Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-x

The Texas Hill Country is changing...and fast. The population of the region, beloved by all Texans, increased from around 800,000 in 1950 to 2,600,000 in 2000 and is expected to double again by 2030. This explosive growth has brought unprecedented stress on one of the most iconic geographies in the United States and threatens to destroy many of its most sensational natural features, most alarmingly, its lovely water features and springs. These remarkable sites have always been in danger of being loved to death, and there is no more illustrative metaphor for that vulnerability than the beautiful Hill Country grotto known as Westcave. Situated very close to the Pedernales River outside of Austin, the spectacular limestone grotto presented an irresistible temptation to trespassers, who very nearly destroyed it....

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Preface

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pp. xi-xii

The twentieth century saw the flowering of the conservation movement in the United States as hundreds of millions of acres were acquired and protected for their natural resource and outdoor recreation value. Today, even as we continue to acquire and protect outdoor spaces, we are seeing a significant shift away from outdoor play, recreation, and learning as children become more urbanized and tethered to technology and the indoor environment. The result is that many young adults have a tenuous connection to the natural world.
There are many vital reasons to advocate for children in nature, but perhaps the most urgent is to safeguard the conservation victories that have been hard-won over the last century by ensuring that our children develop strong ties to the outdoors....

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvii

As this list of acknowledgments grew ever longer, we realized that we were thanking not only those who helped with this book, but also those who have nurtured the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center over its forty-year history. This list includes many expert and generous people and organizations. Without all of them, we would not have had the opportunity to write this book.
The most profound tip of the hat goes to John Covert Watson, without whom Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center would not exist. In 1974 this visionary conservationist purchased the twenty-five acres containing his favorite grotto with money willed to him by his Aunt Marjorie Watson, and the rest is history. No expression of thanks will ever be enough....

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About the Guidebook

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pp. xviii-xix

This guidebook is intended to introduce visitors to the natural and human history of Westcave, including its forty-year record of conservation and environmental education. In one volume the guide covers climate, geology, soils, animals, plants, water, ecology, archeology, history, and the role of Westcave in environmental education and preserving the environment, one sunrise at a time.
In this guidebook we list both the scientific and standard common names of all species known or likely to occupy the preserve. The names used and their spellings are those accepted at the time the guidebook was compiled. We have chosen to capitalize common names, although not all authorities take this approach. All common names in the text match common and scientific names in the species lists at the back of the book and in the index. Some of the names may be unfamiliar, but they are the key both to identifying a species and to obtaining more information about it....

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Introduction

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pp. xx-xxii

Westcave Preserve is located thirty miles west of downtown Austin among the rugged hills and deep valleys of the Texas Hill Country in central Texas. For forty years the preserve has inspired quiet reflection and enthusiasm from its visitors. Schoolchildren, families, casual hikers, and dedicated naturalists value and enjoy this idyllic refuge in far western Travis County and its award-winning, green-designed educational facility, the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center.
The seventy-six-acre preserve is on two levels: a drier upland plateau (called the Uplands) typical of the Texas Hill Country, and a more moderate canyon of exceptional beauty with a clear, fast-flowing stream. The spring-waters that sustain the stream cascade over a forty-foot-high waterfall into a deep emerald pool. Ornate deposits of travertine at the waterfall and along the canyon walls form columns and draperies that partly enclose a natural recess, creating the cave that gives the preserve its name....

Part 1: Visitor’s Guide

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pp. 1-2

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1: A Walk Through the Preserve

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pp. 3-13

Deep in the heart of Texas there is a place so unexpected, so inspiring, that it steals your breath, quickens your pulse, and delights your senses. That place is Westcave Preserve, a seventy-six-acre nature preserve and environmental education facility in western Travis County. Lying within the Hill Country, the easternmost portion of the Edwards Plateau, the preserve embraces the fauna and flora of five major ecological communities, resulting in extraordinary complexity. The preserve is at once a treasure trove of stunning beauty, biological wonders, and scientific fascination. Yet it is the amazing range of microenvironments—diversity in proximity—that makes the preserve unique:...

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2: Visitor Center and Indoor Exhibits

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pp. 14-29

The Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center (ELC) is a place for gathering, collaborating, learning, discovery, and investigation. It is named for screenwriter Warren Skaaren (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Beetlejuice, and Batman), whose charitable trust made the first large donation to the ELC building fund. Its ingenious design presents learning opportunities, helping visitors understand the natural forces of water, sky, and land around them.
Designed by Robert Jackson, FAIA, of Jackson & McElhaney Architects, Austin, Texas, the ELC has won seven major design awards, most notably the 2005 Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education (AIA/CAE). In 2006 the AIA named the ELC one of the top ten “green” buildings in the United States....

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3: Trails and Outdoor Features

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pp. 30-37

Most of Westcave Preserve consists of vegetated natural space, and to allow access to those areas, two trail systems have been developed. The Canyon Trail, which has been open since the preserve was created and is now named for John Covert Watson, begins at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) and descends into the Heinz Branch canyon. The trail is dedicated to Watson, who had the foresight to first buy what would become Westcave Preserve in 1974 and then initiate the establishment of the nonprofit Westcave Preserve Corporation in 1976.
The Uplands trail system also begins at the ELC but stays on the higher Live Oak–Ashe Juniper savanna. Although only guided tours are allowed on the Canyon Trail, the Uplands trails are open to self-guided exploration, but to protect the environment, some restrictions apply....

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4: Educational Programs and Activities

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pp. 38-44

Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center’s mission is to inspire people to develop a lifelong practice of enjoying and protecting nature. Westcave does this through ongoing conservation efforts at its spectacular Westcave Preserve and through educational activities designed to engage educators, parents, and children throughout central Texas. These include a variety of programs conducted through the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin (CiNCA), both on-site and elsewhere. Westcave Preserve serves as an outdoor classroom for visitors to explore, discover, and appreciate their natural surroundings, but Westcave has ventured outside the bounds of its preserve to find new ways of connecting youth with nature. Two examples of Westcave’s expanded community partnerships with that goal in mind are El Ranchito Summer Camp and the CiNCA, both described below....

Part 2: The Place

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pp. 45-46

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5: Environmental Setting

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pp. 47-50

The environmental factors that characterize Westcave Preserve reflect regional and local topography, geology, groundwater, surface water, climate, and, over the past fourteen thousand years, increasing human influences. Each of these factors affects the animal and plant life of the region and influences the variety and quality of available habitats. The great diversity of fauna and flora at the preserve indicates that the environmental setting is particularly favorable.
The hilly terrain and canyonlands in the vicinity of the preserve have a character that is different from the broad, flat to rolling upland landscape, with few rivers, typical of the Edwards Plateau. In this part of the plateau, also known as the Hill Country or the Balcones Canyonlands, rivers and streams have dissected the land, forming a series of ridges separated by deep, narrow valleys....

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6: Westcave Preserve Through Four Seasons

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pp. 51-74

It is often said, with some justification, that much of Texas has only two seasons: summer and almost summer. In central Texas, summer heat and humidity can be oppressive and unrelenting. Heat indexes and thermometer temperatures regularly reach 100°F, occasionally 110, with nighttime lows in the 70s and 80s. These conditions can be expected from July through August, or even from May through September. Hot, dry summers are the norm.
Yet despite the adage about two seasons only, weather in central Texas does vary through the year. Residents are almost as likely to complain about winter cold as they are about summer heat. Most of the records cited here are from weather stations located twenty to thirty miles to the east in Austin during the period of record, which began in 1897 (see chapter 10, “Climate and Weather,” for detailed weather records). Temperatures in Austin have dropped as low as -5°F, but the winters are usually mild, with readings of freezing or below recorded on 19 to 25 days per year, depending on location....

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7: Geology: Topography and Ancient Bedrock

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pp. 75-82

Westcave Preserve comprises several distinct topographic features:

• The cave, a partly enclosed, natural overhang and waterfall at the head of Heinz Branch canyon;
• The canyon itself, which is the lower reach of Heinz Branch, draining one-quarter mile eastward through a steep-walled canyon to the western bank of the Pedernales River;
• The steep canyon wall of the Pedernales River and the flat river terrace on its western bank; and
• The uplands plateau surrounding the rim of the Heinz Branch and Pedernales River canyons and part of the watershed and shallow channel of upper Heinz Branch, which is an intermittent stream....

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8: Evolution of West Cave Preserve: 250,000 Years Ago to the Present

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pp. 83-94

At Westcave Preserve and throughout central Texas, the landscape has changed dramatically over the past 2.58 million years—the time interval known as the Quaternary Period. The precise timing of changes in the landscape is not well known, but it is probable that about 100,000 years ago Westcave Preserve’s main geologic feature, the Heinz Branch slot canyon, was formed. Eroded materials have scraped Heinz Branch and other canyons and valleys ever deeper into the Hill Country landscape.
Recent investigations have provided evidence regarding geological events during the last 250,000 years. The following reconstruction of landscape evolution in the Westcave area is based on that evidence. The reconstruction also is detailed in four color panels on the outside east wall of the ELC....

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9: Surface Water and Groundwater

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pp. 95-100

The distinction between groundwater—water within the ground—and surface water is somewhat artificial. Nearly all groundwater was originally surface water—rain, snowmelt, runoff, stream flow—that migrated to an underground aquifer. Conversely, when groundwater discharges from springs or seeps, it becomes surface water. There also is a transitional stage. As stream water flows through its channel, it also permeates the banks and the sediment on the channel floor. This infiltrating water then flows underground at shallow depth and may emerge into the channel downstream. Known as hyporheic flow or interflow, this process is an obvious example of the close relationship between groundwater and surface water....

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10: Climate and Weather

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pp. 101-106

The words climate and weather are often regarded as interchangeable. In fact, these terms have different meanings, and the distinction between them is significant. Climate is the prevailing or long-term pattern of atmospheric conditions within a region or at a specific location, whereas weather is the state of the atmosphere in an area at a given time or over a short period. If we envision climate as a fabric, weather is an individual thread.
Air masses are extremely dynamic, and their properties and processes are impelled by a great many influences. Many of the same variables affect both climate and weather, particularly latitude, season, elevation and landform, proximity to the ocean or other water body, and ground cover. Increasingly, urbanization and human activities are also important and have both instantaneous and cumulative effects. This combination of global, provincial, and local factors governs the range of temperature, rainfall, humidity, cloudiness, wind speed and direction, and other atmospheric measures we experience annually and over many years, as well as the variations observed day-to-day and even minute-to-minute....

Part 3: The People

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pp. 107-108

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11: Archeology and Human History

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pp. 109-115

Human chronology, particularly in the “new world” of the Americas, is divided into two eras, generally known as prehistorical and historical. This division is convenient and based on the nature of the records of the times. The events of prehistory are usually inferred through archeological investigations, whereas historical events are known from written accounts or other records. However, archeological methods are increasingly employed at historic sites.
The cave that gives Westcave Preserve its name was recorded as an archeological site in the 1930s, although few artifacts were recovered. The earliest occupation appears to have occurred during the Archaic Period (6000 BC to AD 800). Only limited archeological investigations have been conducted at the cave and at other similarly aged sites in and near Westcave Preserve. In 1959, excavations conducted within Heinz Branch canyon in and near the cave indicated the occasional presence of early humans. Occasional floods may have eroded artifact-bearing deposits, so it is possible that the record of prehistoric occupation is incomplete, but there is no physical evidence that the cave or canyon were used extensively by people before the modern era....

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12: Westcave, 1850–1974

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pp. 116-137

In the mid-1800s “the middle of nowhere” adequately described the area near what is now Westcave Preserve. Steep cliffs along the Pedernales River meant no crossing there. The stagecoach from Austin to Fredericksburg (a four-day trip of ninety miles on rocky, rutted dirt roads) forded the river about eight miles upstream, at Dead Man’s Crossing. There was no “closest town,” and the nearest fort was Fort Martin Scott near Fredericksburg, fifty miles away and little more than a forage depot. This was the Wild West—the skirmish line of civilization—with wildfires, drought, Indian attacks, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, and rattlesnakes to contend with.
In 1849, Mormon homesteaders arrived at Cypress Mill Springs, eight miles northwest, establishing, then soon abandoning a sawmill for cypress lumber and relocating. It was not until 1857 that German settlers established Fuchs Mill (later renamed Cypress Mill), a gristmill on Cypress Creek just downstream from the original Mormon site....

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13: The John Ahrns Era, 1974–2010

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pp. 138-155

Anyone with a multitude of nicknames is worth paying attention to. In 1974, when John Ahrns arrived at the land that would be named Westcave Preserve, wearing short shorts and with wild hair brushing his shoulders, he was dubbed Hippie John and Trapper John by the locals. His son Jeff’s friends called him Grizzly Ahrns, after the then popular television series Grizzly Adams. He was Big Daddy, due to his willingness to help neighbors with practical problems. That, plus his outgoing personality and his stewardship of the area’s first nature preserve, made him the de facto mayor of the Hammetts Crossing area. The ground rules for preserving the land were strictly enforced (always with a charming smile), so he came to be called The Law West of the Pedernales. He was such a skilled enforcer that his colleagues at Hamilton Pool Preserve across the river called him Mad Dog. As the neighbors got to know and appreciate him, they called him Our Hippie, and as his tenure at Westcave Preserve grew into decades and his fame as a naturalist and educator spread, Ahrns was called the Johnny Appleseed of Hamilton Pool Road—high praise, indeed....

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14: Growing Up at Westcave Preserve

Amber Ahrns Gosselin

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pp. 156-160

“Go outside and find something to do!” Those are the words my brother Jeff and I heard countless times in our youth. My parents had many “famous” sayings, and that was one we heard in the summer, on a regular basis—usually from my dad. My mom’s favorite was “Watch out for snakes!”
I don’t have any earlier memories than those at Westcave Preserve. We moved there when I was two and my brother was five. Lucky for us, my father, John Ahrns, accepted a job to take care of some land and run off the trespassers. This move would dramatically change the trajectory of our whole family.
Our lives would have been so different if we had stayed in Dallas. When we moved to the “sticks,” there was no phone, no water, a single-wide trailer, and twenty-five amazing acres. Those Hill Country acres may not have seemed so amazing when we got there, but we all know better now. After all, as a teenager, wouldn’t it have been better to live somewhere that the pizza places delivered to, or, better yet, have a mall and movie theater close by?...

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Conclusion: Preserving the Future of Westcave

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pp. 161-162

Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center has been a respected proponent of conservation and stewardship for forty years and will continue to lead by example. Its success has come from salvaging, nurturing, and interpreting the area’s environmental heritage and advocating for the rights of children to play and learn in nature.
The Westcave board, staff, and members look to the future, determined to promote environmental education, nature play, and conservation while motivating the environmentalists of tomorrow. The preserve is and will remain a touchstone of natural resource protection and inspiration....

Appendixes: Species Lists

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pp. 163-164

Appendix A: Plant Communities

S. Christopher Caran, Nan Hampton, and Bob Fulginiti

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pp. 165-170

Appendix B: Plants

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pp. 171-186

Appendix C: Common Mosses

Bob Fulginiti

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pp. 187-189

Appendix D: Invertebrates other than Butterflies

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pp. 190-194

Appendix E: Butterflies

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pp. 195-197

Appendix F: Fishes

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pp. 198-200

Appendix G: Amphibians and Reptiles

John Ahrns, David Bennett, and S. Christopher Caran

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pp. 201-203

Appendix H: Birds

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pp. 204-211

Appendix I: Mammals

John Ahrns, David Bennett, Melissa Meierhofer, Leah M. Miller, and S. Christopher Caran

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pp. 212-214

Selected References

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pp. 215-218

Index

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pp. 219-231