Fort Stockton underground

Group explores cave system beneath city

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The Comanche Springs are a well-known part of Fort Stockton – from the pool that bears its name, to the annual water flow that runs through Rooney Park.

But not as many are aware of the caves that run not only under the pool, but throughout Fort Stockton.

The Permian Basin Speleological Society went into the cave under the pool earlier this month to attempt to replace the equipment that monitors the spring for the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District. The monitoring equipment stopped working last year.

Professional speleologist – or “caver” – Bill Bentley, 60, has been in the caves under Fort Stockton at least 10 times in his 40-year caving career.

He said that he made several explorations in the 1980s. Back then the only technology available to measure was a measuring tape. Today, they have more accurate laser technology that more easily maps out how far they travel.

The problem with the caves is that there has never been a professional map done, so they aren't sure how far the cave system extends.

Bentley said that Fort Stockton has a shallow cave system that is no more than 75 to 100 feet deep. An estimated total of around half-mile of passage exists that is possible for cavers to get through.

Bentley was joined by Kerry Lowery and James Wooten on the most recent effort for the MPGCD.

“We installed a pressure transducer in Stephens Well,” said Ty Edwards of the MPGCD. “It basically records spring flow events which have accrued annually every winter for the last several years. We are working on installing a spring flow gauge in the canal to start recording actual spring flow volumes to start better understanding the groundwater system and its relation to the groundwater pumping in Belding.”

Edwards said he found the cavers through an online search. The group volunteered to go into the Comanche Springs cave because it is their hobby and fun for them. Edwards said he simply explained to them what he needed them to do and they went down.

Unfortunately the trip to replace the equipment at the Comanche Springs cave was unsuccessful, as the sensor they replaced didn't work. They will make another attempt later this year to replace the sensor's cable.

The cavers didn't seek payment for their work.

“They wanted to pay us, but we just want to check out caves,” said Bentley. “If anyone has any caves they want us to explore let us know.”

The Permian Basin Speleological Society was formed in 1983 and has around 50 members, who do this all for fun.

The cavers' most recent exploration ended after 30 minutes due to poor air quality. They were having a hard time breathing and were experiencing headaches.

“That's an indication of low oxygen,” said Bentley.

Bentley said they had not experienced the issue in previous trips, adding that indicates high levels of carbon dioxide or methane.

The next time they go in, Bentley said they will need a forced-air fan at the entrance or hand held oxygen bottles.

Bentley has seen every passage into the caves – he thinks – including the well at Fort Stockton's oldest house. The crumbling adobe house at 400 S. Nelson St. was built in the late 1850s or early 1860s.

“It's the lure of the unknown,” he said. “You wouldn't believe whats under the ground.”

Bentley reminds people that it is very dangerous to enter caves, and to not to go into the caves without permission from the county – which is criminal trespassing.

“We do everything safely,” he said. “The town of Fort Stockton has always been really good to us.”

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