Squoosh and squash was the disgusting sounds that my feet made as I stepped into another mud filled chamber in this cave underneath the streets and sidewalks of the city of Ft. Stockton.
We had met at 9:00 AM in front of the Pecos County public swimming pool known locally and through the passages of regional history as “Comanche Springs”.
It had been over 15 years since I had been in this cave and I was reminiscing in my mind how I first came to know the Haynes brothers and learn that they had a love for caves as much if not more than I did at that time. We explored Comanche Springs cave many times and lots of other caves in the area, even once using a backhoe to dig out the opening of one just South of town. I have since lost track of the Haynes brothers and wonder what they are up to these days...
*Comanche Springs had once flowed around 1,200 L/s (that's Million Gallons a day) from 1922 to 1962 when they stopped due to excessive groundwater pumping for irrigation. Comanche Springs were once the largest flowing natural springs in West Texas, now they are just a memory gone by from a simpler time. The springs flow periodically when rainfall temporarily recharges the Edwards-Trinity (Plateau) Aquifer, thus flooding or submerging the cave. This accounts for the constantly wet and thick clay-like mud that we all enjoy so much. This was never more present as it was this unusually warm November day as we entered through the newly constructed gate into the depths of Comanche Springs Cave. I was the first to enter and was anxious to see if I could recognize and remember any of it... It was a short crawl approx. a foot to foot and half high and required crawling on your belly to get in... I guess I employed the same technique that I had used from the first and that was to sit down and do a roll until I was face first and on my belly. I think Kerry Lowery used the same approach. Once inside I had 2 realizations and that was 1.) I should have wore elbow pads! 2.) I should have wore gloves! Oh well needless to say it was muddy... Not mud like I remembered from before which had been packed in by all of the cave traffic, but fresh mud, undisturbed since the last time the cave had flooded... This was sticky and gooey type of mud.... Almost the consistency of a over cooked gravy... Maybe not so runny, but ever bit as slimy.
The passage seemed smaller and tighter than I had remembered, I almost panicked and backed out, but soon the feeling vanished and I was on my way. Pushing my pack in front of me like they do in them Kentucky caves and gathering mud with my belt buckle along the way, I inched forward. After about 20 feet or so it opened up and I was able to stand. The cave continued up an into a crack about 5 to 10 feet wide and over several small pits until we had reached a junction about 40 feet from the crawl... We followed the old light wires that the Haynes brothers had installed years ago and were now nothing but rust and half buried in the mud. Kerry Lowery and Raul Metcalf had joined me at this point.
This junction was a up-down decision... up was easy enough and besides it followed the wires. This only went about 10 feet and ended up over the large pool called “Stephan's Well”. We quickly backed down and made our way over to the edge of the ledge that over looked this pool which once blue green waters were now murky brownish and had trash floating in it.
Some one mentioned that they heard water flowing and I finally heard it as I never remembered water flowing in this cave before. We turned right at the edge of this pool and after about 20 feet came to a 4 way intersection that was plenty high enough to stand up in and had lots of places to sit. To our immediate right the passage went up about 4 feet and was small enough to crawl into and after 4 feet or so it went up in a crack sharply that Kerry and Raul explored to a dead end. At the base of this up rise was a passage interconnecting that from the left that paralleled the passage we were in and had a small 2 to 3 foot water fall and this was the source of the noise of running water. On the way back to the large intersection I noticed a small crawlway leading off to the direction of the entrance passage, (When I returned home I found that on the original map this was called “Little Brothers Loop”).
Directly across from the passage just described was a crack that appeared to be blocked by break down and mud and was impassable, (I also discovered from my map that this cut off 4 of the pools and quite a bit of the cave that was once opened).
So the only other way to go was to go onward into the cave to the South and I went in while Kerry and Raul explored the passages above me and soon found about 50 feet up the passage a small opening that was affectionately called “Born again Hole” ! This 10” by 14” opening was smaller than I remembered... I sat and waited about 10 feet up the passage from it and soon Kerry and Raul were there and they decided to go for it... Kerry slithered in and Raul soon followed. They called me a “wimp” or something like that for deciding no to go, but hey, I had been there and done that, even if I did not remember it all that well.
I went back to the intersection to rest and try to get some of the mud off of me. Kerry and Raul soon arrived back and told me of what they had found and then Dale Ellison and the young newspaper reporter lady were all there. We chatted about philosophical cave stuff and after about 20 minutes we excited the cave with no problems.
As I crawled out and got closer I noticed that the air was no longer humid and stuffy, but was getting fresher and cooler the closer we got to the entrance and when we finally came out into the sunlight it felt good.
After a few pictures we sat around and chatted about caves and trips and all the usual stuff that one does after a brief trip. We were in the cave a little over an hour. I found some clean clothes and made my way to the hot showers. It was good to be clean again, and very nice to have such facilities so close. The mud has a way of sticking in the hair and drying! It makes boots become 30 LB useless globs of slick! This is most annoying!
Thinking back now about the trip I am not sure if the passage had collapsed or if it was just a duck under and my lights played tricks on me, I want to plan another trip there soon and see the mud and play in it again. Like Tony Grieco once said “Is caving the symptom or the illness?”Have fun caving,