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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jacob’s Well, Texas’ Most Dangerous Diving Spot

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Standing on the edge of a never-ending black hole, this is one leap you wouldn't want to make. Jacob's Well in Wimberley, Texas is one of the most dangerous places to dive on Earth, having claimed the lives of more than eight divers. But that doesn't stop thrill-seekers from taking the plunge. This stunning natural swimming spot - and the daredevil swimmers who dive into it - was captured by amateur photographer Carl Griffin, 56.

What To See


Jacob’s Well, Texas’ Most Dangerous Diving Spot
Photo credit: Carl Griffin

From the opening in the creek bed, Jacob's Well cave descends vertically for about thirty feet, then continues downward at an angle through a series of silted chambers separated by narrow restrictions, finally reaching a depth of one hundred and twenty feet. Until the modern era, the Trinity Aquifer-fed natural artesian spring gushed water from the mouth of the cave, with a measured flow in 1924 of one hundred and seventy gallons per second discharging six feet (two meters) into the air. The spring is the greatest source of water recharging the Edwards Aquifer.

Jacob’s Well, Texas’ Most Dangerous Diving Spot
Photo credit: Patrick Lewis

Jacob's Well is one of the longest underwater caves in Texas. From the opening in the creek bed, the cave descends vertically for about ten meters, then continues downward at an angle through a series of silted chambers separated by narrow restrictions, finally reaching a depth of forty meters.

Jacob’s Well, Texas’ Most Dangerous Diving Spot
Photo credit: Patrick Lewis

Through the years, many have successfully explored the first and second chambers of the well. The first chamber is a straight drop to about 30 feet; then it angles down to 55 feet. Nourished by the rays of sunlight that penetrate the crystal water, this cavern area is bright and is home to algae and wildlife. The second chamber is a long funnel to 80 feet, where there is a restricted opening to the third chamber. Inside the second chamber is a false chimney, which appears to be a way out of the well but has trapped at least one diver. The third chamber is a small room with a floor of unstable gravel. Divers must inflate water wings to navigate this chamber successfully, trying not to stir up silt or dislodge the gravel.

Jacob’s Well, Texas’ Most Dangerous Diving Spot
Photo credit: Patrick Lewis

The passage into the fourth chamber is very tight. The few who have seen the fourth chamber say it is "virgin cave" with fantastic limestone formations and no gravel. Covering the bottom is fine silt that can totally obscure vision when kicked up by one misstep. Ironically, there was a time when it was impossible to descend into Jacob's Well. "There's a picture of me at 3 years old at Jacob's Well in the family album," recalls 79-year-old historian Dorothy Wimberley Kerbow. "My dad would throw me into the well. You couldn't sink down because the spring would just bubble you up with such force."

Jacob’s Well, Texas’ Most Dangerous Diving Spot

Kerbow recalls that she and her friends would often visit Jacob's Well in the 1950s, and it was impossible to go more than two feet below the surface due to the force of the spring. In 1924, Jacob’s Well was measured to have a flow of one hundred and seventy gallons per second (six hundred and forty liters per second) discharging water six feet into the air. Over the years, the well’s flow had diminished allowing divers to reach the deepest chambers. The spring ceased flowing for the first time in recorded history in 2000, and again in 2008.

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