Sleeping in a Cave

In the mid-1970's, I ran a small business in my early 20's— sort of a convenience store— in a remote area of the Texas Hill Country near Garner State Park. I love that beautiful area. As a business environment, though, it’s sometimes busy but often not.

Un-busy is a bad state for a young man. I cannot speak for women on this but, if not given direction, young men will find their own things to do. One time, a buddy and I decided to “go camping”.

A few weeks earlier, Dusty and I had spent almost a full day driving to his aunt’s ranch, paid her an obligatory visit, and then hiked and searched for the remote cave he had told me about. He hadn’t been there in a long time, few people had, but we found it. We were only able to explore the cave itself for a couple of hours that day but it was exciting!

no cameras but looked like this; hard to see from only a few yards back

The entrance was pretty big… and descended several feet quickly into a larger area that you couldn’t quite stand up in. You could see where rain had washed in dirt and there were some animal carcasses.

It had several pathways leading in various directions . We chose the easiest one to crawl through and followed its downward slope into the earth.

Equipped only with regular flashlights and a big ball of string, we moved in as straight a direction as we could, past many other pathways and through several large chambers, until the string reached its end. Some places were very tight… hard to wiggle through… others were huge.

Sitting in the cool cave and gazing into the darkness, we decided it was IMPERATIVE for us to return, better prepared, and SPEND THE NIGHT there!

essential spelunking supply

A month or so later, we did exactly that.

This time, we were carrying multiple rolls of kite string, a couple of heavy duty flashlights plus extra batteries, food, water, and more. We left early and knew exactly where we were going this trip, so were able to enter the cave before noon. We emerged about the same time the next day.

We toted everything until we found a very large chamber — you could throw a rock and might not hit the other side — and pronounced it base camp, dropping everything but essentials. From there, we just started exploring. It was great. Some channels were dry as a bone, others had water dripping from the walls and ceiling.

Most of the cave had no evidence of life but a few areas had small insects. We had hoped to find some Indian artifacts but there was nothing. We marveled at some perfectly clear, tiny grasshoppers that inhabited one remote pocket.

A few areas had stalagmites and stalactites, some quite big and others ever so delicate straws made of minerals. Several cavities had pools of very clear water. We discussed swimming in a big one but decided “no towels”.

the water makes the beer

We DID drink the water.

A little deeper down in the earth is the Edwards Aquifer, a geologic formation that channels water to the entire region.

The old Pearl Brewing Company of San Antonio used to promote their beer as being “from the country of 1,100 springs”. This is that country.

I don’t remember what time we finally wore ourselves out and returned to our main camp chamber. We were exhausted and I didn’t wear a watch. We had either bedrolls or blankets, my memory fades, but were able to clear some rocks and lay out pretty comfortably. We ate and talked for a while and…

8-track cartridge player
… having packed in an 8-track player (current tech at the time), two rear deck car speakers, and a large lantern battery…
… we listened to Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. It seemed appropriate and sounded great in that huge cavern chamber. We rocked out to some other songs, too.

When we finally tried to go to sleep… we couldn’t. It was TOO DARK.

The temperature was fine, the occasional dripping sound was soothing, we were certainly tired… but it felt very strange. It took a long time to nod off. People aren’t used to absolute darkness. People aren’t used to the absence of sound. When deprived of those “normal” inputs, the mind tries to fill the void. In the depths of a cave, your imagination kicks in… you must leave a little “string” behind to find your way back.

We woke after only a few hours sleep and explored some more, then packed up all our stuff and left. I know it doesn’t sound like much but I figure we crawled a little over a mile in that cave.

Emerging into the bright sunlight was both blinding and refreshing. We hiked back to the pickup we’d left at the end of a little-used dirt road. That night was one of the best sleeps ever. In my own bed.