An unforgiving Texas sun beats down on the sightseers below, making Jacob’s Well almost irresistible. Swimmers dive into its cooling waters in droves to let the spring soothe their heated skin. But if they knew what the pool hides, would they still have the courage to splash about above its deadly secret?
As it stands, Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, Texas, is a go-to for water lovers in the U.S. Each year, crowds of people flock to the spring to escape the summer heat and take a refreshing dip. However, the pool has a dark side that only the fearless or foolhardy witness first-hand.
The still and gleaming surface of Jacob’s Well is misleading, you see, and fails to hint at the danger below. Naturally, therefore, intrepid explorers have discovered it for themselves, with a number of them not surviving to tell the tale.
And as a consequence, the spring is among the riskiest diving hotspots on the planet. While most people are happy to experience what they can see of Jacob’s Well from the surface, others are not so easily satisfied. So they risk their lives trying to explore its mysterious depths.
According to interest site ZME Science, the fascination surrounding Jacob’s Well isn’t something that’s developed in recent years, either. In fact, the spring has been enchanting people with its splendor for centuries now. It’s even believed that Native Americans regarded the mesmerizing location as a special place.
This is hardly surprising considering Jacob’s Well’s beauty. Indeed, the site’s stunning appearance may have even inspired its name. Some theorize that the spring’s moniker was brought about by the 19th-century writer and realtor Jacob de Cordova. When describing the location in one of his books, de Cordova certainly didn’t hold back about Jacob’s Well’s opulence.
De Cordova wrote, “The well is perfectly round [and] looks as if it was cut out of the solid rock by a skillful artist.” Sounds pretty great, right? Yet another theory around the name was touched upon by the Texas Standard in 2018. It states, you see, that settlers “named it Jacob’s Well because of its Biblical magnificence.”
But it’s not just the spring itself that appeals to tourists, as the land that it sits on is stunning, too. Covering around 81 acres, the protected natural area is particularly attractive to the outdoor enthusiasts who leap into the water from the up to 15-feet-tall rock cliffs that surround the pool.
This hobby certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, however. As the pool is relatively narrow, the thrillseekers who jump in have to aim for the deepest part – the middle – to avoid injury. And while you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is the most dangerous activity at the spring, there is in fact a pastime that’s claimed more lives.
Interestingly, Jacob’s Well hasn’t always been as accessible to swimmers as it is today. The spring used to be more fountain-like, which often discouraged people from taking the plunge. From around the 1950s, though, the water’s gush has slowed, and the spring is now a lot more inviting.
Aside from enjoying the serene waters, bathers can also indulge in the fact that the temperature at Jacob’s Well remains at a comfortable 68°F regardless of the season. And when you consider Texas’ blisteringly hot summers, is it any wonder why this makes for an attractive cooling spot?
From the pictures, Jacob’s Well looks a tad on the small side. And it’s true that in terms of width, the spring isn’t all that expansive. In fact, it only stretches 12 feet across. When looking at the well’s depth, however, it’s a totally different story.
As previously suggested, part of the well’s stunning beauty comes from the clarity of its waters. It’s this that also allows people to get a sense of just how far down you’d have to go to reach the bottom. And judging by de Cordova’s description back in 1839, it doesn’t appear to have changed that much. He wrote, “The water is so clear that even at that great depth you can, with the naked eye, discern a small an object as a pin.”
But to call the spring deep is, in fact, something of an understatement. Journalist and writer Stephen Harrigan explained as much in his book Jacob’s Well: A Novel. He described the opening as being “like a portal from another dimension, [it’s] a world of unnatural vibrance and mystery.”
For some people, the immense depth is exactly what puts them off getting in for a dip. So it’s good that there are lots of other activities to do on dry land, too. You can take advantage of the beautiful scenery with a hike, for instance, or take a camera and capture the nature that’s in and around Cypress Creek. And given that many different species of wildlife call the area home, there will always be good opportunities for bird watching and animal spotting.
If, like most people, you’re heading to Jacob’s Well for a swim, you may have to book a slot before your arrival. That’s right: the spring’s popularity means that it can get pretty busy. It’s no surprise, then, that thrillseekers who want to get away from the hustle and bustle on the surface tempt fate by getting closer to the well’s hidden secrets.
There are, naturally, some visitors who just aren’t satisfied without getting a glimpse at what lies in the inky depths. Free-diving their way down beyond the breathtaking aperture, these people navigate the narrow maze of shadowy passages – the extent of which just can’t be seen from the attraction’s surface.
It’s impossible to explore the spring completely without professional diving equipment, but Jacob’s Well’s free-divers love to test their limits. According to ZME Science, for instance, some people delve as far as 100 feet into the abyss. And it’s as potentially dangerous as it sounds, as Diego Adame can attest to.
During a 100-foot deep dive, Adame’s flipper fell off. And this could have cost him his life. The daredevil told the San Antonio Express-News in 2015 that “for a split second [he] thought of death and myself dying that day.” Fortunately, he kept his cool and set his mind to the task at hand – escaping Jacob’s Well.
Incredibly, Adame managed to safely reach the surface – albeit with ragged breath and waning consciousness. He even caught the ordeal on camera, which also recorded the diver’s breathless rasping. “The gasps for air you hear is something called the mammalian dive reflex,” Adame explained to San Antonio Express-News. The diver added, “After holding your breath for an extended period of time, your diaphragm begins to have contractions.”
The location is so dangerous that hobbyist scuba diving in Jacob’s Well is officially banned. Yet that hasn’t stopped some divers from ignoring the rules and venturing into the mysterious spring’s depths. And while Adame managed to escape the situation with his life, many people haven’t been as lucky.
Although no one knows the specific number of lives that Jacob’s Well has claimed, authorities say it’s certainly eight or more. The reports go back as far as the 1930s, when two men died during a diving expedition into the well. The intrepid pair cobbled makeshift scuba gear together using a hose and bucket, but tragically, it wasn’t enough.
Another pair of explorers attempted to plumb the depths of Jacob’s Well in 1979 using scuba equipment. However, the secret hidden in the spring’s abyss prompted them to remove their breathing gear, consequently causing their deaths. Officials then attempted a three-week recovery mission to find the men’s bodies, but unfortunately, they came away empty-handed.
That’s not to say the divers’ remains were never found again, though. Yes, both were eventually recovered, but not for several years. The first was found two years after his death, but the second turned up relatively recently – in 2000, to be exact. And it’s incidents such as this that have earned Jacob’s Well the reputation of being among the most hair-raising diving spots in the world.
But just what is it that makes the spring so deadly? To start with, anyone who manages to make it 23 feet deep would find themselves in complete darkness. Yes, Gregg Tatum, veteran diver and director of the Jacob’s Well Exploration Project (JWEP), elaborated on what it’s really like down there. “It gets so dark you can taste it,” he told the Texas Standard in 2018.
And there’s a reason why the unfortunate divers in 1979 decided to take off their equipment. Due to the meandering nature of the cave network, there are some seriously tight spots. Unfastening their oxygen tanks was the only way to fit into the chambers, but as we know, they lost their lives as a result.
Following the divers’ deaths, those in charge went about limiting the access to some of the caves at Jacob’s Well. They fixed metal bars over the entrance, but it wasn’t long before members of the public took the precaution down. And the Texas Standard revealed that the perpetrators had also written, “You can’t keep us out.”
Aside from the thrillseekers who voluntarily lower themselves into the blackness below the surface, there is a group of sanctioned divers who were tasked with mapping out the well’s passages. As we know, they’re called the Jacob’s Well Exploration Project. And Tatum, who is the director, has reported depths of 140 feet in one location – that’s the equivalent of a 14-story building. They’ve also found a tunnel that’s three-quarters of a mile long.
Perhaps the most dangerous location, though, is the misleading tunnel 80 feet down that looks like it could be an exit. It’s not and has consequently been responsible for one death so far. There’s also the place divers that call the “Birth Canal,” which is a narrow passage leading to a wide underwater cave.
The caveat is that the Birth Canal is only accessible from a narrow incline covered in loose gravel. And on occasion, part of this entrance gets blocked with rocks and debris, leaving divers with just a 15-inch gap. Sometimes, they then have to simultaneously crawl or dig their way through. But who knows, maybe this all adds to the adventure.
As you would imagine, the work of the JWEP has been extremely enlightening over the years. For instance, it was first thought that a gravel slope marked the end of the underwater network. But after months of sifting through the detritus, they discovered an entirely new section of caves. And it was this find that changed everything.
The revelation meant that divers were able to explore much more than they initially thought possible. And today, the JWEP say they’ve managed to map all the accessible caves, which cover 6,000 feet. They now know how this set of underwater caves measures up to others in the area, too. The organization’s website says, “The project’s survey results show Jacob’s Well to be the longest cave in Hays County and the second-longest fully-submerged cave in Texas.”
Now, you may be wondering whether or not the divers found any signs of life during their exploration. And interestingly, it seems most of the flora and fauna are sensible enough to avoid the deepest parts – unlike some humans. Instead, animals such as the pale and eyeless Texas Blind Salamanders prefer the caverns closest to the entrance.
And for those of you who are desperate to see what it’s like down there but don’t fancy putting your life on the line, some divers have filmed and uploaded videos of the dangerous, submerged chambers. Take Liquidtravel TV’s video, for instance, which begins with the explorers practically sandwiched between the gravel-covered floor and a jagged stone ceiling.
Spiky rock formations line the passage like teeth, making the spring’s depths truly resemblant of another world. Soon, the cave leads even deeper through a precariously tight chamber before opening up into another tunnel. It’s difficult to imagine just how impossible it would be to navigate this twilight maze without lights. Indeed, when the website Visitwimberley did its feature on the well, a recovery diver called Kathy Misiaszek gave further insight into what it’s really like.
Misiaszek, you see, was a member of the team who recovered the drowned diver’s body in 2000. She said, “You couldn’t tell up from down, left from right. You couldn’t see your gauges. You were scraping the bottom and banging your tanks on the top. You had nothing to fall back on except your training. We were rather relieved to get out.”
Jacob’s Well, then, is so dangerous that even professional divers are at risk in its caverns. Don Dibble now owns a diving store, but he used to be a recovery diver like Misiaszek. He took part in the expedition to find the bodies of the two drowned explorers from the tragedy in 1979. But during the dive, he, too, almost fell victim to the well.
Dibble, you see, dived as far as the third underwater chamber in Jacob’s Well before encountering any serious complications. And he even recovered the majority of the body that the team were looking for. Suddenly, however, the gravel floor shifted, catching Dibble in the process and causing him to be half-submerged in rocks and stones.
To make matters worse, Dibble’s oxygen supply was almost empty. So, if it hadn’t have been for the other members of his diving team, he may not have made it out alive. They managed to free him and carry him to the surface before the worst-case scenario occurred. Even then, he certainly wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
The rapid ascent caused Dibble’s stomach to rupture, you see. But as the other deaths that have occurred over the years prove, the situation could have been much worse. In 2001 Dibble told Visitwimberley, “This is the horror story side of it. Jacob’s Well definitely has a national reputation of being one of the most dangerous places to dive.” It’s likely this won’t put people off, however, as for some, the risk just seems to add to the well’s undeniable allure.