Celebrating the Winter Solstice in a Cave Without a Name

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Cave Without a Name General Manager Mike Burrell leads a group of tourists down into the cavern.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Cave Without a Name General Manager Mike Burrell leads a group of tourists down into the cavern.

A curiously named cave 11 miles northeast of Boerne owes its fame to a goat – or a sheep, depending on who’s telling the story.

I’ll get to the goat later. First, let’s explore the happenings of this century and the nontraditional holiday tradition that takes place inside the Cave Without A Name.

Located at 325 Kreutzberg Rd., the cave will host the 18th winter solstice concert on Saturday, Dec. 22. Both ancient and modern instruments will be heard during the show that takes place about 80 feet underground in the cave’s “Queen’s Throne Room” with an “amazing backdrop of stalactites and stalagmites,” said Rudi Harst, the founder and spiritual director of Celebration Circle, an interfaith group.

The winter solstice show, which hosts 200 people, typically sells out weeks in advance, but there are other concerts scheduled for January and February. Click here for a calendar. Next year, organizers plan on scheduling two winter solstice concerts.

About half of the hour-long solstice concert takes place in the dark, Harst said, which can have the effect of “returning to a primordial state of being.”

Humans have sensitive hearing, Harst said, and “our culture has become so visually oriented that we kind of rely on our eyes. When you take that away … suddenly you become a caveman or cavewoman. … Is that sound I hear a sabertooth tiger or is it something I could eat?”

The musicians, too, have to adapt as a portion of the concert is improvised and in the dark, he said.

The darkness also relates to the winter solstice, which signifies the shortest day – and longest night – of the year. For thousands of years, cultures are the world have recognized the solstice. Observances vary, but generally are rooted in prayer to survive the long winter and for the return of warm days.

Musicians play during a past performance in a Cave Without a Name.

Courtesy / Michael Harris

Musicians play during a past performance in a Cave Without a Name.

“It doesn’t mean as much to modern people … but we still face incredible darkness in our culture,” Harst said, citing war, famine, and other struggles of humanity. “[The winter solstice] is a celebration of hope in the face of darkness. … It’s a good antidote to the hyper-commercialization of the season.”

The winter solstice falls on Friday, Dec. 21 at 4:22 p.m., when the Sun is over the Tropic of Capricorn. Saturdays, however, are better for audiences, Harst said.

Harst is a vocalist who plays guitar, mandolin, flute, and Tibetan bowls. He will be joined in the cave by Steve Daniel and Michael Linde on didgeridoos, Kiko Guerrero on handpan drum, Jesse Walker-Torres on clarinet, Olivia de Jesus on guitar, and fellow vocalist Sister Sara Gabriel.

The style of music at the solstice concert is typically heavy on drum rhythms and has a “world tribe vibe,” Harst said, but this year he’s decided to mix it up a bit to focus on vocal harmonies, wider textures, and treble timbre.

The cave itself plays a large role in the music, he said, providing excellent acoustics with its domed ceiling. Guests should be prepared to descend (and climb) about 125 steps and to be “kissed by the cave” in a high-humidity environment with water constantly dripping from stalactites on the ceiling to stalagmites on the floor. The limestone cave’s temperature is 66 degrees year-round.

Pools of crystal clear water collect and remain still in the Cave Without a Name.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Pools of crystal clear water collect in the Cave Without a Name.

The cave’s tour guides and various online records recount that it was a goat who discovered the cave when it fell through a cavern at the top of the cave in 1927. But Tom Summers, who has owned the cave and surrounding property for 20 years, says he has it on good authority that it was a sheep.

“Goats are more curious than sheep, so it makes a better story,” Summers said. “They refuse to change the story” at the visitors center.

The cave was more fully explored in 1938 and opened to the public in 1939, he said. The then-owner called a contest to find the best name for it soon after, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

A young boy said it was too pretty to be named. He won the contest and so it became known as the Cave Without a Name.

“At the cave, our main function is education,” Summers said. The cave hosts hundreds of students and researchers throughout the year.

The water visitors see percolating through the limestone, he said, is from the Edwards Aquifer, the main source of water for San Antonio, New Braunfels, San Marcos, and other communities along the Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 90 corridor.

The Cave Without a Name features about 80' ceilings.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Cave Without a Name features ceilings about 80 feet high.

Photos don’t seem to do the cavern justice, he said. “What you see on the internet is just a teaser.”

Summers said he developed a passion for geology after an eight-day trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. A retired businessman from Houston, he stays active in conversations about water and other scientific topics at international conferences.

“How does one become a cave owner?” I asked.

“It’s not something you do on purpose,” he said, cryptically, “it’s a long story.”

Perhaps for another time.

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