By Buford Pruitt, Jr.
June 16, 2005
A week or so ago, an old friend and work mate from the early 1970s named Brian Winchester contacted the FSS Board via the FSS website regarding a cave lead. He said it blew air and was close to Gainesville. Since I wanted to see my old friend again, not to mention see a blowing hole in the ground, I called him and we put together a checkout trip that occurred on June 16, 2005. Mike Gordon was to join us, but at the critical hour we had trouble communicating with cell phones that were perating at the limits of their range, so I arrived at the rendezvous site sans Mike. Brian and I drove over to the property and he led me down some well-worn woods paths, first to a sinkhole and then to a sinking stream. I also collected data for submission of survey forms to the Florida Cave Survey.
The sinkhole is approximately 15ft wide x 20ft long, and fairly steep-sided. The sink’s convex sides are a strong indication that the sink is geologically active. From the sinkhole emanated a stream of air similar in volume to the Santoian dig site near Ocala, which is to say more than most Florida dry caves but less than Moose’s Echo or Warrens Cave.
The sinking stream is a first order stream (intermittent) that drains seepage from surrounding sediments in addition to forest runoff. It courses through a small ravine and ends in a sand-and-detritus-bottomed sink that has no less than four potential dig holes.
None of the holes blew air and all are small, although a person can get completely inside the drip line of one.
We then walked back to our vehicles for digging and caving gear, and I tried one last time to call Mike. Miracle of miracles, we connected and it turned out he was only a few minutes away from the site. We met him at a new rendezvous location and then back to the parking spot we went.
We packed our digging implements, flavored water and DEET, and went first to the sinkhole. Mike began the dig, and I spelled him after a while, and after a half-hour or so of moving rocks and dirt the wind blowing from the cave began to pick up steam. After an hour of digging, the air flow was, I think second in volume only to what I have experienced at Warrens Cave (Florida’s blowingest cave) and waaaay more air than what issues from the Santoian dig. Let me say this again, a little differently, lest I be accused of understatement: There was a LOT of air blowing out of that entrance, so much so that Mike’s eyes were drying out despite his tears of joy at the find! The wind was literally howling as it came through the winding rocky passage, and that is no suck-in lie, I swear on my dead momma’s grave!
Alas, after an hour or so, we reached a temporary limit of endurance while trying to excavate mud from the tight fissure entrance and trying
to widen the rocky fissure with a sledge hammer while scrunched up within its narrow confines. The cave had successfully fended us off for the nonce, so we took a break and walked over to the sinking stream only a hundred yards or so away. We piddled around the sinking stream terminus for a short while before Brian caught fire and convinced us to return to the sink and wale away on the rock and mud a little longer.
Several hours later and several feet deeper, Brian and Mike were pooped (I’m too large to fit into the fissure and actually dig). By that time the air blowing from the cave had diminished considerably as a result of changing barometric conditions and probably also due to some blockage of the passage beyond by collapsing dirt. We each wriggled head-first down into the nearly vertical passage to see what lay beyond, and Mike determined that a small person (I’m too big. Did I say that already?) could hunker down into an alcove on the right and scoop mud into a bucket. The fissure passage evidently bells out under the mud floor, so we think we can access the cave without having to chip or blow away much more rock (sorry, Sean!).
Warrens Cave is near the northern tip of a ridge, under which Warrens only penetrates a mile or so in a southerly direction. This new blowing hole is near the southern end of that same ridge, several miles away. You can connect the dots. FSS cavers years ago tried to find a back door to Warrens, to no avail. I would love to think this entrance could be it, especially considering the volume of air screaming out of it, but that’s fantasyland. What is not fantasyland is that there is a significantly sized cave at this dig site.
Brian is going to discuss our findings with the landowner and try to get us permission to continue the dig. Alachua County has green space ordinances that require land to be set aside within new developments, and we have every reason to believe that the cave entrance and the sinking stream can both be placed within protected parks. So, we hope to soon need volunteers for this dig.