The Caverns of Sonora
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"This is the most indescribably beautiful cave in the world, its beauty cannot be exaggerated, not even by a Texan." - Bill Stephenson, founder of the National Speleological Society.

According to one legend, in 1887, a sheepherder was tending his herd on land belonging to the Mayfield Ranch in Sutton County, Texas when he spotted a small cave entrance that was too small to admit an adult. Another story tells of a hunter's dog originally discovering the entrance.

The Butterfly Formation

Over the years, explorers chipped away at the small entrance until it was large enough to allow a person to enter.

Beyond the entrance lay a darkened corridor, strewn with boulders. The corridor extended to some depth, then ended abruptly at a great void, seemingly a bottomless pit! It was here that all exploration of the Mayfield Cave ended.

At some point, the Mayfield family had a gate installed at the entrance in an effort to protect the curious from injurying themselves in the cave. For years it was unexplored.In 1955, the National Speleological Society gained permission to explore the cave. Members Bob Crisman, Bart Crisman and Jack Prince were the ones who were sent into the cave to make a preliminary assessment. This was a normal practice and so far, the Mayfield Cave had shown nobody anything that would be terribly interesting!

The team made its way down the corridor once inside, to the point where all previous exploration had stopped, the great void. After looking down into the cavern, one of them turned his light on the wall opposite them, about fifty feet away. There, high on the far wall of the cavern was another passageway! It was up very high and reaching it would be almost impossible. With this new discovery, the team suddenly had a much greater interest in the cave. But, their assessment was done; it was time to return to the surface and plan their actual exploration, including ways of going farther into the cave.

Labor Day Weekend, 1955, was the time chosen by the team. The descent to the bottom of the cavern proved to be extremely difficult, which in caver terms, usually means dangerous and tiring! There was still, in the minds of all of them, the dedication to the idea that at least one of them would see the inside of the newly discovered passageway, regardless of the danger involved and the apparent impossibility of it. Either of these three men would have tried to make it to the new passageway. Each was experienced and each had, in his past, shown that giving up wasn't acceptable.

It was decided that Jack would try a very narrow ledge that ran upward toward the vicinity of the passageway. It appeared a dangerous thing to do, but it was the ONLY thing of any reason. The ledge ended before reaching the new passageway and as one progressed upward, it became more and more narrow toward its top. Considering the fact that the ledge slanted and the fact that the humity in the cave is always close to 100%, the rock ledge was wet and slippery from the moisture in the air. Jack Prince started inching his way up the ledge. He knew as he progressed that there would be no chance of surviving a fall onto the rocks below.

It took quite awhile as he carefully planned each step. In time, he was near the passageway, but with no way to reach it! It was then that he decided to take a major risk. He looked at a nearby stalagmite and wondered about its strength. He could throw a rope over the stalagmite and then swing toward the passageway - if the stalagmite would hold his weight.

The Christmas Tree Room.
The Corinthian Room.
The Hall of White Giants.

But, if the stalagmite didn't hold his weight, he would die in the darkness on the rocks below! He leaped with all his weight supported by the stalagmite and swung in an arc that took him into the passageway! The stalagmite held; Jack Prince was still alive and had entered this new passageway!

Upon entering, he noticed that his light had illuminated in a kaliedoscope fashion,what appeared to be rock formations.

He struggled to hold his stance and immediately yelled out to the rest of the team that he was alright and that he had safely entered the passageway. Then, aiming his light at various points around him, he began the exploration of this newly found passageway. He stopped cold for a moment and stared in absolute awe!

On Labor Day Weekend in 1955, Jack Prince became the first human ever to see this underground wonderland that would become known as the Caverns of Sonora!

The Caverns of Sonora are open daily between 8 am and 6 pm. Tours leave the Gift Shop continously throughout the day. Many of the formations in the Caverns of Sonora are still growing, still forming. The conditions inside the cave are 71°F with 98% humity, so it is cool during the summer and warm during the winter. It is located 8 miles west of Sonora, Texas. To contact the Caverns of Sonora call 325-387-3105 or e-mail them by clicking here.

© Copyright 2007 Wilson Jay