A typical flashlight’s beam traveled sporadically and for just a few feet in 1963, certainly not enough to brighten the pitch-black cavern Jack Bigham was being lowered 33-1/2 feet underground to explore.
Jack Bigham, in fact, didn’t even know what he would be encountering on that long descent in a makeshift stirrup fixed to the end of the drilling rig, as he was lowered though the Georgetown, Texas karst in an 24-inch diameter tunnel. His passageway had been drilled by stymied Texas Highway Department engineers and geologists with an auger rig, when they couldn’t authorize building of Interstate Highway 35 atop the Balcones Fault Zone until they were satisfied of the terrain’s stability for support.
Jack did know that they’d been drilling the area for days, straight down through 40 feet of solid limestone, encountering a extensive network of underground voids and caves and dropping a drill pipe here and there in the vastness below.
Jack also knew he was one of the smallest men on the crew, so his shoulders could fit in the shaft.
Presumably, he was not claustrophobic.
Today, visitors to Inner Space Cavern learn that he was one of a crew of five to be lowered into what’s now called the Discovery Room, where exploration and the mapping of the vast cave system began with its accidental discovery half a century ago.
But in 1963, the beam of his intermittent flashlight wouldn’t have lit his way down through the small tunnel into the pitch-black cavern that turned out to be the final resting place of numerous mammoths, peccaries, camels, bat rabbits, dire wolves, horses and saber-toothed tigers. Jack couldn’t have seen the thousands of stalactites and stalagmites, the fossiliferrous limestone beds and massive dolomitic limestone dripping water down honeycombed walls to form pools in the cavern floor. He couldn’t have seen the nodules and beds of chert and the red clay mud on his boots. He probably could smell the bat guano, its age unknown.
He was in utter darkness, blacker than black, where the air was stagnant and short on oxygen, in a place of unknown size whose inhabitants, if alive, were unknown, and his only means out was back up the 33-1/2 foot hole he’d dropped in from.
If he had returned in 1966, when Inner Space Cavern opened to the public, Jack might have joined a guided tour along smoothed pathways, observation decks with railings to grip where it was slippery, and plenty of electric lighting to illuminate the geological wonders. Jack would have found it easier going than being lowered through a 24-inch drill hole into creepy pitch-black parts unknown.
If Jack arrived by car for a guided tour today, he’d drive over the cavern’s void, formed when the Balcones Fault Zone was active about 25 million years ago, traveling at about 70 mph on IH 35—like millions do annually, and probably unwittingly. ♣
Creepy, huh? Would you have volunteered to go first?
There’s a lot more than meets the eye from above ground about Inner Space Cavern, HERE. Hat tip to Texas Highway Department geologist James W. Sansom, Jr. for his account of the original descent. Shot below-ground with my iPhone 5s in the Inner Space Caverns, Georgetown, Texas. Consider this my nod to the Daily Post’s creepy challenge. For more iPhoneography tips and tricks, click HERE.