Things to Do

Put the Caverns of Sonora on Your Summertime Hill Country Bucket List

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Photos by Marcy Stellfox (except where otherwise noted)

Colton Moore, 27, knows the Caverns of Sonora like the back of his hand. And well he should. The cave was in his backyard, literally; it was his playground. He grew up on the Mayfield Ranch where the cave was discovered. Moore says, “I’ve been told that when my mom was leading cave tours, I’d come along in the baby carrier.” He’s been exploring the caverns for nearly 30 years and still sees new things each time he goes down.

Cave developer Jack Burch squats over the 18-inch hole that led to the discovery of the Caverns of Sonora.

The Mayfield family has owned this ranch just outside the small town of Sonora in Sutton County for generations. Family legend says that one day in 1905, a ranch dog chased a raccoon down a hole. The 18-inch hole that the raccoon dove into for safety opened into what is now known as the Caverns of Sonora.

Word spread of the discovery. Four college kids from SMU decided to spend a long weekend exploring the cave. They met up with three other more experienced cavers from Abilene. The guys from Abilene had already explored the 500-ft cave that was accessible from the original opening and although they could see caverns opening every direction while inside, a giant pit now known as the Devil’s Pit kept them from going further into the cave. But the college kids made an important discovery that weekend. Crossing a narrow ledge to the right of Devil’s Pit on the outside, the boys found access to the caverns from the other side of the pit.

Once stories began to circulate about the formations inside the caverns, more and more cavers wanted to experience the cave themselves.
Enter Jack Burch. Burch, a caver from Oklahoma, developed caves for the public to visit. Burch lived his motto, “conservation through commercialization,” and when he saw the negative impact on the cave from explorers before him, he decided to step in. He feared that if a trail system or pathway wasn’t created, the curious visitors would destroy the cave.  So he partnered with Mayfield and took on the cave on as a project. Burch became so passionate about developing the cave that he sold his own farm in Oklahoma to help fund the cause and moved to the ranch.
The cave first opened in 1960. What was at first, an out and back trip of about one mile in total has grown over time and evolved into an over two-mile trek through separate entrance and exit points. And while Moore enjoys talking about the history of the cave, it’s when he’s leading a tour down the dark, drippy pathways that his passion and love of the cave become evident. He says, “It’s a geological wonder.” And that’s an understatement.
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