Deep in the west Texas desert lies Phantom Springs Cave.
In 2012 an expedition established that outside Florida, Phantom Springs Cave is the third longest USA cave in the USA, and tantalisingly it is still going. However it is not as straightforward as it would seem to explore here. Phantom Cave is a federally owned, strictly closed biological preserve for the endangered pupfish. The site is only accessible by a permit issued by the US Bureau of Reclamation, and only two permits are ever concurrently issued. Both are assigned until at least 2015.
Photo Credit: Becky Kagan Schott
Earlier this month, a precious permit allowed a team of ten hand picked divers to push this cave system further. The team comprised of Dr Andrew Pitkin and Brett Hemphill (deep exploration), Michael Poucher, Jason and Chrissy Richards (survey), Becky Kagan Schott and Curt Bowen (topside and underwater cinematographers), and Joel Clark and Corey Mearns (safety and logistics).
The expedition goals were to extend the line beyond the 2012 expedition and to continue exploring as far as safety and logistics allowed; to hand-tape survey the site, starting from the cave entrance and working inwards; and capture the action and events as they unfolded.
This expedition was not purely exploratory. Dr Thomas Iliffe, one of the worlds leading cave biologists holds the science permit for Phantom Spring. His goal was to work in-water with the other teams to gather water quality and cave fauna data.
Over the course of seven days the exploration divers hit a record depth of 462 feet / 140.8 metres, making it the deepest USA underwater cave system. The team also set up sediment traps, collected water quality data, surveyed over 8,000 feet of the cave, and shot hours of high definition video and still photos topside and underwater. Plans are being put in place to return.
Photo Credit: Curt Bowen
Advanced Diver Magazine Exploration Foundation has just published a fascinating report illustrated by sumptuous imagery.
"A billion stars illuminate the remote sky as the yelps of coyote packs echo across the desert. A beam of light suddenly flickers from inside the dark cave entrance. Seven hours have passed since the deep exploration team entered the cave with the goal to push this unique desert spring further (and possibly deeper than any other underwater cave in the United States)."
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