It creepses in the dark, my preciousssss... by Josh Trudell

A flashlight lights a crystal inside Kickapoo Cavern State Park. It gets very dark when you’re a quarter-mile underground. Very. Dark. I waved my hand a few inches in front of my face. I felt the breeze, but couldn’t see the tips of my fingers. Finally, the guide turned his light back on. I nearly ran to him like Gollum, “My precious! My preeeecious!” Now I’m not a complete newbie when it comes to cave photography. I’ve had a little experience underground before, on a photography tour of Longhorn Cavern in Burnet. Part of the state park system, its a well-lit cave with beautiful walls carved by the wind. It regularly hosts orchestras and wedding receptions. It’s a great place for photographers to learn about light painting and practice some of the basics of cave photography – long exposures in low light. Kickapoo Cavern, near Brackettville, is something entirely different. Kickapoo is a wild cave from the moment the gate is opened and you duck down the small opening into the vast opening. Huge chunks of loose limestone rubble cover the floor, rattling and rocking underfoot. There aren’t any lights other than what you carry in. Stalactites and stalagmites rise in jagged points from floor and ceiling, forming columns with alien shapes water-worn into the sides. Water drips from the ceiling and pools on the floor in spots, building new formations in milky puddles of limestone. This makes for some very interesting photography opportunities, but also some serious challenges. Intense humidity – the guide says there is regularly over 90% humidity in the cave – kept fogging up my glasses and soaked me with sweat before long. Carrying a camera, tripod and flashlight made for some dicey moments when I needed to react quickly and choose a hand to reach out with and grab a rock to keep from sliding. I came back with a few images, but this turned into more of a scouting trip. Scouting can be frustrating – I just drove all the way out here, and now I’m going to have to come back to get a decent shot? - but it is rewarding in the end when the preparation works out. So we’ll file that under a learning experience, add the cavern to the list of places to return to, and move on. This cave intrigues me, though - it feels like an underappreciated little brother compared to the sophistication of Longhorn Cavern. I'll be back.