Woot Cavern

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The Devine News, August 31, 2022

This cave exploration has been featured on Texas Public Radio and made the front page headlines of the Devine News. Read more about those articles at:

Huge Virgin Cave Found near Hondo, Texas

I was fortunate enough to be available on a Monday to check out a potential cave north of Hondo. Ranchers often reach out to cavers to check out holes on their ranches. I have personally checked out countless such holes across Texas. Rarely are they more than a few feet deep, but we explore all these holes on the hopes that one of them might lead to some huge passage. Occasionally, a hole might be so deep that you need rope and vertical gear to explore it. Very rarely, one might find a huge room.

Even more rare is a “virgin” cave—one that no human has been in before. These are extremely rare these days because cavers have scoured known karst areas since the 1950s looking for caves. Furthermore, caves have used as shelters for thousands of years. The cave has to have been sealed or extremely difficult to access to know with utmost certainty that a cave is “virgin”. Circumstances have to be just right.

And rarest of all is the huge virgin cave. This hole Matt Taylor and I explored led to one of these rare gems.

Huge Formations

The hole was located in a “sinkhole”, which is a depression a karst area. These are often formed by water eroding the surface above a cave and sometimes when the ceiling of a cave collapses. The sinkhole was large and filled with huge boulders. Between two boulders was a black void, too tight for a person to fit through, but if you dropped a rock, it would fall for several seconds before hitting the bottom. Shining high-powered lights into the void disappeared into darkness without revealing walls or a floor.

These were all good signs.

Matt and I worked on the huge boulders surrounding the small gap. We hammered and drilled the rocks, eventually creating an opening just barely wide enough for a person to squeeze through. We rigged a rope, and I rappelled into the black void.

It was tight for about 10 feet and then suddenly the walls disappeared. I was rappelling through the ceiling of a massive room. My cave lights are some of the brightest on the market, but this room was so large my headlamps could only illuminate part of the room at a time. Far in the blackness across the room, I could see huge formations: a pair of stalagmites stretching up from the floor and a massive column about 30 feet (10 m) tall and many feet wide. The walls were covered with beautiful white stalactites and flowstone. It was awe inspiring.

I rappelled for about 70 feet before landing on the floor. I immediately called up for Matt to get my camera. He sent it down on the rope. I ran around this huge room taking photos while Matt rappelled down.

We did a quick initial exploration. The lowest spot of the room was about 120 feet (40 m) below the entrance, and began to pinch off. We explored a clean washed hole beneath the sinkhole, but that led to a small, dirt-filled room that ended.

We were running short on time because the landowners were waiting on the surface for our report. Clearly this cave was so large that it would need a return trip for a more extensive exploration. I grabbed a couple of photos that included Matt for scale to share with the owners and caving community.

That blue speck near the top right of the last photo is Matt Taylor ascending on rope near the entrance. Really gives you a sense of scale for the room.

Cave Goes Viral

On the surface, Matt and I excitedly relay our findings to the owners. The owners are excited, too. We start making plans for a return trip. To drum up interest for cavers to come help, I posted photos on Facebook for the Bexar Grotto, our local caving club. That’s when things really started getting crazy.

That post went viral as dozens of people shared it, then hundreds, then thousands. Immediately, I started getting friends requests from strangers who live in Hondo and the surrounded areas. A reporter from the Devine News reached out to me to write an article. It made the front page headline of the Devine News (“Exploring a Treasure beneath the surface of Medina County.” The Devine News, August 31, 2022). I drove to Castroville and bought five copies of the newspaper. Awesome to see my photos and quote on the front page.

A reporter from Texas Public Radio wanted to feature it on the radio. When a teaser ran the Friday for the upcoming weekend feature, one of my clients called to tell me that he had just heard me on the radio. The feature ran twice that weekend (Cavern discovered on a ranch in Medina County, Texas Public Radio, October 15, 2022), but unfortunately most Texas cavers, including myself, were at the Texas Cavers Reunion, a huge caver party out in the middle of West Texas with limited radio and phone coverage. A few other cavers and I huddled around my phone and speakers as we streamed the show from the TPR website.

Return Trips

The Bexar Grotto has returned to Woot Cavern several times so far. I took a few more photos while other cavers explored leads, dug, and surveyed. The bottom of the main room extended downward about another 30 feet (10 m). We also found more passage behind a formation area that Matt and I didn’t explore during our initial trip. We also did some bolt-climbing to push some upper leads, but those didn’t go anywhere.

On a subsequent trip (I couldn’t make that one because I was in Alaska prepping for the Calendar Year Triple Crown), fellow cavers discovered water and captured a video of a cave-adapted salamander.

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