Texas Caving Organizations: The “T-Organizations”

Updated: 2018-11-02

The Texas caving community has a plethora of “T” acronyms, collectively known by many Texas cavers as the “T-Organizations” (TSA, TSS, TCMA, TSC, TCR). Each organization has a specific purpose and its own special niche. However, I know many people who have been caving for years but don’t know which T-Organization does what or even which T-Organizations they joined. To clear up the confusion, I have created this definitive guide.

If you’re brand new, let me start by suggesting that you join a local Grotto. If you have and you’re still confused, read on.

If you’re a long-time Texas caver, you probably don’t even know that you’re confused. Even I learned things while researching this article, and I have been caving in Texas since the 1980s and have been an officer of several organizations mentioned herein. Many old-timers (even older than me) who I consulted had important facts and organizational information wrong.

If anyone says anything contrary to what is presented here, not matter how fervent they are, believe this definitive document instead. I have done due diligence in my research, and I can assure you that this document is correct.

Hierarchy of Texas Caving Organizations

In the diagram below, solid arrows represent a direct control or ownership, while dotted arrows represent an affiliation with some sort of control or oversight. Loose affiliations without control are not shown.

For example, the NSS produces the NSS News, and  directly controls its content and publication. Hence, the solid arrow joining the two. In contrast, the NSS does not directly control Grottos. Grottos operate independently, elect their own officers, have their own membership, and plan their own activities. Some are even federally registered nonprofits with their own tax ID numbers. However, to be recognized as a local chapter of the NSS, the NSS mandates that all Grotto officers must be NSS members. Hence, the dotted arrow representing this affiliation but not direct control.

In contrast, the TCMA and NSS have an official affiliation but no control over each other—the NSS cannot mandate what the TCMA does or vice versa. This affiliation is more of a mutual recognition between the two organizations. These loose, non-controlling affiliations are not documented herein.


AMCS: See Association for Mexican Cave Studies.

Association for Mexican Cave Studies (AMCS): A volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the exploration, study, and conservation of the caves of Mexico, chiefly through a program of publications. AMCS is headquartered in the Texas Speleology Center (TSC).   mexicancaves.org

CaveTex: The most widely-used email list for Texas caving and related activities. Most state-wide cave trips, karst surveys, and cleanup projects are posted on CaveTex, along with many local caving trips, Grotto announcements, gear reviews, etc.. CaveTex is privately owned and operated and is not affiliated with any other caving organization.   texascavers.com

Grotto: Local chapters of the National Speleogical Society (NSS) where cavers meet regularly to discuss caving. A Grotto typically serves a city and its surrounding area, although some major metropolitan areas may have multiple Grottos. Meeting times, membership requirements, and dues vary by Grotto, but all Grotto officers must be NSS members as mandated by the NSS. Currently, the Grottos in Texas are: Aggie Speleological Society (College Station), Bexar Grotto (San Antonio), Dallas-Fort Worth Grotto (DFW Metroplex), Greater Houston Grotto (Houston), Lubbock Area Grotto (Lubbock), Permian Basin Speleological Society (Sonora), and Underground Texas Grotto (Austin).

National Speleological Society (NSS): The nationwide organization that oversees caving in the United States from its office in Huntsville, Alabama. The NSS publishes the NSS News, the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, American Caving Accidents, and an annual membership directory. Starting April 1, 2015, the NSS has simplified its membership structure to only three membership types: Regular, Associate, and Institutional (see the February 2015 issue of the NSS News for complete details). Regular membership is $40 annually and gets you print editions of the NSS News, or you can opt to receive only the digital format and get a discount.   caves.org  |   NationalSpeleologicalSociety  |   NSScaves  |   @NSScaves  |  NationalSpeleologicalSociety

NSS: See National Speleological Society.

NSS News: A national caving periodical published by the National Speleogical Society (NSS). As of April 1, 2015, all old and current NSS News are now available in digital format with your NSS membership (formerly, digital formats were withheld until one year after publication). Print editions are included with your Regular membership, but you can opt for only the digital format. See National Speleological Society for rates. Current and old issues are available for download via the Members Portal of the NSS website.

Region: A loose association of Grottos within a geographic area. Regions generally cover a state or several adjoining states. In Texas, our Region is the Texas Speleological Association (TSA). Texas cavers who are not associated with a Grotto can still join the TSA.

Spring Convention: See TSA Spring Convention.

TCC: See Texas Cave Conservancy.

TCMA: See Texas Cave Management Association.

TCR: See Texas Cavers Reunion.

Texas Cave Conservancy (TCC): A former cave conservancy that was based in Austin but ceased operations in 2015. Most of its cave properties were acquired by the Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA).   texascaves.org

Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA): An independent cave conservancy that buys and manages cave in Texas. The TCMA owns Whirlpool Cave in Austin, Robber Baron Cave in San Antonio, the Deep and Punkin Preserve, and others across the state. The TCMA publishes Passages and holds a fundraising auction at the TSA Spring Convention. TCMA membership is currently $15.   tcmacaves.org

Texas Caver: A Texas caving periodical published by the Texas Speleological Association (TSA). The Texas Caver is available in digital formats, which is included with your TSA membership, and optionally as print editions. See Texas Speleological Association for rates. Current and old issues are also available for download in the Members Area of the TSA website.

Texas Cavers Reunion (TCR): The largest annual Texas caver event, usually held on the third weekend of October and attended by 200–400 cavers annually. It includes contests (Speleolympics, rope climbing, and surveying), a large cave-vendor area, a group meal Saturday evening, an awards ceremony Saturday night, mud wrestling, and a wood-burning hot tub and sauna. TCR is independently operated and is not officially part of or funded by any other caver organizations.

Texas Speleological Association (TSA): A Region of the National Speleogical Society (NSS) that oversees caving in Texas. The TSA publishes the Texas Caver and organizes the TSA Spring Convention. TSA membership is currently $15 annually and includes digital formats of the Texas Caver, while $25 annually gets you print editions.   cavetexas.org

Texas Speleological Survey (TSS): An independent organization that collects and maintains locations, maps, and reports of caves and karst features in Texas. If you find a cave, survey a cave, write a report on a cave trip, etc., you should submit a copy to the TSS. Likewise, if you need information about a particular cave, the TSS probably has information. The TSS also publishes caving books and a CD with maps of Texas caves divided by county.   texasspeleologicalsurvey.org

Texas Speleology Center (TSC): A joint venture by the Texas Speleological Survey (TSS) and Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA) and serves as headquarters for the TSS, TCMA and Association for Mexican Cave Studies (AMCS). The TSC is a 5-acre facility in Driftwood, Texas and contains a library, meeting room, office space, and cooking area.

TSA: See Texas Speleological Association.

TSA Spring Convention: An annual event held by the Texas Speleological Association (TSA), usually in March or April. It consists of numerous caving presentations during the day, a photo salon, a map salon, a group photo, and the TCMA’s fundraising auction.

TSC: See Texas Speleology Center.

TSS: See Texas Speleological Survey.

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