That was a great read! Adventurous, and foolhardy, and breathtaking all at once!
When I found the old trip report about diving the New Amsterdam Hotel (see other thread about weird things happening), I also went looking for another of my old favorites, "Cave Diving with the Cows". I searched and searched but couldn't find any links to it on the internet.
However, I dug up a copy on an old computer hard drive. It has a 1999 copyright by Steve Brownrigg. So I went searching for him, in relation to diving, etc, to make sure it would be okay with him to post it again. But I had no luck there either -- there are several Steve Brownriggs and I didn't want to bother them all. My guess is, since he posted it here previously, that he wouldn't mind if it shows up here again. Thus, I'm taking the liberty to re-post it, and I'll take the blame if he learns of it and doesn't like it.
This one is NOT a spoof, so I didn't want to add it to nolatom's list of spoof reports. But it is very entertaining and one of my favorite dive reports that have been posted on D2D. No photos; the words provide the images!
DSAO -- and enjoy good stuff from the past
------- Cave Diving with Cows --------
by Steve Brownrigg
We were kids with scuba gear.
We dove anyplace there was water, and we had no concept of the dangers involved in many of the things we did. We just went and dove in and figured it all out later. If someone else could dive it, we could too, and we even went a few places nobody else had gone before.
The sport of diving was very different then, too. There was no "special" certification for cave-diving back then, and I think if someone had shown up with triple-redundant light sources, and reels of line hanging all over, we would have mistaken it for an alien and started shooting.
And so it was that my high-school buddy, Chris, and I found ourselves on the way to San Antonio and points nearby in search of caves. Chris and I had started diving together a couple years before, when he first got his driver's license and we could get out to Possum Kingdom Lake.
We had spent hours and hours exploring the muddy cliffs, the murky darkness, and always looked for places to squeeze into hoping to find the underwater equivalent of Lasceaux. Or at least a neat place to goof around in.
We had spent so much time exploring the underwater cliffs around Scuba Point that we knew them by heart and could find our way even in the murkiest conditions, which was often. We had also begun to get bored, and I can remember one dive spent sitting on top of a sunken car, playing cards with a sodden deck we had brought with us, just burning air.
We could not afford any type of exotic trip to islands or any place much farther than a tank of gas would take us, but we had heard about places in the Hill Country down around San Antonio. Places where the porous limestone had been eaten away to form caves.... underwater caves!
We had a long weekend coming, so that Friday after school we gathered our meager dive gear, packed some sleeping bags, a tent and camping gear, and then raided our folks pantries. We threw it all in the old Rambler my Dad had got me for $200 - we called it "The Rumbler", and we had bent it up so many times it had fenders of four different colors - and headed south.
Chris had received some nebulous instructions, "Somewhere north of San Antonio on highway so-and-so, turn right at the first cow," so he navigated while I drove. We reached San Antonio around 10 pm and headed north, in search of two possible cave sites, Edge Falls and Jacob's Well.
We threaded our way thru the hilly country and eventually ended up somewhere around New Braunfels, actually having backtracked about a couple hour's worth that we could have saved just by getting off the freeway at New Braunfels on our way down. But we had his directions to follow, although I had very little confidence in them.
At one point, about midnight, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere on a very small road that crossed back and forth over a river, winding its way among the Spanish-moss covered cypress trees. The river actually flowed over the road on several of these low-water crossings, and I knew we were lost, but The Rumbler forded them and we pressed on.
Finally, Chris tells me to turn right, and we proceeded past a barb-wire fence down a dirt road that dropped precipitously, big rocks sticking up, threatening to turn my oilpan into a sieve. It was only a road by the loosest definition, and I actually stopped a few times to walk ahead to make sure, but The Rumbler found its way to the bottom and we ended up in a box canyon with a calm stream cutting thru its middle.
We could hear a waterfall up ahead, but we were too tired to explore, so we crashed and left exploring for the morning.
We woke up early, and I laid there listening to the waterfall in the distance. It is amazing how the sound of water lulls you. But we had exploring to do, so we made breakfast and set out. The gentle creek led us between steep hills on both sides to a small cascade over strewn boulders. We climbed up the boulders and on the other side was a large pool with a 40-foot waterfall roaring into it, almost 20 yards into its center, so deeply undercut was the end of the box canyon.
We walked around the sides, the sheer walls glistening wet, small springs bubbling up from several places, and walked back under the waterfall. We looked at the murky pool, the numerous holes cut in the soft limestone, and each other.
Then we RAN back to get our scuba gear.
It took us two trips to lug the heavy steel tanks and other gear up over the rocks, but soon we were dressed and stood on the edge. We waded in and began to explore, but the visibility was only about 4-6 feet at best, and even worse in some places, so we did most of our exploring by feel. The sound of the waterfall was almost deafening underwater, and more so as we got closer to it. We searched every inch of each side, and the gravel bottom, but found no clear openings.
There were a couple of overhangs that were promising, but the water was very murky, and we had no lights (which shows you how prepared we were). So we went by feel as best we could, but at several points courage finally failed.
We resigned ourselves to burning the rest of our tanks playing under the waterfall. It is quite a unique experience to dive under the very spot where the water hits the surface in a deafening roar, its pressure forcing you to the gravel bottom, and you have to pull yourself along.
I spent several minutes laying on my back watching the water come at me, pushing my mask into my face, the water rocking my head from side to side. Then I suddenly realized the pressure was actually pushing my purge valve and I was losing air by the ton. But we were about bored enough and so we finished up, and hauled our gear back down the boulders to camp.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the canyon, and climbing it's sheer cliff walls. Which is amazing in itself, considering I can barely climb a stepladder anymore without getting dizzy. We discovered that if you could plop yourself squarely into the flow that fed the waterfall, the force would shoot you down the smooth channel, off the top of the lip and out into space. We played that until we were exhausted from climbing back up.
In the morning we packed and pushed on. We stopped in nearby San Marcos at the only dive shop in the area, run by Don Dibble. We refilled our tanks, chatted a short while with Don, a local legend, and looked at the few dive lights he had for sale. Hell, he wanted $40 bucks for the damn things, which was a small fortune to us. So we said we'll wait and check out this next place to see if it even turns out to be anything before we spend that kind of cash, and headed for our next stop, Jacob's Well.
After much driving about on winding country roads, we turned off a two-lane blacktop, across a cattle guard and pulled up in front of a tired, paint-bare, lopsided farmhouse. Chris's vague instructions said something about paying someone to get in, so we honked and soon an ancient Hispanic woman came to the front porch.
We asked her if this was Jacob's Well.
"No, no lo se" (I don't know).
So we asked if there was a nearby creek with a big hole in it.
"Ah, si... alla," she said, pointing across the pasture, where we saw another car parked next to the barb-wire fence.
We offered her a dollar to park our car there also and spend the night, and she took it wordlessly, turned and went back inside.
We unpacked our gear and set off down the narrow, weed-grown trail that came to a 20-foot cliff overlooking a crystal-clear creek. We climbed down the cliff, first one, then the other throwing our gear down, and climbing down after. We walked along the creek, but it didn't seem to be more than a foot or two deep.
Shortly the trail led to a small concrete jetty that someone had poured into the middle of the creek. There was some dive-looking gear laying on it, and on the other side, a perfectly round hole in the creek bed, maybe twenty feet across, and ten feet deep. Jacob's Well.
Long known as a local swimming hole, it had become a dive spot for cavers. But we could see no cave opening from where we stood, and no divers. So, we left our gear, climbed back up the cliff and got our tanks. Now that was a real trick, climbing down that cliff with a steel tank on your shoulder, hanging onto roots and scrabbling for a foothold, but we made it and soon we were geared up and ready to jump in.
The main thing I remember about our first entry into the clear water of Jacob's Well was that it was COLD! The kind of cold that takes your breath away. And we sure didn't have wetsuits. But we headed for the bottom, and as soon as we got a few feet down, we could see there was a small opening in one side of the very bottom of the "well".
We stuck our heads in, and sure enough, way down below, there were lights flashing around. We could see very little else, except the occasional flash of light below, but as our eyes adjusted we could make out that it was a steeply sloping floor to a very small opening below.
We proceeded down toward the occasional flash of light, and thru the small opening. It was infinitely darker in this room, and the lights still seemed far away below us. So we headed straight for the lights, and soon came to another, even smaller opening, barely big enough to squeeze shoulders and tank thru.
We squeezed thru, and the lights were now much closer, plus they seemed to be heading our way. We stayed there for a few minutes till the lights swam up from the inky blackness, and when they finally caught us in their beam, there were two very surprised divers holding those lights.
They stopped dead still, as if not believing their eyes, and not knowing what else to do, we waved. That seemed to break them from their statue poses, and they came on up to us. We exchanged hand signals for a minute or two, we indicating we wanted to go down more (hoping they would take us), and they indicating they were going up.
They flashed their lights at the chamber ceiling for us, and we could see they were pointing out a small air pocket at the top. We signed OK, and headed up to it, their lights shining our way, and we found a small pocket just wide enough for two heads, and with just enough headroom to get your lips above water, but not much else.
We took out our regulators, and Chris said, "Cool". His voice squeaked like he had taken a big breath of helium, and I laughed loudly, my squeaky high voice bouncing off the tight space. You scientists can explain it, but my guess is it was a combination of CO2 and pressure that gave that squeaky-voice effect.
We laughed and made chipmunk noises, until we noticed that it was getting dark. Our lights were leaving!
So we stuffed our regulators back in our mouths, bonked our heads together as we both bent forward to descend, and quickly scurried after our "dive lights". Once we came thru the small opening into the next chamber there was just enough light from the next opening to see where it was, so we slowed and spent a few minutes exploring in the dark. But it was hard to do, so we gave up and came up thru the small opening, and thru the next opening, into brilliantly lit clear water.
We rested on the concrete jetty and warmed in the hot Texas sun, while our dive-light-equipped friends packed. They told us that they had been in an even lower chamber when we first saw them, and that there was even another chamber beyond that. They said it was thought that the system of chambers and small openings went down several hundred feet.
We asked at what depth we had been at, and they said the bottom of the chamber with the air pocket was at 99 feet. Cool! They also said we had scared the shit out of them. We laughed, and said goodbye, and donned our gear to go exploring the creek with what air we had left.
We spent the next half hour trying to find the deepest part of the creek, which was all of 6 feet at it's best. But there were several species of perch that we saw and so we looked for other interesting life forms. When we looked up after a while we saw cows several yards down the creek, standing on a shallow sandbar, in the middle of the creek, drinking.
And then we got a bright idea. Let's see if we can sneak up on the cows underwater! So Chris took the right side and I took the left.
We proceeded slowly and stealthily, like navy seals on a mission. I soon ran out of depth in the narrow channel I was in, still a good fifty feet from the objective. I decided to halt and lay there, my head barely above water, watching to see if Chris could get any closer on his side.
I waited a long time, trying to see his progress by his bubbles, but the rise of the sandbar prevented me from seeing where he was.
Then, suddenly, all hell breaks loose. Cows are running, and jumping and mooing, and I hear this loud "PAHWAAAANG... thud... thud".
The cows scramble across the creek, up the steep bank and disappear into the brush. Chris stands up from across the sand bar in two feet of water, shaking his hand, and shouts, "SHIT! Sunuvabitch stepped on me!"
I fell over backwards laughing! The dumbass had gotten almost right underneath one and let out a breath. I knew cows were stupid, but he surely had them beat on that score. We examined his hand, no damage done thanks to the soft creekbed, but there was a definite hoofmark across his tank.
And we thought sharks were dangerous. We laughed about that for the rest of the day.
We packed up our gear, humped it back up the cliff and Chris stayed to set up camp and get a fire started while I ran to get our tanks refilled and pick up some ice at the local convenience store. While I was there I happened to see some flashlights - aluminum D-cell Ray-O-Vacs, price 79-cents. So I said what the shit and threw them in, too, plus batteries.
That night we laughed some more about cow-diving, and fell asleep in the small pup-tent we often used on scouting trips. The next morning I woke with a start to heavy breathing, and peeking over the edge of my sleeping bag, saw a cow nose, poking it's way inside the tent.
"Shit," I barely let out, but the cow heard it and realizing it was a live thing, snorted, jumped back, and for a moment I thought we were going to have a repeat of the previous day's stampede. Chris wakes up, "Huh? Whuzzat?"
"One of your victims, come back for revenge," I say.
We climb out and begin to start our fire and fix breakfast, a small group of cows milling about, the nearest one giving us the evil eye. We are in no hurry, because we know that cold water will be much more tolerable when the sun gets up a bit, so we laze and make a second pot of coffee. But soon, the urge to explore our new place overtakes us and we begin the two-trip hike down the cliff and along the creek.
We gear up and stand on the jetty. It is maybe 10:00 am and the sun hasn't crested the treetops yet, and we know that water is going to be cold. But we take a deep breath and step and... it is COLD! Christ on a bicycle, we're getting wetsuits if we come back here. The cold water seems to make the bubbles even louder in our ears as we shiver and descend.
We pause just outside that black opening, for today we are completely alone, in a creekbed far out in the country, no help for many miles, no other reassuring divers. I switch on my 79-cent Ray-O-Vac and shine it into my mask.
By God it works! The little lens is half full of water, but it works. I shine it at Chris and we smile. Then I turn and head into the dark crack.
The small beam of light disappears in the darkness and it takes my eyes a few minutes to get adjusted, but soon I can see it is a fairly good-size chamber. It is maybe 15 feet across, 20 feet high and 20 feet long. The sloping gravel bottom drops at a 45 degree angle to a small squarish opening.
The walls are rippled from centuries of water flowing past and we take our time to examine every corner before proceeding. Then we squeeze thru the opening into a smaller, much darker chamber below. Our little Ray-O-Vacs throw more light in this darker chamber and we can see fine.
The chamber is slightly narrower than the one above, but about the same overall height and length. There is a steel cable laying on the gravel that someone has somehow anchored to something and it leads down to the next opening.
There is also a huge boulder off to one side, perched precipitously on the sloping gravel, seeming out of place. We again explore every inch of space, trying to fit past the boulder to see if there is another passage on the far side, but we cannot. So we proceed.
The next opening is much smaller than we remember it being the previous day, and it takes a bit of effort to squeeze thru. It is again barely shoulder width, but this time we have to scrape along the gravel bottom, our tanks banging the roof as we wriggle thru.
We find ourselves in a very narrow chamber, the same length and height as the previous ones, but only 10 feet wide at the mid-section, and gradually narrowing toward the top until there is barely head-and-shoulder width. The gravel bottom continues its slope at a steep angle, but now there is no opening at the bottom.
The steel cable just disappears into the gravel. It's a puzzle. How did those other divers get farther into the cave? We signal up, and rise to our little air pocket, once again cramming our heads into the rock to get our lips above water.
"What happened?" Chris squeaks.
"I think a gravel slide closed off the opening," I squeak back. "Do you want to try to dig it out?"
"Sure. But let's not use up too much air. We've only got a few minutes at this depth."
We descend and position ourselves along each side of the thick steel cable and begin to pull gravel with our hands. It slides easily, but it is slow work moving it uphill. It quickly becomes obvious that this will take much more time than we have, so we abandon our effort after only a minute, and return to our air pocket.
"Yeah... Hey! Let's turn our lights off."
We put our regulators back in, descend a few feet and click our lights off. It is total darkness, even after our eyes have a minute to adjust.
My bubbles seem to roar in my ears. I cannot stand this for long and begin to feel the creepy fingers of claustrophobia closing around me, so I switch my light back on. Chris is right in front of me, his eyes as big as mine. We signal OK, and thumb sideways toward the chamber entrance.
It is a few feet away, but I can see it looks much smaller. And sure enough, when I get there it is about half the size it was when we first came down. Weird.
Now, there is only room for a person to squeeze thru, but not a person with a tank on their back. So we signal up and return to our air pocket.
"Do you want to pass your tank thru or dig out?"
"Let's try to dig out first."
We return and settle on the bottom. Each of us begins to scoop double handfuls of gravel down from the small hole, under us and behind us. It is not hard work and the gravel slides easily, and we gradually begin to make headway.
It takes only a few minutes and we again have a hole big enough to squeeze thru, tank and all. We begin our ascent thru the chambers and openings, gradually rising from the blackness, getting lighter and lighter, until we emerge into the full brilliance of daylight. It is like we are being re-born, and the ice-cold water actually feels warmer.
As soon as we break surface, we draw a breath of warm sunny air, and we both let out a victorious "WHOOOP"! We take turns handing our tanks up and soon we are sunning ourselves on the jetty.
There are no cows to terrorize, so we rest and laugh, and warm up. We rub the neoprene rash on our faces (the old oval, black neoprene rubber masks would irritate your skin... "mask face" we called it) and we drink icy water right from the creek.
We have a long drive ahead of us, so we finally begin to pack and carry our gear back up the trail.
And as we are walking along the jetty, and the creek-side, there are streams of bubbles percolating up thru the gravel creekbed into the crystal water. The trail of bubble-columns goes for quite a ways along the creek and it is a weird feeling to see the evidence of our penetration into the bowels of the earth as we walk on its surface.
We were just down there, under our feet, under WATER! We would return many times to both these places.
A final note: Jacob's Well is an artesian spring, the crystal-clear, ice-cold water flowing up from deep in the Texas limestone.
We later learned that the gravel bottom does not actually "slide" as we first thought. Rather, as the out-flow of water thru the spring changes, as it constantly does depending on rains and water levels in the Edwards Aquifer, the gravel bottom moves up and down. If the water flow is heavy enough, as it percolates up thru the gravel it will push it up past the openings, completely shutting them off.
That was what was had happened to the entrance to the lower chamber, and what was in process as we were in there. Several divers learned this over the years at the cost of their lives.
After Don Dibble was called on to retrieve their bodies enough times, he petitioned the nearby Wimberly City Council to provide funds so that a heavy metal grate could be installed over the cave's entrance.
One final diver pried the gate back and went inside. And Don was called on once more. Story has it that the poor diver etched a good-bye letter to his parents on his tank, but I have never gotten substantiation of that. I do know that Don had bolts drilled deep into the rock and the gate was welded shut forever. It is now on private land, part of a dude ranch I am told.
We were very lucky.
Edge Falls became a favorite camping spot for us in college. We would take our girlfriends to camp and swim and sit atop the falls and get smashed. We hunted for those caves, too.
Finally one year, on the other side of one of the canyon side-walls, we stumbled on a spring. It was well hidden behind several large boulders, and the rock face before them was covered in lush ferns. The rock face was deeply undercut and a small stream flowed out from underneath it. Large fish swam in the clear water.
We did not have our gear with us, so we sat with our girlfriends and enjoyed the hidden beauty. By the time I did get a chance to return, I learned that the property had been purchased by a Dallas physician and was no longer open to the public. I also learned that the Edwards Aquifer had been depleted by the rapid growth of nearby Austin and other communities, so that the Falls no longer flowed. What a shame.
I also remember that the deer were so thick that year there were a half dozen hopping the fences every half mile as I drove around trying to find the Falls. The Hill Country still is a magical place.
©Copyright, Steve Brownrigg, 1999
Last edited by Lepomis; 08-17-2013 at 08:56 PM. Reason: (straighten out paragraph spacing)
I'm just here between dives unloading nitrogen, refilling tanks, and talking with buddies.
That was a great read! Adventurous, and foolhardy, and breathtaking all at once!
I preserved this one and several more Waverunner stories on my interim Not D2D board.
Sent from my ASUS Transformer Pad TF700T using Tapatalk 4
One of my favorites. Steve (Waverunner) was a gifted storyteller.
"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."
-- Robert Wilensky