed by plants for optimal growth.

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Cooking In the Kitchen with Dinah

While on the northern coast of Spain in June of 2016, we visited the Cave of El Castillo near Puente Viesgo in the province of Cantabria.  In the cave, we walked along paths that led us past Lower Paleolithic to Bronze Age cave art, including charcoal outlines of animals and red ochre hand stencils.

This is my version of a delicious soup we were served at a tiny coastal cafe after we toured El Castillo.  Since this recipe reminds me of caves,  I made several versions (regular and vegetarian) to serve when we returned home from the cave concert.

Chorizo, Beans, and Greens Soup

2 cans of white beans (cannellini) with can juice
1 pound of soft chorizo sausage cooked until crumbly,
   or 1 pound of dried chorizo chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped medium
2-4 cloves of diced garlic
4 mild Anaheim or poblano peppers, grilled, peeled, seeded, and chopped.
   (I use Hatch chilis when available.)
1 quart of vegetable or chicken broth
3 cups of chopped kale and/or spinach
Pinch of salt, pepper, and Spanish paprika to taste
1 slice of dried sandwich bread crushed to form a powder.
   (I use old garlic toast.)

Sweat the chopped onion and diced garlic in the olive oil  before adding the chili peppers.  Allow flavors to blend for a few minutes on low heat.  Add soft chorizo, breaking it apart until crumbly, or add chopped dried chorizo.  Cook, then drain excess oil, leaving a little for flavor.  Add broth, beans, and greens and allow the soup to simmer on low heat for at least 45 minutes.  Use the bread “powder” to thicken the soup 10 minutes before serving.  

I like to serve this with a simple green salad, and I always have cornbread, corn chips, warm garlic bread, cheese bread, or a baguette available to dip in the broth.

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