Groundwater recharge has stopped spelunkers in their exploration of an intricate cave system discovered under the Comanche Springs area of Fort Stockton.
The Haynes brothers-Glenn and Dennis--pulled a one-horse submergible pump from a deep pit inside the cave, calling to a halt the first phase of exploretion Thursday.
The pump, which discharged about 10 gallons per minute, had failed to lower the water level in a cave room known as "Stephen's Well" despite operating since March 25.
The ''well''--an elongated pool about 20 feet deep and filled with crystalline, blue-green water--is blocking a passage which the spelunkers (cave explorers) are convinced holds the key to a massive cavern system.
|Crawling Out-- Haley Haynes, the eldest of three spelunking brothers, crawls out the tiny opening which was once the sole access to the caves system near old Comanche Springs. The opening has since been enlarged, but water has refilled the 134-foot tunnel and about 15 feet of the 22-foot tall antechamber to the caverns. [Pioneer Photo]|
After overcoming pumping difficulties, the team crawled a 134-foot washtub-sized tunnel and entered a honeycombed cave system--a maze of rooms, tunnels, shafts and waterfilled pits.
The system was created by the flow of Comanche Springs, which poured out 65 millions of gallons of water daily before drying up when drilling west of Fort Stockton lowered the water table in the early 1950s.
The explored portion of the springhead lies under the portion of the city where the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, the old Sibley house, the old fort guardhouse, Comanche Springs pavillion and the Clajon office complex is located.
A month after the initial discovery, during which time the spelunkers pursued the myriad of "leads" (unexplored tunnels) in the cave, the team found a second :entrance in the old Government Spring.
Haley Haynes, an Amarillo resident following the exploration through briefings from the team, made the expected find in a most unexpected manner.
He and his younger brother, Glenn, had failed to "dig out" March 13, despite working for eight hours--grueling digging in confined quarters--inside the cave.
The older Haynes, probing with a crowbar, was on the verge of giving up the above-ground search the evening of March 14 when the iron bar suddenly plunged into the dome created by their digging the night before. That discovery created a short-cut into the main portion of the caves and made it possible to put in a county-owned pump into Stephen's Well in an attempt to get into the huge passage which runs northwestward.
A lighting system was placed in a portion of the cave, and the passageway from the new tunnel entrance to Stephen's Well groomed for easy access.
The explored portion of the cave includes large rooms, long passageways of varying sizes and five major pits filled with what is believed to be groundwater-- rather than spring water.
Its interior is studded with seashells and polished formations, though much of it is muddy and wet. Several rooms offer spectacular sights, which have been photographed by Ms. Shannon and this writer.
The team has rappeled across a major well--Christiana's Well, the cave's most beautiful pool-- and traversed a series of tunnels which were promising leads during the first month of exploration.
|Dennis Haynes cautiously works his way down the rope into the deep Stephen's Well, the water-filled chamber which the spelunkers believe holds the key to continued exploration of the Comanche Springs cavern system. [Pioneer Photo]|
The Haynes are convinced that the system is connected to the entire watershed which spans from Belding into Fort Stockton, and cite the experiences of water-well drillers in the area, who encountered inexplicable and vast cavities during drilling efforts.
The spelunkers have contacted experienced cave divers--many of the Central Texas caverns were explored in that manner--and are making arrangements to continue the exploration, the assault on the cave, the initial foray was made following contact with Precinct 2 County Commissioner M.R. Gonzalez Jr., in whose precinct the caves are located.
"it's been our longtime dream," the Haynes brothers admitted. The trio has conducted exploring trips into some of the state's deepest caves, one of which is located in their native Terrell County.
The Size of the original Comanche Springs, they explained, hinted at the cave system which they have now proven exists.
Photographs by Glen Larum