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Love in the Devil's Sinkhole

Submitted by Rae Nadler-Olenick

Not many couples find love at the bottom of a 150-foot deep pit graced with a breakdown mountain covered in packed bat guano. But life can be stranger than fiction.

Bats emerge from the Devil's Sinkhole in southwest Texas

On June 20, 1994, I drove alone from Austin to Brackettville to attend the National Speleological Society's annual convention. Violent thunderstorms followed me all the way and, arriving at the campground in a heavy downpour, I overshot the main entrance and pulled in farther down. As I emerged from my car rumpled and stressed, a tall, lean blue-eyed stranger approached me from the direction of Registration. He introduced himself as Walt from Las Vegas and we exchanged pleasantries—nothing special. Though I found him very attractive, I assumed he was just the first of many people I would meet on that trip.

Over the next week, I noticed Walt popping up here and there: in the registration office where I was volunteering; at an equipment vendor's booth, where I purchased a new piece of gear; at the vertical rope workshop where he was one of the instructors; at a showing of “The Devil's Sink Hole,” a 1950's film portraying the comical misadventures of two young men attempting to explore a huge pit with only the barest of equipment.

On the last evening, we found ourselves sitting next to each other at the slide show, crown jewel of the convention. As wonderful images of caves and caverns flashed before us, he mentioned that there was a post-convention trip to the Devil's Sinkhole scheduled for the next day. He had wanted to visit it for many years, he confided. Would I care to come along?

After a week of sleeping in my car under a floodlight, I thought I was ready for home. I quickly changed my mind. 

We got to know each better on the long ride to Rock Springs. And once at the pit we descended on side-by-side ropes, landing first on the hard-packed guano-topped mound, then heading downhill, into the dimness, until we reached water. Pinpoints of light from the other explorers' headlamps dotted the vastness of the space, giving the scene a surreal cast. We talked some more, discovering how much we had in common. When we emerged an hour later we were still together and. we've been together ever since.