By Donna Richards
Find cave, draw vague location map, file map in clandestine file, and cease all contact with cave owner.
Armed with an old map dating from the 60s, Simon and I headed out to Branford to look for the Suwannee Grotto. The place had grown (just a little…this is Branford), and there were a number of relatively new roads and neighborhoods. We drove around the little community, having more than one completely unfruitful and quite weird discussion with some residents:
“Excuse us. We have this map of a cave located in this vicinity. Can you help us?”
Blank stare from couple
“Um, we’re FSS members, and we are trying to update our records. Do you know if there is a cave in this area?” (Show map)
“We ain’t from here. We’re from Lafayette (“La-fay”) County. La-fay County. We ain’t from here. We’re visiting. We’re from La-fay. Do you know it? La-fay? Out past Branford. Not from here, we ain’t. La-fay….”
No kidding. We quickly drove away, Dueling Banjos playing in the background….
Eventually we drove down a dirt road, which looked rather promising (i.e., a wooded trail with no visible “No Trespassing” sign). Sure enough, as I’m wandering through, taking pictures of butterflies and such, Simon yells, “Found it.” Damn.
We couldn’t see the bottom of the mud-rimmed hole, so we headed back for the rope and some gear. Back at the truck we were “greeted” by a woman who demanded to know whether we had permission to be traipsing around in the woods. Fortunately, she wasn’t the couple from La-fay’s relative, and she softened her tone as soon as she realized we were of the benevolent sort.
Naturally, we did seek permission from the landowners, a nice farming couple we visited the following Sunday. They didn’t think the “natural well” we’d discovered the few days before went anywhere, but they gave us permission to jump into it. Better still, when they learned we were cave divers they told us about another property of theirs a few miles away with a drop into a wet cave!
What was confirmed from our conversation is the Suwannee Grotto, which is located on their neighbor’s property, has been filled in, the historic limestone home above it toppled. A bat colony once existed, and University students had been out years ago. It was leveled because the elderly owner was concerned about safety. Had anyone stayed in contact with him after the initial exploration, other options could have been presented.
Investigating the first hole we had seen, we found a 20+ foot shaft with no going passage, no wind, but a healthy bug population. The other property was more interesting and more of a challenge.
Jumping a couple fences (the landowners figured that if we could climb the cave, we wouldn’t be needing the key to the gate…), negotiating our way through a heard of inquisitive longhorns, and watching carefully for the rattlesnakes the property owners had warned us about (“the biggest ones we’ve ever seen”), we made our way through the overgrowth and found a hole very similar to the first–a solution tube. This one, however, did go in a couple feet before butting into another tube, unfortunately heading back up, not down.
The most interesting part contained in the fenced overgrowth was a small depression leading into a vine-covered hole. Another 20 foot drop, but this time into clear and refreshingly cool water. The owners said some friends had dived this, reporting an enormous room with high flow. The tale sounded somewhat like the cave version of the fish which got away, but we are obviously keen to return as soon as the weather/conditions permit. There was no evidence of high flow the day we were there, and the water was clear. Most likely the cave only goes for a few feet rather than flowing into the river, but with the hurricanes postponing local diving for the next few weeks, the place is a nice one about which to dream.
And we are definitely planning to stay in contact with the owners!
Natural well on ranch:
Second property – well 1:
Second property – well 2: