Snow cones, souvenirs and spelunking. The childhood memories that PEC Web Support & Correspondence Supervisor Donna Booth still holds dear have one surprising thing in common — they all took place underground.
From 1956 to 1965, Booth’s father, Doyle Clawson, was manager of Longhorn Caverns in Burnet. To this day, Booth still vividly remembers her first visit, where she carried a large bucket of light bulbs that were being installed to light up the dark caves for public tours.
“I was raised to do whatever job I was asked to do,” Booth said. “My two brothers, my sister and I were always busy helping our daddy, and we loved it.”
From selling snow cones for a nickel to tail guiding (turning off backlights as the tourists proceeded) with her pet deer, Booth’s life revolved around Longhorn Caverns for the nine years her father managed the site. She even held her 13th birthday party there.
“Not only was it the first boys-and-girls birthday party in my class, but we also had the caverns all to ourselves,” Booth said. “My friends in Burnet who I still stay in touch with have told me it was one of the best birthday parties ever.”
A fantastic discovery in 1963 also touched the Clawsons’ lives. While U.S. Interstate Highway 35 was being built in Georgetown, a Texas Highway Department crew was drilling test holes to determine if the ground was stable enough to support a large highway, and one of the bits dropped 26 feet underground. It was clear that there was more than just rock beneath the surface, and several days later, the Texas Speleological Society’s spelunkers surveyed more than 7,000 feet of newly discovered cave.
After large, cathedral-like rooms and halls were discovered underground, Booth’s father was asked to manage the site. In the summer of 1966, Inner Space Caverns opened to the public.
“It was a really exciting time for my family and the community,” Booth said. “The idea of outer space was such a popular idea at the time and these caverns were like ‘space,’ but underground. The name ‘Inner Space’ was a catchy, trendy name, and I think it only added to everyone’s enthusiasm about the new caverns.”
Once the ribbon-cutting ceremony was over, it was back to work for Booth. She cleaned bathrooms, sold souvenirs and even worked at the customer service desk. Because she was so petite in her teenage years and could fit through small tunnels, she went on spelunking excursions in both caverns, getting a glimpse of what tourists don’t see.
“What can I say, I’m a cave girl, and I’m a little bit of a daredevil, too,” Booth laughed. “But working in the facility was my favorite part because I got to interact with so many people from different nationalities and backgrounds of life. I’ve always liked helping people, and I think it’s rather fitting that I ended up in customer service at PEC.”
Longhorn and Inner Space Caverns haven’t played a huge role in Booth’s adult life, but the cavern business still remains a family affair. Her nephew, Lance Clawson, is now president and co-owner of the Georgetown Corporation (the business side of Inner Space Caverns) following her late father. And Booth has even taken some of her 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren to visit.
“It has been so special to see some of [my grandchildren] experience the caverns in their full glory for the first time,” Booth gushed. “It’s like a blast from the past for me, and I can’t wait to bring all of them there for a visit.”
Inner Space Caverns and the music scene
Booth’s son, Keith Gattis, country singer and now music producer, released his hit single, “Little Drops of My Heart,” in 1996. Because of the song’s success, his record company, RCA, decided to create a music video. Where to set it was a no brainer for Keith; he wanted to honor his grandfather and Inner Space Cavern manager, Doyle Clawson, and film the video in the cavern itself.
“My son was really close to his papaw, and he thought it would be really cool to shoot the video in Inner Space,” Booth said. “I was so proud of him and happy he wanted to do that for my dad, and his papaw was the proudest of all!”