Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »

Sonora, Texas

Caverns of Sonora

A Texas cave network is home to some of the world's most spectacular-looking and bizarrely named mineral formations. 

Some of the country’s best popcorn, bacon, and soda straws can be found in a cavern outside of the small Texas town of Sonora, but trying to bite into these would be injurious to health. They aren’t items on the menu of a subterranean diner but instead bizarrely named and spectacular-looking mineral formations housed inside the cave complex.

“Popcorn” refers to small mineral nodes that develop on cave surfaces. Cave “bacon” is officially called layered flowstone, and is formed by mineral-rich water moving along the same path repeatedly. “Soda straws” are hollow mineral cylindrical formations. These and many more speleothems line nearly every inch of the walls, roofs, and floors of the cave, making it a glittery and surreal site to explore. They were formed due to slow-moving water containing rich mineral deposits.

The cave was discovered by accident in 1905, on ranch land belonging to the Mayfield family. But it took a few more decades for professional spelunkers to fully explore the depths of the discovered cave and see the entire range of stunning speleothems. On a visit to the cave in 1956, Jack Burch, a caver from Oklahoma, noticed that visitors had damaged some of the formations and he went about creating a network of stairs, railings, and trails for people to use, without harming the delicate structures. It was opened to the public in 1960, and its signature formations were the butterfly-shaped helictites. 

Know Before You Go

The complex is divided into different sections, each having its own tunnels and characteristics. A more relaxed tour leads visitors through the Crystal Palace section, 155 feet underground, which contains stalactites and stalagmites in varying shades of white and amber. Rappelling and exploring more complicated passageways form another tour. 

Contributed by
Steve S
Edited by