When “The Chief"--the main springhead where present-day Comanche Springs swimming pool is located-was in its glory, water roared up out a its mouth. And the desert oasis, fed by The Chief and several other springs along Comanche Creek, was a regular watering stop for Indians,explorers, wildlife and much later immigrants and settlers. The total output of Comanche Springs --the entire series of springs was estimated at 65 million gallons of water per day.
As Fort Stockton Rotary Club members were told Thursday, however, what the water was doing underground was as remarkable as the springs themselves.
Annie Riggs Memorial Museum curator Kay Shannon, who photographed much of the initial exploration as a member of the spelunking team which discovered an extensive cave system, took-Rotarians on a 45-minute slide-show tour of much of the area already explored.
|Stephan’s Well — Dennis [at top] and Glenn Haynes explore the back reaches of Stephan’s Well, which holds the secret to further cave exploration. Glen Haynes took a dip in the water, while his brother straddles the pool.|
The spelunking team which includes the two Haynes, an older brother—Haley, Ms Shannon, and this writer, entered the cave through a room on the map’s lower right which was which was originally filled with about 16 feet of water. “It was a minor sump” Glenn Haynes explained, “much like the trap in a kitchen sink. ''Once it was pumped out, the team crawled the length of a 138 feet washtub-sized solid rock tunnel an emerged in a room much like the original (Wishing Well).
|Rough sketch map of COMANCHE SPRINGS CAVE.|
|“The Chief” —This formation found in the original entry room under the spring was dubbed The Chief. Its discovers could see a mouth, long nose and eyes. It became the symbol of the cave’s spirited battle to keep its secrets.|
In the cave's largest tunnel, which leads Northwest from the domes, the explorers pass a small pit en route to Stephan's Well, a huge 50 foot deep pit filled with about 20 feet of water.
It is this cave formation which the spelunkers believe hold the key to further exploration and a larger Cavern type system. Three National Park Service employees and professional cave divers will attempt to examine the huge tunnels visible through , crystalline-clear water this month.
The team has ventured though other smaller tunnels in their search for the cave's "main lead. "
As Ms. Shannon's slides showed, the cave has shown distinct personalities to the spelunkers in each of its sections. The Alkali room was coated with white; Christina’s Well is another picturesque blue-green pool which must be traversed by rope, and the Chicken Bone Room has incredibly ornate configurations which drape the walls, but hang unattached to those walls.
In the Blood Room, the colors are dramatic crimson—apparently an iron oxide mixed with the clay. The Twin Blue Water Pits which plunge to unknown depths, are at the far end of the currently explored area, although the spelunkers have ventured further along a very narrow tunnel.
|Coming Out! — Mary Kay Shannon, curator of the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum, has taken an active part of the exploration of the cave. She took an avid interest in the activity when the Haynes brothers began making plans for the project, using geologic maps on display at the Museum to study the cave’s potential.|
The system thus far discovered, Ms. Shannon emphasized is a “cave” system, not a caverns, a term which she said indicated a much larger system like Carlsbad or Sonora. Air in the cave is fairly fresh, the spelunkers noted, Although in most of the cave rooms no noticeable air flow has been detected, with the exception of the passage leading to the new entrance.
All of the cave was fashioned by water activity during the period when the springs flowed, prior to the lowering of the water table in the region West of Fort Stockton (Belding) due to water well drilling and farm irrigation.
The water's action, described as similar to the percolation of a coffee pot, dissolved the clay and limestone (shell) sediment, creating the maze of tunnels with its sponge-like appearance. The spelunkers believe that the system interconnects the entire springs formation and are hopeful that divers will discover easier access to the larger rooms and passages which they are convinced exist.
|“Christina’s Well” —Black and white photography doesn’t do justice to one of the most beautiful pools in Comanche Springs Cave, a blue-green well which had to be traversed by ropes during the initial exploration. The pool named “Christina’s Well” proved to be the key passage which led spelunkers on to some of the cave’s most colorful rooms.|
And, as they have demonstrated, "The Chief" and the other springs had fashioned remarkable underground labyrinthe awaiting discovery.
Photographs by Glen Larum and Mary Kay Shannon