The caves that became what is known as Natural Bridge Caverns were discovered by four college students in 1960. Today, Natural Bridge Caverns is one of Texas's most popular attractions. Visitors can tour cavern rooms the size of football fields and learn about geology and archaeology.
Presently one of the most popular
Texas attractions, the Natural Bridge Caverns were discovered by four St. Mary
University college students in March of 1960. Orion Knox Jr., Preston Knodell,
Al Brandt and Joe Cantu received permission for entry from landowner Clara
Wuest Heidemann and went spelunking under the 60-foot limestone bridge. It was
previously thought that the cave was merely a small bat cave. According to the
official website1 of the Natural Bridge Caverns, on the college students’ “fourth
expedition, Orion felt a cool draft from a rubble-filled crawlway. Such air
currents often indicate the presence of additional rooms or passages.”
Clear evidence of human habitation has been discovered here. During excavations of the cavern, arrowheads and spearheads dating to 5,000 BC were found. There was also a jawbone of a bear that became extinct 8,000 years ago.2
Because Wuest and the student explorers
were told there was no national nor state funding for the development of the
caves, Wuest took on the project personally. Orion left school to help her. The
two of them along with Wuest’s husband, Harry Heidmann, her son, Reggie, and
the developer of the Caverns of Sonora Jack Burch began the cavern development
in 1963. Opened July 3, 1964, the Natural Bridge Caverns is still privately
owned and operated by Wuest’s family members.
In 1971, Natural Bridge Caverns was
declared a United States National Landmark.