Imagine walking on your property and not knowing something fantastical is just below your feet. That's what happened to Don and Debbie Davis, who own a ranch in northwestern Medina County. Don and Debbie have owned the property since 1999.
They were in the process of putting the property in a conservation easement for preservation of the water supply for neighboring Bexar County, when the Edwards Aquifer Authority assessed the property. That's when they found it.
“In their mapping process,” Debbie Davis said, “They found this little depression that no one had ever seen before. It was back in a thick clump of brush and we'd never gone there. And sure enough, when we went to check it out, there was a sinkhole with a tiny opening that we had no idea it opened up to this enormous cavern.”
Bennett Lee was the first human being to see what exactly lay beneath the surface.
“There was a typical sinkhole except between two rocks,” said Lee. “There's a little tiny black crack and you drop a rock down there and it would just fall, fall, fall, fall and finally hit. And you could shine a light in there. And it was just black. Usually, you shine a light and see rocks or something. But this was just a black void, so we knew we had something.”
Lee is part of a group called Bexar Grotto, a local chapter of the National Speleological Society. They're cavers who explore, map and sometimes clean up sinkholes and caves. The group had been to the same property before, exploring a sinkhole that turned out to be small. Don helped to widen the tiny opening just enough for Bennett and other members of the group to lower themselves inside.
Don Davis said it took some work to widen the small opening. “We spent a good hour and a half chipping away at some of the rock to make it just big enough for them to get down in there,” he said.
And then it was time. Bennett Lee lowered himself through the tiny opening. What he saw took his breath away.
“Rare that you open up into a huge room, that's a 70 foot drop. So, yeah, it was really amazing to be the first one in there and just see this huge room.”
Debbie recalled when Bennett first went in.
“He rappelled down and I hear this little tiny voice coming out of this hole saying it's HUGE!” she said.
The huge room had a ceiling of around 120 feet high and was about 60 feet wide, and there were impressive formations.
Lee described what he saw. “So there's two huge formations in there. There's one...this huge flow stone. It's a stalactite that grows up from the bottom, really pretty. There's another two stalactites that grew together kind of in the middle of the room. But then all along, the walls flow stone and curtains on the sides of the room.”
Is it surprising to find a large cave like this in the area?
The answer is no, according to Dr. George Veni, Executive Director of the National Cave and Karst Institute. “There are many more discoveries that that are out there to be made. You can't judge a cave by its entrance,” he said.
He says this particular cave could be huge with more passageways and rooms.
“So is there more cave? Yes, there has to be. These things don't form in isolation. You just don't have big bubbles that form in the rock. They're formed as part of an essentially underground stream network. And so there's got to be more to it. The real question is, what will it take to get to get into it?”
For now, members of Bexar Grotto will continue to explore and map the cave for the next few months. Bennett Lee is proud to have been the first person to ever see the big room.
“Because we go and we look at sinkholes all the time and, you know, we may go look at a thousand sinkholes and find one that's like this, but we do all those in the hopes of finding one like this one,” said Lee
Don and Debbie don't have any plans to open the cave to the general public, but they say they'll do everything they can to make sure it's preserved.
You can learn more about caves and find your local grotto group by going to caves.org