West Texas may be associated with wind and cactus but for cave divers, one of the most sought after sites in the country can be found in the middle of the Big Bend.
"It's not a place you expect to see cave dives much less deep cave dives occurring," said Dr. Tom Iliffe, a professor at Texas A&M Galveston and one of the world's leading cave biologists.
"We're very fortunate to be able to have the privileges to be able to go into this site," said Iliffe.
Last month, he lead a team of scientists to Phantom Springs Cave near Balmorhea, Texas. The sight is owned by the The Bureau of Reclamation and each year the bureau only issues two permits to dive into the environmentally sensitive cave.
"It's a special kind of people who do these very deep dives and it's very, very different from normal recreational scuba diving. Nothing like it at all," said Iliffe.
Their mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and to boldly go where no one has gone before. Sounds like space, doesn't it.
"It's something that is indescribable. To be in a place that no human has ever been before, to see an animal no one even suspected existed," said Iliffe.
The first mile of the dive is considered shallow with depths of only 20 to 30 feet but the next 2,000 feet of the cave plummets into the Earth.
"We found that it immediately started dropping down deeper, deeper, and deeper. In stair step fashion."
After reaching a depth of 460 feet, the team had to turn around. Despite having state of the art diving technology, this was as far as they could possibly go.
"Shining our lights down the tunnel, there is no end in sight. It's something that leaves plenty of room for future exploration but we need new diving technology to go that deep and that far into an underwater cave system," said Iliffe.
Despite the journey into the depths only taking an hour, getting out of the cave takes another seven due to currents and decompression.
Iliffe does this with the hopes of finding new discoveries like others he has found in caves around the world. His discoveries have even been featured in National Geographic Magazine.
"Types of organisms that previously had been unknown from the planet and we're coming across. It's like going back and finding a dinosaur almost," said Iliffe.
It's all in the name of science and for Iliffe who definitely has to catch your breath after seeing such incredible sights.
"It's just a transcendental experience to go into these caves," said Iliffe.
Dr. Iliffe and his team will go over their findings of the Phantom Springs Cave over the next year and plan to return to the cave in the summer of 2014 to explore even deeper into its abyss.
If you want to find out more about the expedition or see more video and pictures, we've got links to the expeditions website below.
Video Courtesy of: Becky Kagan Schott with Liquid Productions, LLC. There is a link with more video from Liquid Productions, LLC below.
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