I was first introduced to cave diving in 1994 when Frans Vandermolen invited me to join his expedition team to explore Bower Cave, in Yosemite California. During the 1870's, this cave was a popular tourist attraction for travelers who had arrived on horseback and in buggies. A stage had been constructed for the regular shindigs and is still present today, high on the caverns wall. After repelling ourselves and gear 100' into the large cavern, we re-energized ourselves with food and water before gearing up for the first dive. The water in the spring was in the 40's and had the second highest e-coli count reported in the entire Sierra mountain chain.
I buddied up with my friend and mentor, Bob Titus. Once
beyond the cavern zone, the visibility inside the cave
opened up like pure Sparklets Water. Within no time we
found ourselves deep inside the cave. The depth required a
greater volumes of gas than we were carrying, giving us no
choice but to turn the dive only after about 30 minutes.
The whole project required a lot of work, but fun non the
Bower cave is currently managed by the USDA Forest Service
and is not accessible to the general public. With any luck,
we will be able to re-explore the cave and provide further
data and a extensive map of this aquifer for the general
public and research agencies. Until then, there are several
other places to explore.
The following year, Frans drug my butt down to the Yucatan
and I completed a full cave diving course. I was hooked.
Beside the bugs and militants in the jungle, this was the
most exciting dive trip I had ever been on. I continued to
return to the Yucatan, and taught cavern diving courses to
several organized groups. During one of these trips an
opportunity arose to do some exploration with local cave
explorer, Bil Phillips. This ended in the mapping of the
Lithium Sunset area of a cave called, Sistema Sac Aktun.
Today, this cave is one of the longest underwater caves in
the world with nearly 30 miles of mapped passages. It is
still under exploration and survey by the Quintana Roo Speleological Society
and there is no telling where it will end.
Preparing to squeeze through the "Chan Ho" cave entrance
Each time I return to the Yucatan I learned a little more
about the vast history that we have been venturing thru.
Much to the thanks of friends like Bil Philips. Canadian
born, Bil has resided in the Yucatan's cave country for
over a decade. He loves to share his wealth of information
about the land, people and the caves that he has interacted
with over the years. Currently, Bil lives in Tulum, Mexico
and has a fantastic dive operation called, Speleotech" that provides
education, guide services, equipment rental and
lodging for diver from all continents.
Many scientist believe that a large meteor hit the Yucatan
Peninsula approximently 65 million years ago. They refer to
this as the "KT event". This event is thought to
have caused the demise of most of earths species,
including the dinosaurs. At that time, the Yucatan
Peninsula was completely submerged underwater. It had
thriving marine reefs, rich with coral, shellfish and
other marine organisms. Millions of years of dead
coral and shellfish had been building upon each other.
The created a deep bed of calcium rich material.
It is estimated that this meteor had a 5 mile circumference
and left an imprint in the earth 112 miles in diameter. The
impact site can still be seen in the Puerto Chicxulub area
of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. When this meteor struck, the
earth rippled for hundreds of mile around, churning water
Over the next 65 million years, the planet's sea level had
dropped then risen many times. Today it is suspected that
the sea level is approximently 200' lower than when the KT
meteor struck. Much of the calcium from the ancient marine
reefs in the area had been transformed into limestone. At
the later part of our last ice age, known as the Wisconsin
Glaciation, rivers of water flowed over the earth as the
ice shelfs melted. This water combined with nitrogen and
carbon dioxide in the air, creating weak acid's which
slowly dissolved some of the limestone. This dissolution
formed a plethora of tunnels in the earth that we now call
caves. And in them we can sometimes see the shells of
ancient marine invertebrates that never decomposed.
Early man and animals inhabited these caves, probably for
protection from the climate and any predators out to kill
them. During this period water continued to flow over and
through many of these caves as air flowed through them from
remote entrances. Precipitation from the soil above drew
more calcium into the cave. Much of this calcium solidified
when it was exposed to the air. This process created
beautiful cave decorations known as "speleothems".
Photo by Bill Reals of a 10,500 year old human skeleton in
a underwater cave in the Yucatan. Note that the legs appear
to have been crossed. It is thought that people of this
period were sat upright with there legs crossed when they
were put to rest.
Photo by Bill Reals of John Walker inspecting the remains
of a prehistoric ground sloth (Mylodon) which inhabited these caves
when they were dry. This animal was a herbivore and
could have grown to be as large as 500lb. (227kg)
Photo by Bill Reals showing what the solidified calcium
looks like. Speleothems have many other sub-names.
Stalactite, stalagmites, helictite, rimstone, flowstone,
bacon, just to name a few. They can be fragile and contact
should be avoided to preserve these for years to come.
Mayan Indians have inhabited this area for many years.
Researchers believe that the nearby stone town of Tulum was
built around AD 560. The Maya believed that gods lived in
the water filled holes in the ground. They named these
holes D'zonot. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500's to
concur the peninsula, the name Cenote was derived from the
Yucatec Maya word D'zonot. Sacrificial offerings were given
to these gods in hopes that they could prosper. The Maya
were very amazing astronomers and the first to come up with
a complete calendar and written numbering system.
Sadly, Spanish Conquistadors, disease and drought
devastated many of the Maya. Today few Maya families still
reside in and around the Yucatan jungle. Many of these
families had been given land under the Ejido System, providing them with a
natural resource for agriculture and hunting. During
these cave diving excursion we often meet these
generous people and kick down a few pesos so we can
enter the cenotes on their land. Those of them who
speak Spanish often refer to us as loco gringos
Photo by Scott Brooks: Inside the ancient walled city of
Tulum is one of the few ancient Mayan cities located along
the Caribbean Coast. It is thought to have served as a
trading port which converged routes from both land and sea.
It is now a beautiful and intriguing tourist destination.
Photo by Bill Reals : These vase that were found in an
underwater cave just south of Tulum by Robby Schmittner.
Although they "could" have been used for sacrificial
offerings, there actual age and purpose it not quit clear.
This site is NOT intended to teach anyone how they should
dive. It is simply reflecting on what I have done and
continue to do and is my opinion only. Proper dive training
should be gained before attempting anything involving the
use of a Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus