January, 2012. Sonora, Texas. The Caverns of Sonora.

Posted on January 11, 2013

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fb8Some of the most spectacular views in West Texas are actually below ground.

The Caverns of Sonora has been called by some the most beautiful cave in Texas, and after a walk along the nearly 2-mile tour we could certainly see why.

Its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, especially unusual helicitites – formations caused by horizontal water pressure – combined with a “conservation through commercialization” approach make this site a must-see if you’re ever in the area.

This tourist stop has an interesting twist – it is located under privately-held ranch holdings owned  by the same family for over 100 years.

The Mayfield’s began their ranching operations in Sonora, Texas, around the turn of the 20th Century. In 1905, Mr. Mayfield and his ranch foreman were hunting when their dog chased a raccoon into a 20-inch opening.  The opening turned out to be a cave, which locals began exploring sometime in the early 1920’s, going back about 500 feet from the entrance to a fifty-foot deep pit. This section of the Cave came to be known as Mayfield Cave.photo (37)

In 1955, Stanley Mayfield gave four cavers from Dallas permission to explore the cavern, which resulted in the discovery that it was actually at least 7 miles long.

Jack Burch, a caver from Oklahoma, saw the cavern for the first time in 1956. He saw the damage caused  by the many years of amateur exploration – and developed a plan for the Mayfields.

His vision was to develop and control access to the cavern, both to stop destruction and preserve the cavern for future generations, and to provide income to make that preservation possible. Development started in 1959, and the Caverns of Sonora was opened to the public July 16, 1960.

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Our tour guide in the last section of the tour near the exit where outside air coming in has killed all the formations.

Our tour guide was a member of the Mayfield family who grew up in the caverns, and literally knew every inch like the back of her hand.  She told us she could tell when something wasn’t quite right – a tip of a formation broken off, a hair caught in a crack, a smudge of dirt where it shouldn’t be.When asked why the Mayfield family has kept ownership and strict control over the cavern rather than turning it over to the State of Texas, she explained that state intervention would mean elevators, handicapped access and other changes that would cause damage to parts of the formation. She said that if the Mayfield’s eventually decide not to keep it in operation, the caverns will simply be closed.

Then she told us a brief story that clearly illustrated her dedication to this beautiful natural site. She was in the cavern between tours with a bucket of light bulbs changing the burned out ones, when she turned and bumped into a “soda straw” formation, breaking it in half.  Charging out of the cavern in tears, she threw down her bucket of bulbs, and cried, “I quit, I can’t do this right anymore!”

"soda straw" formation

“soda straw” formations

Of course, she calmed down and returned to work later in the day. But even in telling the story she cried all over again just thinking about the damage she had inadvertently caused to her beloved formations that are obviously such an important part of her life.

Such devotion will keep this beautiful place in good hands for years to come. And yes, she has a daughter who shares her mother’s interest in the Caverns of Sonora.photo (36)

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Posted in: Travel - Texas