|The Man-Made Entrance called "Well Hell"|
Driving from the Metroplex, it's four hundred miles to Fort Stockton, Texas; the gateway to Big Bend country. It's a small town with about 8,500 people and apparently a tourist town for the most part. There are many hotels, restaurants and gift shops. For cavers, the most significant things are the caves in the area. In particular, Comanche Springs Cave located at the city swimming pool. In other words, there is something for everyone.
This is the trip that for awhile seemed as if it would not be. Health disasters befell one then another of the cavers who planned to attend. First, Doctors diagnosed Ernie Parker's father-in-law with bone cancer. Jim and Patty Kennedy had to cancel because Patty came down with pneumonia. Bill Bentley's father had emergency surgery then followed it up with a stroke. Bruce and Donna Anderson had to cancel when Bruce came down with the flu. Joe Ivy and Becky Jones did not get back from playing Gonzo Guano at TAG in time to recover for the trip. For a while, it looked as if there would be three survey teams to turn loose in the cave. It boiled down to a possible two when everyone arrived, and ended up being one.
Those who made the trip, arrived in Fort Stockton on Thursday evening or night. There were a few small problems, like meeting David Williams at the swimming pool. David (from Houston) planned to camp at the swimming pool. Butch and Sharon had the keys to the pool and before checking in at the motel, visited the pool to see if David was there. Not seeing anyone who looked as if they were looking for a place to camp, they drove to the Comfort Inn and checked in. They found that Dale, Arlene, Keith and his boys were already there. After taking possession of their room, they located the others. They decided the first plan of action would be to find someplace where they could all get supper after checking the pool one more time.
They drove to the pool and checked once more for someone who looked as if they needed a place to camp. Their luck was not any better this time. After a while, they began to wonder if David was going to come, then finally gave up and drove to the Alpine Lodge, across from the Comfort Inn.
The Alpine Lodge restaurant had the distinction of being the only one in town open on Thanksgiving. It seemed to be a great deal of trouble to put two tables together so the group could eat together. The restaurant staff finally accomplished the task after a lot of oh dears and dirty looks. The food was great, making up for the trouble we seemed to cause. There was a Thanksgiving buffet that would satisfy most anyone's appetite. We finally figured out the problem was the small staff available because of the holiday. Mike Anderson and Mark Porter arrived at the Comfort Inn about 11:00 p.m. They let us know they were there and asked what time to be at the cave. They then went to wind down from the long boring drive.
Saturday morning, everyone, including David Williams, arrived at the Comanche Springs Swimming Pool at 9:00 a.m. David had arrived in town about the time that Butch and Sharon left the pool to check in at the motel. He parked his truck under a street lamp hoping someone would notice him. Unfortunately that was not the case, though he spotted us checking the pool to see if he had arrived. He did not realize we were the ones he sought. As it turned out, Butch and David had attended a cave mapping workshop in Austin together but could not put the names and faces together.
Brad Newton and his brother Brittany arrived. Brad is the Pecos River Land Commissioner. He explained that he holds an appointed position that actually pays a salary. It was through his efforts that Bill Tucker was able to get permission for us and his team of divers to re-explore and re-survey the cave. Brad was on the original 1984 survey with the Haynes brothers and Bill Bentley from Midland, Texas. Brad explained that he was not a caver but an electrician. The original surveyors needed help with the wiring for a five horse power submersible pump they wanted to use to pump a passage dry. Brad volunteered his time to help them and ended up working on the survey with them.
|The Large Olympic Sized Swimming Pool|
|The Cage Covering the Original Spring Entrance|
When the entrance cleared, Butch entered the cave and began to have breathing difficulties in the tight entrance passage. He climbed out of the cave and decided he could keep himself busy with other activities. Unfortunately, this left Mark and Mike without a third on their survey team. They went in anyway.
Brad headed up a project to enlarge the area below the casing. In his words, it was so "he wouldn't get in our way surveying." Brittany went into the cave to toss buckets to Brad while Butch stayed on the surface as hauler. Brad kept the buckets full and moving to the surface such that Butch found himself very busy.
At 1:00 p.m., the surveyors came out of the cave. Arlene and Sharon delivered lunch. The meat burritos from the Burrito Express were hot and spicy. The spice had a wonderful flavor but would stop just short of etching the flesh from inside your mouth. Fabulous! While they ate, Butch added up the survey length and looked at the data. The one team had surveyed 230 feet before lunch. Descriptions of the passage made this sound like a heroic feat.
After lunch, Keith broke out his cave radio gear. A brief conference identified three features in the cave that would be interesting to correlate to the surface. Butch set the radio at Glen's dome while Keith remained on the surface and located the spot. On the original map, this spot shows to be out in the middle of the street. It turned out to be on the edge of the wall toward Springs Drive. Mark and Mike joined by David, moved the radio to another survey station A8, a dome a little farther down passage. On the original map, this spot was located across the street, about 1/3 the way in the middle of the block. Oops, that one turned out to be across the street at the base of the street and another rock wall heading underneath the ruins of old Ft. Stockton. The third location is where the first pool of water is located was found under an old restored building that houses the Historical Society. Dale went under the house and set off the alarm trying to find the cave radios' tone. Dale thought it was interesting to see the underside of a historic building. He saw a dead black cat under there, too. And yes, the Ft. Stockton city police arrived. Then the head of the Historic Commission showed up so the alarm could be reset. Fortunately Brad was there to take care of the other officials.
While this was going on, David, Mark, and Mike were in the cave surveying. They added another 130 feet to the day's survey bringing it up to 335.8 feet for the day.
That ended the day with Brad heading for home after suggesting that we try out Sarah's Restaurant that evening. When everyone had cleaned up and recovered from the day's activities, they headed for Sarah's. Ah ha! Talk about different atmosphere! Were they bothered finding a place where nine cavers could eat together? No! Just a moment folks, these people are almost finished and we will put those tables together. When the tables were joined, everyone sat down and ordered. When the food came, Ohhhhhhh, was it ever good! The food surpassed good and moved on to great. Sarah's is still family owned since 1929. These people in Fort Stockton know how to eat and the restaurants know how to feed them. A fantastic meal.
Imagine what the people at Sarah's Cafe looked like when this bunch walked in the door. Hungry cavers wanting to eat better than great Mexican food, and drink beer!
After supper, Butch and David entered the survey data in the notebook computer. They worked on it for a while but could not see any errors. The survey was deemed acceptable and David went on for the night.
Saturday morning was similar to Friday. After enjoying a continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn (today there was butter and jelly for the biscuits), everyone met at the pool at 9:00 a.m. Everyone seemed to be moving a lot slower than they were on Saturday. David was hot to survey and Dale agreed to join him. Everyone else was too sore. What is it with these guys? They deserve a medal and an investigation to see what they are eating to allow them to go on for a second day. David had in mind an area where a loop could be closed to check the accuracy of the survey data.
While Dale and David were in the cave, Ben, Butch, Chris, Keith, Mark and Mike worked at some overland survey to get features' information together for a future map. They surveyed from the 'Well Hell' entrance to the pool, the perimeter of the pool and over to the original entrance. They entered the data into the computer and several discrepancies noted in the loop closure. It wasn't much but still created a lot of questions in such a short survey. They repeated the survey with similar results. There was to much re-bar in the concrete to completely close the loop but it was close enough for an illustrative map of the area.
They finished the overland work about the time that Dale and David came out of the cave. They had 128.1 feet of survey data to add to the figures in the computer. This checked out ok and brought the survey for the weekend up to 464.9 feet. The original idea was to put three or four teams in the cave and complete the survey in a weekend. The first problem would be having room for three or four teams at the same time. The second problem is that some of the passage is water filled. A close look at some of the names thought up by the original survey team should have eliminated some of the illusions about a one weekend survey. Names like Born Again, Suicide Crawl and Mary's Misery tell a tale all their own.
The weather was stable, not a cloud in the sky. Dale noticed there were two places in the cave flowing an eight inch wide stream of water on Saturday that he did not think was flowing on Friday. He thought that was interesting and made a mental note to watch these areas.
Brad had made a good landowner contact for us. We were privileged to meet a local businessman. He took us to his older brother's ranch. He showed us several sink holes, one spring, and four real caves. Our host and Brad rode in a silver Ford pickup followed by Dale's van and Mike Anderson's Suburban. We drove all over a ranch called "Vista Grande." Our host would get out of his truck, carrying a cold Coors light in one of those coolers with his white hair blowing in the wind. He would lead a pack of hungry, ecstatic cavers to different sinks on his property and tell us about what he knows about the caves.
|David Williams Entering a Cave||The Entrance to Lone Star Cave|
Butch used his GPS to determine locations for all the caves visited. That data has already found itself overlain on a topographic map.
Before leaving, we purchased a "Thank You" card for our new friend. Every one out there Saturday signed the card. Arlene mailed it before leaving town Sunday morning.
|Mike Anderson Prepares to Enter||The November 97 Cavers|
Unless you are limited for eating places on Thanksgiving like we were, try to avoid the Alpine Lodge across the street from the Comfort Inn and "The Steakhouse" east of there on East Dickinson. The food was great at both locations but the service was less than equal.
Brad gave us all a new State map as his office joins State Senator Madla's office and they have a good supply there in the County Courthouse at the town square.
Dale may have accidentally promised to draw the final maps of Comanche Springs Cave while speaking to Butch about it Sunday morning. It was over a nice Continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn. If drawing the map is compatible with Dale's lifestyle, he will even draw the map of the data that the divers gather. He just wants to make certain that Brad gets a map of the cave as promised. He said, "The only way I can assure that will happen. I will do it myself."
We all had a great time there in Ft. Stockton. We had a great trip surveying. One and a half days of surveying dispels the size of Comanche Springs Cave. I think it will be smaller. We still need to survey "Gonzales Pass" and the passage striking off to the left just after you enter the cave. A couple of other areas need to be surveyed but are best left to Donna Anderson.People that were not able to attend this trip really missed a wonderful weekend of hard caving and great friends.
|The Sketch Map|