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Caverns of Sonora: A Texas Treasure Buried Beneath Ranchland

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“This is the most indescribably beautiful cave in the world, its beauty cannot be exaggerated, not even by a Texan,” said Bill Stephenson, past president of the National Speleological Society about the Caverns of Sonora.

A Brief History

IMG_1094Photo: Courtesy of Caverns of Sonora

In 1905, a dog loping across ranchland in pursuit of a raccoon discovered the caverns when he chased the raccoon down a hole. The Mayfield family, the ranch owners, explored the hole uncovering the caverns. Inside, they found they could travel for only 500 feet before reaching a pit that dove deep into the earth for another 50 feet.

Experienced cavers heard of the discovery and began to visit the cavern. In 1955, three spelunkers discovered that across from the deep pit, other passages beckoned for exploration. Soon, another set of explorers visited the site and were able to reach the passages by crossing a ledge and entering them from above ground. Word began to travel far and wide about the beauty and rare formations inside.

Jack Burch, a caver from Oklahoma, visited the caverns and grew concerned about the negative impact other visitors had left on the cave. He orchestrated a plan to preserve the cave while also developing a trail system that would open the cave to visitors. In July 1960, Burch’s efforts came to fruition and the caverns opened for public tours.

Unique Features

FishtailHelictitesPhoto: Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Caverns of Sonora achieved notoriety for the heavy concentration of calcite crystal formations, especially, the rare helictites, contained inside the cave. Helictites change their axis during growth from a vertical formation to horizontal, creating unusual, oddly beautiful shapes like the fishtails shown above.

Video: Courtesy of Caverns of Sonora

Opportunities to Explore 

Visitors can explore the caverns in a variety of ways. The Crystal Palace tour takes guests 155 feet below ground to experience the caves first hand in a small group setting with an expert guide. The caverns website explains that these caves are warm caves maintaining a temperature of around 72 degrees. At 98% humidity, the cave feels closer to 85 degrees, so leave the jackets and sweaters behind. Wear comfortable walking shoes for the trek down the 360 steps that lead into the cave.

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