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South Texas Living

Cave reunion brings back memories, makes new ones

Cave reunion brings back memories, makes new ones
Wilson County resident Barbara Knight and her son, Brian, enjoy the Discovery Tour during the Natural Bridge Caverns tour guide reunion June 7. Knight’s first job was as a tour guide at the caverns in 1974-75.

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July 2, 2014
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By Barbara Knight

Exclusive to the Wilson County News

Wilson County resident Barbara Knight saw the article, “A gathering of the Cave people,” in the May 28 Wilson County News about the Natural Bridge Caverns 50th anniversary tour guide reunion. As a former tour guide, she was excited to revisit the caverns and shares her experience here!

My first job was as a tour guide at Natural Bridge Caverns from September 1974 to May 1975. When I worked there, we had two or three tour guides during the week, and I took as many as six to eight tours a day. There was a small petting zoo and the visitors center was only a third the size it is now. Today, the attraction has as many as 200 employees working there in a day. They have come a long way!

My son, Brian, and I went to the June 7 tour guide reunion. We were greeted by Travis Wuest and his older brother, Brad. Brad was a baby when I worked there.

We were given a badge to wear; mine stated that I was a member of the staff. The pass gave us access to both cavern tours and all the activities.

Playing tourist

Brian and I immediately set out for the Discovery Tour. This was the original tour that I used to lead 40 years ago.

The temperature inside the caverns is 70 degrees year-round, with 99 percent humidity. These caverns are over 95 percent active, meaning they are still forming from the water that drips through the layers of limestone above. I could not believe I used to walk that cavern so many times a day at age 18. With all that humidity, it feels like 85 degrees. The tour was basically the same, except they’ve added handrails and new material on the walkways. It was just as fantastic as it was 40 years ago.

After the tour, Brian went on the zip line, while I explored the rock shop and received my complimentary bag of “pay dirt.” In the mining sluice, I sifted the gems and minerals out, surprised to find many pieces of semi-precious stones, including amethyst and quartz.

Brian and I took the last tour of the day, the Hidden Passages Tour. This cavern was developed after my time with the caverns and is completely different from the original tour. The cavern goes 180 feet below the surface; as there is no opening to the surface, it provides some wonderful, long “soda straws” that are not found in the original cavern. As the first cavern had bats in it at one time, any delicate formations were generally destroyed by their presence.

I believe the guide said there are 186 steps into the caverns and we had to come up the same way! I absolutely had to take the Passages tour, but was concerned I wasn’t going to make it out. Going down was fairly easy; coming back up was exhausting. I was one of the oldest people on the tour and ended up the last out of the caverns. But it was so well worth it!

Meeting ‘Cave’ people

We exited the Hidden Passages tour just in time to join more than 400 former and present employees for a catered meal. Before eating, Brad Wuest thanked everyone for attending and introduced Travis and their families.

He also introduced his mother, Joy -- one of my bosses in 1974. She expressed her gratitude to all for being part of the growth of Natural Bridge Caverns.

Everyone visited with people they knew from their past. I visited with Joy and several of the employees who have been with the caverns since the beginning. I also found the woman I worked with at the time -- we ran the ticket counter, cleaned bathrooms, cleaned the caverns, fed the animals, and gave tours. Laverne was the mother of one of my classmates in high school; I was surprised to see that she really hadn’t changed much through the years. I was glad to see she and her husband were doing well.

Thanks to the Wilson County News, I was able to join my former employers and had an absolutely fantastic time. Brian learned about my past and was also amazed at the caverns and formations. We are both nature “nuts” and found plenty to explore and interest us.

We were like one big family, sharing memories and learning more about this beautiful place where we worked. The Wuest family and employees did an excellent job of planning and providing for the number of guests attending.

I believe we all left there with a feeling of worth and achievement, knowing we all worked for a very important and magnificent part of Texas’ natural history.

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