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Day Trip Down To The 'Caverns of Sonora' by Doug Reeves
Home > Travel Stories > Caverns of Sonora

Morning preflight...

11/23/2002 - Jay Pratt and I were talking about places to visit a few weeks ago and the topic of caves came up.  Jay said he thought there were some caves down near Sonora, TX.  I emailed New Mexico's Larry Pardue, who knows a thing or two about caves, for some suggestions and sent up a test balloon for takers on the DFWRVbuilders Yahoo group.  Larry suggested several caves, one being what he described as one of the nicest show caves in Texas: the Caverns of Sonora.  Sonora is located south of San Angelo, TX and the caves are a few miles outside of town. Information on the history and formation of the cave can be found at the bottom of this page.

Warming the oil...

I called the Caverns information line and was told they don't normally come pick up people at the airport.  I called the airport and was told they had a courtesy car a few years ago, but not now.  I then went to the RV White Pages to see if there were any RVators down in Sonora.  Nope.  There were (3) in San Angelo, however.  I called Leon York of San Angelo and he assured me he could find us transportation to the caves from the airport.  Leon found fellow EAA 493 member George Spinks, whose son had a 10-person Ford Econovan.  I just can't think of another hobby where complete strangers, with just a phone call, will spend their Saturday picking up a van full of strangers from the airport, take them somewhere, and wait there while they go through the caves!!!   We are a lucky, lucky bunch.  After a little begging, Leon and George allowed me to buy their lunch, and several of us tried to give George gas money, but he wouldn't take it.

On our way...

Ok, we had a ride.  Let's go.

Mark LaBoyteaux, with 7-yr old son Andrew in the passenger seat, took off from Northwest Regional Apt (52F) in their 6A just behind me at 8am.  We joined up with Jay Pratt just west of Hicks.  We had an ~20kt headwind on the way there, which slowed progress, but we did enjoy it on the way back.  About 45 minutes out of Sonora we got in contact with Larry Pardue and his passenger George West on 122.75.  Larry and George landed just a few minutes before us, having traveled from Carlsbad, NM.

Leon and George S. were waiting for us with the van when we landed.  The drive to the caverns took about fifteen minutes.  They have two tours available, the shorter $15 and the longer $20.   The area around the cave reminded me of the scenery in The Rifleman, only in color.

On the ground at Sonora...(left to right: Flash, Borrowed Horse, Mark's polished 6A and Black Belly)

Our teenage tour guide did her best to remind us not to touch anything while enjoying the view and on a couple of occasions showed us where vandals had damaged the cave.  Seeing the vandalism was a bit of a downer, considering the beauty of the cave.  Why can't people just listen?

The tour took about 1.25 hrs.

Having Larry and George W. there, both of which know their way around a cave, made the trip that much more special.  I quickly got into the habit of listening to the tour guide, then turning around to Larry.  On a couple of occasions he quietly gave me the 'correct' description.  When someone tells you off the top of their head the angle at which Limestone tends to fracture, you can probably bet that they would be good company on a cave tour.

I took around 80 pictures throughout the day.  Lacking a tripod, and not being able to brace the camera on any of the walls  meant that a good half of the images taken were blurry.  However, several of the pictures turned out fine and after a little cropping and post-processing give a fairly nice representation of what the tour was like.  

All of the small thumbnails below can be clicked on for a larger version...

The famous 'Butterfly' formation.  Larry said this is a very photographed object appearing in many books about caves.

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After the tour both Leon York and George Spinks were waiting for us in the gift shop.  We drove to a steak house right next to the airport and had a very nice lunch.  Gas was a little steep by my standards so we opted to fly to San Angelo and save about 30 cents a gallon (Larry and George W. gassed up because it was apparently cheaper than Carlsbad).  The headwind was now a tailwind and we enjoyed a fast cruise back to to Dallas.

On the way THAT'S a groundspeed I can live with...185kts (212mph)

Flash was cleaned up and tucked away by 4:30pm and I was home thirty minutes later.  Mark and I ended up putting 480n.m. under the noses of our RVs.  As a side note, if you are an EAA member you can go to and put in our waypoints to see a nice graphical map of the trip.  The waypoints are: 52F 16XS E29 TS65 16XS 52F.  I think Larry/George's were: CNM E29 CNM.

Again, I'd like to thank Leon York and George Spinks of EAA 493 for getting us to and from the cave and Larry Pardue and his passenger George West for explaining things.

Maybe we'll go skiing next...

Thanks for reading,


History of the
Caverns of Sonora


The Discovery of the Caverns
No one really knows for sure how our Cave was first discovered, 
but the most popular "legend" behind it all is that around the turn of the century, a hunter was hunting on the Mayfield Ranch.
Supposedly, his dog chased a raccoon into the entrance of the cave, which was only 15 inches in diameter. The entrance to the cave was then covered and forgotten.
Then, in the 1920's, two teenagers (a brother and sister) explored a short way into the cave using only candles and twine to find their way.
During the 1950's, the Mayfield's had the cave professionally explored. 7 miles of passage was discovered, only 2 of which are shown on current tours. 
The cave was then developed and in 1960, the cave was first opened to the public.

How the Cave was formed
We don't really know when the first passages of the cave first developed, but it was probably within the last 500,000 to 1 million years. During this period, the cave was a network of stream passages that were completely filled with slow-moving water. 
As erosion of the surface continued, valleys deepened and created lower sites from which groundwater could flow. Consequently, the water levels in the cave lowered, abandoning flow through the higher passages and dissolving open new lower level passages (currently the water table is about 130 ft below the lowest known passages in the cave).
Eventually, at least four distinct levels of passages were formed The falling water levels caused some passage levels to interconnect as the floor of one passage fell down into a lower passage. These collapses were caused in two ways: first, flowing water perched in an upper passage cut the floor down to the lower passage, or second, water levels in the lower passage dropped and without the waters' buoyant support, the ceiling fell in. Most collapses were probably a combination of the two factors. Some of the cave's small maze-like passages may have formed due to collapses.
If the collapses were big enough, they would have restricted groundwater flow down the passage. Water on the upstream side of the collapse would have been under pressure to try and flow through the breakdown. Consequently, water forced its way into fractures to form new passages to relieve some of the water pressure, and to form bypasses around the collapse zone.