Longhorn Caverns and a Goat Named Butters

Last weekend my friend Dana came to visit Austin. Dana is the older brother of one of my best friends from childhood (and therefore also my friend from childhood) who now lives in Houston. We decided we needed a weekend to commiserate about culture shock in Texas, and so we jokingly formed the “Native New Yorkers in Texas Support Group.” Any fellow Manhattanites in Texas who need to join us and complain in true New York style, let me know! 😉 

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Dana and I visited a lot of the things that had been on my Austin bucket list that I hadn’t gotten around to yet:

  • Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater with tables in every row where you order food and drinks restaurant-style (we saw Battle of the Sexes, which was great!)
  • Civil Goat Coffee Co., a coffee shop in west Austin with a baby goat named Butters

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Note that Butters is wearing a diaper.

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What a brilliant way to get people to come to your coffee shop.

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  • Wholy Bagel, a New York-themed bagel deli opened in Austin by Jews from New Jersey (but the bagels sadly still weren’t New York bagels) 
  • Graffiti Park, which is pretty much what it sounds like – a “community paint park

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But one of the coolest things we did was visit Longhorn Cavern State Park, an hour and 20 minutes northwest of Austin in Hill Country, and took a tour of the caverns!

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The cavern (which is not a cave – caves have an ending point, and caverns, which are formed by underground water erosion over thousands of years, continue for miles and miles) has a fascinating history.

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It was used by Native Americans, Confederate soldiers, and outlaws, including the infamous outlaw Sam Bass. In the mid-1800s, bat guano was mined to be turned into gunpowder during the Civil War. There aren’t any more Mexican free-tailed bats living in the caves (the same bats that now live under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin) but there are a few tiny Eastern pipistrelle bats!

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During the 1920s, the cavern was used as a speakeasy! Wooden planks were laid down on the floor and then covered in carpet, and tables and chairs with white tablecloths and real silverware were installed in the caverns. There was a dumbwaiter that would descend into the caverns to deliver food and take dirty plates back up the ground level. There was even a dance floor and a bandstand, where musicians would perform throughout the night. Not to mention the bootleg whiskey bar. All this for $1.10! (The sheriff attended for free.) Apparently the cavern acoustics are excellent! They still occasionally have weddings and special events like concerts down there.

The "Queen's Throne" - a popular part of the speakeasy

The “Queen’s Throne” – a popular part of the speakeasy in the 1920s

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In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (a New Deal program) excavated the cavern and made many of the structures and paths that exist within it today and made it suitable for visitors. During the Cold War in the 1960s, there was a constant threat of a nuclear attack from Russia and the cavern was transformed into a bunker that could be used to shelter President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose family home was nearby. There was a radio table set up and enough food to last for 3 years!

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The cavern tour took about an hour and a half and we walked for 3 miles underground. At one point the guide turned off all of the lights and we got to experience TOTAL darkness for a few seconds! It was really cool…and disorienting. It felt like the whole massive space shrunk instantly.

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The caverns were such a cool and hidden part of this landscape and it was fun to experience something outside of downtown Austin!

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A lovely little flower I discovered – a Maypop Passionflower!

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