Texas Caves by Blair Pittman
Lots of photography in this study of Texas caves by prize-winning photographer and life-long caver turned writer, Blair Pittman who has signed this copy on the half title page.
Many contributors make this a good reference with amazing cave photographs. 122 pp. Price $40.00
Texas Caves, explores the subterranean world with the affection of someone with a deep, abiding love and respect for the sanctity of the fragile environment below our feet.
Taking pictures of caves as a boy led Pittman to a career in photography with the Houston Chronicle, National Geographic, and Smithsonian. Over the years, the 62-year-old Pittman has visited thousands of caves and worked for several of the seven commercial caves in Texas. This 122-page book published by Texas A&M Press might be the masterpiece of a career that has included photographing LBJ, Nixon, and Elvis.
In addition to its beautiful photography, the book could also be school book for would-be cavers or those just intrigued by the amazing world below the surface. The pages cover a lot of ground from the critters and geology of Texas caves to a history of the exploration and development of the caverns.
"Doing the book was a trip back in time for me," Pittman said in an interview from his home in Jarrell. Until recently he was the manager of Cave Without a Name near Boerne, but his curiosity for exploring caves goes back to 1949. In one of the most enjoyable portions of the book, Pittman tells of a gut-wrenching descent 150 feet into the Devil's Sinkhole near Rocksprings, using fencing wire as a rope, underwater breathing equipment fashioned from instructions taken from a Popular Mechanics magazine, and a flashlight sealed in a Mason jar.
Probably the most special portion of the book is Pittman's interviews with three of the pioneers of Texas spelunking -- Orion Knox, Jack Burch, and Jim Brummett. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, these three men opened a new world to millions of visitors. Pittman was there with them exploring the muddy recesses, building trails, and documenting the progress.
Pittman calls the essays "verbal histories," and they read much like the subjects related the stories. Knox had never before told his story about how he and a group of students from St. Mary's University in San Antonio explored and named the rooms of Natural Bridge Caverns near New Braunfels.
Burch, an avid caver, helped develop the Caverns of Sonora and Natural Bridge Caverns. In the book, he says the caverns had to be commercialized to protect them from souvenir hunters and destructive explorers. Brummett, who was also Pittman's father-in-law, tells his story from the view point of a cave manager. Although it has fallen in severe disrepair in recent years, Brummett built Cascade Caverns near Boerne into a showplace with a campground, dance hall, and barbecue pit. "Man, could he cook," Pittman says, "everything from brisket to potato salad and beans." The stories are priceless moments of Texas cave history.
"I don't consider myself a writer," Pittman says, even though he has authored three other books and has six more in the works. "I'm a storyteller. I'm a photographer who couldn't find a writer to say what I wanted to say. I'm a photographer forced into it." The book includes a section on taking photographs in the inky underground darkness. Pittman's next book will be a travel guide on Texas caves.
Texas Caves is much too pretty of a book to use in the traditional travel guide sense, but it will inspire an appreciation for the amazing beauty of the underground formations. "I write like I'm giving a tour," the former tour guide says. "I want to simulate and get [the visitors] excited about caves."
continued in next column...