Why Jacob’s Well Is One Of The Most Alluring Diving Spots — And The Most Dangerous

Published June 30, 2018
Updated October 8, 2018
Published June 30, 2018
Updated October 8, 2018

See why divers can't resist Texas' Jacob's Well, despite the fatalities and near-death experiences.

Jacob's Well Natural Area

Wikimedia CommonsA swimmer stands near the spring at Jacob’s Well Natural Area.

In Central Texas, just outside the town of Wimberley, sits the spring at Jacob’s Well Natural Area. And while this spring may look like a giant puddle at a glance, it’s actually the mouth of an underwater cave system that can take daring divers more than 130 feet below the surface of the Earth.

And some don’t make it out alive.

Jacob’s Well Natural Area

Jacob’s Well is what’s known as a karstic spring: one that’s found at the end of a cave system, making them prime openings to enter these underwater caves. And these caves can make karstic springs like the one at Jacob’s Well Natural Area rather appealing, albeit dangerous, places to explore.

Indeed, the mouth of the spring is a pool that’s popular with swimmers, but the real attraction is the underwater cave system below the surface.

Descending into Jacob’s Well spring.

The cave begins as a straight drop 30 feet deep — but that’s only the beginning. Jacob’s Well then turns at an angle and continues downward for about another 100 feet.

After that, there are two main tunnels that break away from this central passage, with one branching about 4,500 feet away in one direction and the other diverging 1,500 feet away in the other direction. As the tunnels snake off in either direction, the average depth of Jacob’s Well stays around 120 feet, but reaches all the way down to 137 feet at its deepest point.

The depth and extensive tunnels, combined with ideal water temperatures and visibility have made Jacob’s Well a popular attraction for curious freedivers who want to explore the caves below.

The Dangers Of Jacob’s Well

With water continually flowing into Jacob’s Well from the surrounding Trinity Aquifer at a consistent temperature of about 68 degrees all year long, it’s an appealing place for locals and tourists alike to come beat the Texas heat. But those seeking cool comfort should be forewarned: They swim at their own risk.

The caves below are tricky to maneuver, with lots of twists and sharp angles that make them difficult and often dangerous to navigate. Furthermore, the cave openings are narrow, making it easy for divers and/or their equipment to get stuck in the watery depths.

That’s precisely what happened to 21-year old diver Diego Adame of Texas, a thrill seeker who almost lost his life when he was freediving in the caves in 2015 — and caught the whole thing on camera:

While diving in the cave without any supplemental oxygen, Adame lost one of his flippers when it slipped off his foot at about 100 feet below the surface. Losing a flipper can make it very difficult to swim back up to the surface, and some divers in that very situation have blacked out while trying.

But then, to make matters worse, Adame push off one of the cave’s walls with his hand, causing his flashlight to become dislodged from his wrist in the process. So now he was alone without a flipper in the dark.

“For a split second I thought of death and myself dying that day,” he remembered.

Luckily, however, he didn’t panic and was able to keep his breaths controlled (thus not depleting precious oxygen), cut off his supply belt to eliminate extra weight, and use his copious swimming experience to make it to the top.

Despite this near-death experience, his enthusiasm for risky dives remained. “I don’t have plans on quitting freediving anytime soon,” he said just afterward, “and I’ll be back at Jacob’s Well later this summer.”

Underwater Cave at Jacob's Well


However, other divers have not been as lucky as Adame. There are reports of at least a dozen fatalities that have occurred at Jacob’s Well, earning it a reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous diving spots.

And because of the depth of the well, some remains have not been recovered for years. For example, the body of Kent Maupin, a diver who went down into the caves in 1979, was not discovered until 20 years later, when divers happened to find his remains during a mapping expedition.

But despite the well-known dangers, Jacob’s Well Natural Area remains a popular tourist and diving spot and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

After this look at Jacob’s Well Natural Area, check out the most dangerous places on planet Earth. Then, take a photographic tour through the days when horses used to dive into the water from great heights for humans’ entertainment.

Aimee Lamoureux
Aimee Lamoureux is a writer based in New York City.