82-year-old geologist still sharing knowledge as Longhorn Cavern guide
DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — Al Gerow leaned a bit on his walking stick. He looked up at the group of people gathered around him. Voices died down. Parents quieted their children. A few people snapped photos.
Then he spoke.
“I’m Al Gerow, but I’m not the jazz musician,” he said in his smooth, grandfatherly tone. A few people familiar with the musician Al Jarreau chuckled.
Gerow, 81, started his next tour into Longhorn Cavern, where he’s probably guided thousands of people since joining the staff in 1998.
“We tell him he’s the oldest guide working in Texas,” said Amy Bullard, the Longhorn Cavern State Park event coordinator and cavern guide. “He’s just amazing. Al knows so much, and he’s always willing to help.”
Though there is no verification Gerow is the oldest working tour or nature guide in Texas, but, when he turns 82 on Sept. 16, he definitely will be one of the profession’s elder statesmen. Despite 15 years of leading people underground at the park, Gerow looks forward to each new day and every new tour.
“Every time is different,” he said. “I do this because I love it.”
Gerow grew up a rockhound. As a youth in California, he and his parents would go camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“I drove my parents mad,” Gerow said. “I would come home with boxes full of rocks.”
An attentive high school counselor picked up on Gerow’s rock enthusiasm and pointed him in the direction of geology studies. After high school, it was off to the Colorado School of Mines, which he followed up with a 30-year career with Amoco, an energy company. Part of his career at Amoco included solving issues with drilling for oil. The last 17 years with the company found Gerow working in the geophysics department.
When British Petroleum bought out Amoco and offered early retirement packages, Gerow took one. But he wasn’t done working. While living in Houston, he spent two more years doing contract work in the petroleum industry.
As that work wound down, retirement loomed. Gerow, however, couldn’t imagine himself putting on slippers, kicking back in the recliner and grabbing the remote control.
“I’m pretty lousy at retirement,” he said.
His wife, who was working and living in Burnet at the time, saw an advertisement that Longhorn Caverns State Park was looking for somebody with a geology background to lead tours and help with other programs.
“I told her, ‘They won’t hire an old geezer like me,'” he said. Still, Gerow called the manager and landed the job over the phone.
While all the guides follow a basic program, each adds a bit of their own flavor and personality to the tour. With Gerow, that means a little more emphasis on geology.
Along with the regular cavern tours, Gerow also guides geology tours across the Highland Lakes a few weekends each month.
As Gerow led the group through the cavern, he explained that while slow-moving water created the caverns around San Marcos and in Carlsbad, N.M., thousands of years ago, regular, torrential flooding shaped what would become Longhorn Cavern. The systems stretches from Longhorn Cavern State Park to Burnet, most of it remains unexplored.
Along with sharing his insight about cavern geology, Gerow told tales of how the Comanche Indians used the caverns for holding councils and for hiding out. He shared how Confederate soldiers would gather bat guano and make gunpowder from it and store it in the caverns.
“It’s all gone,” he assured the group, much to the dismay of several middle school-aged boys.
After the Civil War, Texas outlaw Sam Bass used the caverns as a hideout. And during Prohibition, folks from Burnet County and the surrounding area enjoyed some illicit liquor thanks to the speak easy housed in the caverns.
Even as he unfolded each tale, Gerow wrapped some geology in it.
While geology fascinates him, people invigorate him.
“I love all the people,” Gerow said. “The people who I work with are great. I think the question I get the most is ‘Don’t I get tired of the all the kids?’ No way. I love the kids. The kids are the best part.”
As the tour ended, Gerow thanked everybody in his latest group. Even as most of the people meandered off toward the park headquarters for shopping, lunch or to escape the Texas sun, Gerow lingered and answered every question.
“How long am I going to do this?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know. I guess until I can’t make it through the cavern anymore.”
Longhorn Cavern State Park is located at 6211 Park Road 4 South between Burnet and Marble Falls. Go to www.longhorncaverns.com for tour information and times.