A Brief History
On December 27, 1966, the largest cave in the world was discovered in Aquismón, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Boasting a single cavern that covers a ground space of 994 feet long by 442 feet wide, the so called Cave of Swallows (alternately called “The Cave of the Swallows”) had been known for many generations by indigenous Huastec people, and was considered “discovered” only when a documented descent into the cave was made by T. R. Evans, Charles Borland and Randy Sterns, the first outsiders known to have visited the cave.
Known as a “pit” type cave, the Mexicans call it “The Basement of Swallows” due to its physical nature and the large quantity of swallows that live there. A mouth, or hole in the ground, opens up to a “drop” that spans about 160 feet by 203 feet, with a widening shaft that has a vertical, uninterrupted fall of almost 1100 feet from the opening on top to the floor! (From the highest edge to the lowest edge is 1900 feet.) The cave shaft is the largest documented cave shaft in the world, though the vertical shaft is only the 11th deepest. The cave has become a favorite tourist destination, as people just do not seem to tire of any place or thing boasting to be the largest, longest, heaviest, widest or other superlative.
Other than just gawking at the natural splendor of the cavern, thrill seekers use the cave for a variety of sporting pursuits, among them free-fall parachute jumping, rappelling, vertical caving (climbing down and back up), and if you can believe it, even hot air ballooning! (A normal sized hot air balloon can actually descend straight down and then ascend back out of the mouth of the cave.) Those that choose to engage in rappelling are cautioned to bring spray bottles filled with water to spray the rappelling gear as the immense vertical distance has a tendency to overheat the ropes and equipment. A parachute jump (base jump) allows for only a few seconds of free fall and then a ten second descent, while the climb back to the top takes up to 2 hours, so plan ahead.
One thing that is rarely found in the Cave of Swallows, oddly enough, are swallows! Only a few of those particular type of birds frequent the cave, although large numbers of other bird species are present and provide another form of recreation for those people interested in bird watching. When large flocks of birds exit the cave at dusk in the early evening, they form up in large concentric rings above the cave mouth, presenting a spectacular sight. When the birds return in the morning, they perform a totally different aerobatic feat, by entering the mouth of the cave and then merely folding their wings and free falling to the floor or to the height of their nests.
The outside of the cave mouth is an a lushly vegetated area, and the inside floor is thick with guano (bird poop) built up over centuries. We recommend wearing shoes if you visit there!
Questions for Students (and others): Have you ever visited Cave of Swallows? How about Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, or Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico? What caves have you visited? Are you interested in ever visiting caves? Do you know of any historical significance of any cave?
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For more information, please see…
Aulenbach, Nancy. Exploring Caves: Journeys into the Earth. National Geographic, 2001.
Laurendeau, Jason. BASE Jumping: The Ultimate Guide (Greenwood Guides to Extreme Sports). Greenwood, 2012.
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