|Glen Larum is the editor of the "Fort Stockton Pioneer Newspaper."|
My flashlight beam stabbed after him as Glenn Haynes slipped into a badger-sized hole in rubble pile of rock and disappeared into the dark.
''You're next," his older brother, Haley, said. Dennis waited behind me. The three Haynes brothers-Sanderson natives--have been crawling into the unknown for years.
Well, I thought to myself, that's how you know you're involved in an adventure. The butterflies start dancing in your stomach and the hair on the back of your neck bristles.
I wriggled into the opening, sliding downward into the darkness.
It was Feb. l3-Day 1--and we were venturing into "The Chief'', though we didn't know him nearly so well then, this intricate springhead cave system under present day Comanche Springs pool. When the four of us were finally inside, in a room two-thirds full of crystalline clear blue-green water, the Haynes explained their theory.
"This," they said, "was the remnant of the springs." Comanche Springs, which had gushed 65 million gallons of water daily, was massive they believed, and if spelunkers could get into the now-defunct spring system, they might discover a splendid cavern.
We started pumping two days later, after talking with Precinct 2 County Commissioner M.R. Gonzalez Jr.
For days, we battled seep water and the exhaust of a gasoline pump in the confines of that room, down past the jagged "scissors" (sharp, polished rock ledges) to the mouth of washtub-sized tunnel.
(Journal excerpt) Feb. 19 - "I was down the tunnel about 10 yards tonight and could see a long tunnel still before me.
'' Later, at home, I lay awake, mind whirling.
On Feb. 22, Glenn and Dennis Haynes and I went into the cavern for about two hours.
"It is honey-combed," my journal entry reads, "muddy and coated with sea shells and we think the best is yet to come.''
It was. An incredible maze. An underground sponge.
Our pumping problems were solved that same week when Coyanosa farmer Clarence Stephen, intrigued at the stories his wife (Teddye, my newspaper co-worker) was bringing home, purchased an electric pump. No more carbon monoxide!
Everyone we approached for help came to our aid-Gonzalez; Jim Ivy of Wallace Lumber; Randy Satterwhite of Fas-Line; Ted's Rental; electrician Charles Sansom; Frank Silliman; Bred Newton; and Mark Neff. Annie Riggs museum curator, Mary Kay Shannon was the other regular spelunker from the very beginning. Standley Aaron.
We repaid each in the only coin we had, the right of explorers to name the rooms and formations we were discovering. Stephan's Well, Christiana's Well (for Gonzalez's wife); Satterwhite Slide; Ivy's Ice Cream Machine; Gonzalez Pass.
Every tunnel led us to new discoveries, unique beauty and the sheer joy of venturing into the unexplored.
Then, on March 14, Haley Haynes (down from Amarillo on a spelunker's holiday) found a new entrance. Probing with a crowbar, after spending a grueling eight hours on his stomach--digging in shift with Glenn from inside--he was about to quit when he was suddenly nearly jerked off his feet when the bar plunged downward.
He had tapped into the dome of a spring channel.
I had just crawled into bed-dead-tired--when Glenn came rushing to the house with the news. (Journal entry) "The news pumped adrenalin afresh into me and I went down and worked until the wee hours of the morning." We had won one important battle. We wouldn't have to keep pumping the original tunnel, which kept refilling from a tiny ground-water stream fed by Rooney Park watering.
Until we could get the new opening secured--a project which rocked on until this week--we were relunctant to make the discovery public, although by now it was the worst-kept secret in Fort Stockton.
The cave has us stopped--for now--with water, "The Chief's" first and great defense. Stephen's Well, which we believe holds the key to a "Carlsbad-type" cavern, is a elongated 50-foot deep pit with 20 feet of water in it.
We can see, through the clear, clean water of the well, a great tunnel-"Big enough to drive into with a car." Dennis describes it--which leads northwest. After pumping with a tiny, one-horse submergible pump for months-- since March 25--the level remains the same.
"The Chief" is safe, for now. And we wait, simmering with that same excitement we shared that afternoon when we first ventured down into that badger-sized hole. More than that, it's the adventure of a lifetime.