SAN ANTONIO - The edge of the Hill Country is nothing short of beautiful, but on this day, it is not the surface we are interested in, but the ever-important world just below our feet.
"I’m standing on the rock, so it's just like 6 feet down,” said longtime spelunker Mike Harris, who squeezes through a small crack in the ground.
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Located in Uvalde County along what is called the Knippa Gap, this cave adventure is not for the claustrophobic. Called the "Big Easy," there is nothing big about the entrance to this cave.
"We're going to put your foot in places where we're going to hold you and then slide you down the rest of the way,” said Harris, as the rest of the group attempts to enter the cave.
After a tight squeeze, you come face to face with a colony of daddy long legs, before seeing the vast cave in front of you.
The Edwards Aquifer Authority, along with Bexar Grotto, the local chapter of the National Speleological Society, is diving into this cave on a research mission. With permission of landowners, the EAA will periodically go underground to better understand the aquifer. They have explored hundreds of caves across the vast aquifer.
"This cave may be an old spring mouth, an old paleo spring,” explained Geary Schindel, the Edwards Aquifer Authority aquifer scientist.
The Big Easy has only been seen by a few visitors. Millions of year old, the cave is well preserved and has some unexplored reaches. Once inside the cave, it opens into a large room, with beautiful formations in every direction. Around the back edges of the main room, cliffs lead to deeper parts of the cave, which continues down another 100 feet.
"These caves basically record the groundwater flow that helped form the aquifer many, many years ago,” said Schindel.
In other words, the cave gives a good representation of what the Edwards Aquifer looks like, just without water. Since the cave sits along the Knippa Gap, which divides the San Antonio Pool from the Uvalde Pool in the Edwards Aquifer, it yields even more fascinating formations. The stalactites that span the cave can be dated by geologists.
"So, these caves give you a continental record of what the climate may have been like, as old as 400 thousand years ago,” said Schindel.
All of which is important research. It is why you will find the EAA caving often and it is why they will likely be down in the Big Easy again.
The cave was discovered amidst a large ranch owned and operated by Bill Cofer. In his family for five generations, Cofer has focused on preservation of the land and has participated in the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, which helps protect land over the Edwards Aquifer.
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