This weekend was another one of those marathon explorations where Dani and I tried to hit everything we could before we had to return the canoe to the rental place. Naturally, this was a serious endurance test, as it involved dragging the canoe up and over levees entirely too many times... but, as always, it was worth it! I'm completely exhausted as I write this, but it was so much fun getting there.The Church
First up on the marathon was a tunnel I coined The Church. I had scouted it out a few weeks ago when I had the raft with us after Dani and I explored some more of the Drop-Off tunnel. I went into it a short distance just to see if it was indeed worth it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that, once you get past a short section with a low ceiling, it opens out into a very wide area with a cathedral-like ceiling. I tend to think of it like a church with water well above the pews.The Cage
I didn't do more than peek into it last time since I was by myself (Dani was taking pictures of downtown Dallas from the levee above me while I rowed into it on a raft we had with us), and I had been meaning to return, but finally committed to it this weekend. I had thought that this tunnel led to the second Well, but that turned out not to be the case. We went upstream for about half a mile, but eventually came out to find that a wooded stream fed into the tunnel, not the Well at all.
Dani and I continued up the stream with the canoe for a good ways thinking maybe the stream led to yet another tunnel, but that wasn't the case either. I consulted the GPS and, if anything, we were getting further from the Well. However, we did reach a place where the stream forked. I checked the GPS again and realized that we were downstream from the Duck Tunnel, so we parked the canoe and made a detour to see the waterfall from the bottom of that neat little (okay, medium-sized) tunnel.
Now that we knew where we were (more of less), we realized that we had previously tried to follow that stream to its origin some weeks earlier when we first explored the Duck Tunnel. Instead, we made another detour to a smaller tunnel that I had also scouted earlier without ever really exploring it. As it turned out, this tunnel turned out to lead to a "cage" right next to the Trinity River. (You will have to see the pictures to get why it's called that.)The end of the Mouth
The tunnel continued past the cage as well, but I was only able to make it a short distance before the water grew deep, and besides, the end of the tunnel has a big metal hatch on it, so it wouldn't have been worth trying to exit there. However, I did see a really long garter snake at the end of the tunnel who was probably very confused why there was no grass to hide in.
I doubled back and Dani and I managed to slip through the bars of the "cage" where one of them was bent (not by us; these things were heavy-duty). Incidentally, this was another tunnel Jay had managed to explore before us. I had noticed his tag inside the cage on a previous look at this site, but he also hit a small side tunnel to it.
The Cage was only a short walk back to the car, so Dani and I drove over to the woods where we left the canoe and loaded it back up. We drove it back downstream along the Trinity and dropped it back into the water by another tunnel that I hadn't been in. The last time we had been by here, the water was also too high to enter it, but this time there was at least three feet of clearance at the entrance and even more than that beyond it.Turtle suicide tunnel
I was convinced that this was the other end of "The Mouth" tunnel, and figured I would try to understand why that tunnel came to such an abrupt dead end when we explored it from the upstream side when this downstream section was clearly above the water.
This turned out to be a really creepy experience. Whereas the Church tunnel was relatively bright and noisy due to the proximity of the wide upstream end allowing in sunlight and with the rush of the water pouring in, this end of the Mouth tunnel was surreal. We were heading into complete darkness and utter silence. The water was very still and the air was full of moisture such that our flashlights couldn't cut through the air straight ahead. Dani and I resorted to pointing our lights at the two opposing walls on either side to avoid drifting too close to either.
To borrow a cliché, the silence was deafening. Most tunnels have noise from water running over rough patches of concrete or entering from pipes in the wall or there are traffic sounds from the streets drained at the surface, but here there was nothing. Every once in a while a fish would jump out of the water and elicit a similar startled response in both of us. We thought we could hear occasional traffic noises, but they seemed very far away.
Toward the last, we began to realize that the only sound we heard was our own echoes. Here, too, the tunnel dipped downward below the surface, effectively creating a dead end to both sides, and I'm not daring enough to invest in a scuba suit in order to find out how far down it goes.
Neither Dani nor I could come up with an explanation for this design. It doesn't serve the purpose of, say, a sink trap. In fact, if anything, this would appear counter-productive to draining a tunnel since one would think that the "trap" would simply collect heavy debris. Who knows?
As I mentioned above, the original purpose behind this trip was to explore the Church tunnel in the hopes that it would lead to the second Well. That didn't work out, and now I was left wondering just *where* did the Well drain into the Trinity? Since we had accomplished the rest of our objectives for the day, I figured we would give it one more go and look around the area between the Well and the Trinity for signs of additional tunnels.
Remarkably, there was one in plain site that I never considered to be a candidate. From the road it looked too small, but in reality (i.e., once we got out on foot and actually scouted it out), it was more than a little impressive. Dani and I unloaded the canoe yet again for a lengthy haul over to the entrance before it grew too dark.
Remarkably, the canoe was hardly required for more than maybe a hundred feet or so of the tunnel. Beyond that, the water fell away from a relatively steep incline on which we parked the canoe and went the rest of the way on foot. We knew from the GPS that, if this were the right tunnel (which it was), we were only about a third of a mile from the Well.
Along the way we started seeing lots of wildlife. First we saw a small turtle (not the first of the day, incidentally), then a dead baby duck, then another turtle, and another and another. The tunnel seemed filled with them. While turtles are hardly rare finds in drainage tunnels during the summertime, this was quite a few.
Pretty quickly we saw light ahead, and I knew this had to be the bottom of the Well. This was full of interesting finds. Because the Well sits in the middle of a lake, turtles and waterfowl sit on the (badly-designed!) rim, and fall into it on a regular basis. While these smaller terrapins remarkably survived this ~28' plunge intact, the carcasses of several of their larger brethren were not nearly so lucky. There was no need to speculate as to the cause of their death as the dead ones were physically broken open. In one case, there were three eggs exposed from the inside of a shattered female.
However, one lucky survivor from his (her?) fall was a young egret who was not quite capable of flight just yet. Dani wrapped him in my shirt to keep him from struggling and hurting himself (or biting her!), and we took him with us as we left the tunnel and returned to our car with the canoe. We weren't sure whether to take him to a wildlife rescue as we did with the raccoons or not, so we simply returned him to the lake on our way home. Maybe he'll find his way back to his parent(s) or maybe not. Maybe he'll just fall down the well again and starve to death like the baby duckling we found down there as well, but at least he had a chance he didn't have before.
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