Off the beaten path is a little known dive site in Texas. It is just four hours from Houston, in the Texas Hill Country. This site, the former home to the Dixon/Southwestern Mining Company is an open seam graphite mine. Once the site of large draglines and steam shovels, it is now a water filled oasis in the heart of the Llano geological uplift. This crack in the earth is filled with rising ground water, a natural spring and rain water and provides a natural habitat for a small number of fish and turtles. You will find most of the fish in the shallows among the hydrilla plants that occupy the first ten to fifteen feet of water. Below that, there are relatively shear walls or granite, marble, limestone, sandstone infused with graphite. It is this graphite which makes the deeper depths. Interesting. The bottom is covered with black sand and sparkling graphite. But, this dark bottom and the orientation of the body of water make the deep parts of the seam as dark as a cave dive – little to no natural light can be seen at the bottom. And the bottom is relatively deep with depths ranging from seventy to one-hundred feet.
Aside from the opportunity to try out your new diving lights, the quarry provides you the opportunity to use your hoods, gloves, heavy wetsuits or a dry suit. The water temperature in the quarry was a brisk 71 degrees at the surface to a much colder 56 degrees at the bottom. But, with all of these variances, there comes a treat in Texas – visibility! While the first twenty feet had a slight green algae induced hue, the visibility was a respectable fifteen to twenty feet but drop into the cold, dark part of the quarry and the visibility grows to 40 to 50 feet. Of course, at this part of the quarry, your light is the limiting factor.
This quarry sits in the middle of a outdoor enthusiasts dream location, the Reveille Peak Ranch. Designed by owner Vol Montgomery, as a place where you can enjoy activities away from the hustle and bustle of the city but not give up all of the conveniences. The central feature is a large pavilion with ponds, pools, a commercial kitchen and a bar, perfect for any company sponsored function. It overlooks a manmade lake stocked with bass and pearch so the fishing is active and the fish are large. The fact that the Ranch operates a hook and release program and also feeds the fish makes them larger than you might find in a natural lake – of course this is Texas and we only have one natural lake so who cares. This is a mecca for mountain bikers with miles of trails with different skill level challenges. There are walking and hiking trails with a new nature center under construction. Kayakers and paddle boarders will also enjoy the small lake which has trees sticking up from the depths to add to the paddling practice.
The Ranch also has camp sites scattered around the pavilion area that provide for tent camping or RV camping with electrical hook-ups for both 30 amp and 15 amp hook-ups. There are warm and cold water showers for both and toilet facilities near the Pavilion so you don’t have to go too native. The staff at the Ranch are on hand to help you find your way or to make suggestions. Andrea is the diving coordinator for the Ranch with John, a former mountain biking circuit rider, is on hand to help coordinate things. Vol is also on the property to make sure things run smoothly.
The Ranch staff can also host other activities for groups including skeet shooting, children’s activities and obstacle course events.
While there are some motels and guest cabins nearby, our group of explorers, which dwindled from twelve to six, all stayed and camped at the Ranch. Ann loves camping so this was just up her alley. Of course I am not really a tent camper anymore so my solution was to rent a small teardrop camper from a local dealer here in Houston. It turned out to be the perfect match for the weekend with a comfortable bed and a nice place to prepare food. Remember our motto here at Oceanic Ventures – local diving is a Barbeque interrupted by diving and as David likes to say, it is all about the food. Wade brought steaks, potatoes and fresh cord for Saturday’s post dive dinner and I brought two nice bottles of wine to go with it. I also had a surprise – homemade ice cream, made on site. Of course it was not the most appropriate dessert because the temperatures dropped to a brisk 48 degrees. But in my mind, ice cream is perfect any time. We built a nice fire and shared dive stories and adult beverages until one-by-one we began to fade and drift off to sleep.
The scenery of the Ranch make this a perfect escape for divers and non-divers alike. The diving, while cold, was interesting and fun. The geology underwater is interesting with the graphite seams in the formations sparkling in the light. Navigation is easy since the quarry runs north to south and there are no known caves or major overhangs. Surface intervals are relaxing with a deck near the campsite or on the floating dock. There are also hiking trails around the quarry if you feel you need more exercise.
One note for divers – the quarry is not open to the public. To dive here you must go with a dive store, like your friends at Oceanic Ventures.
How did we enjoy the weekend? Well, Oceanic Ventures has decided to throw Dive Mom and birthday bash up at Reveille Peak Ranch on 26-28 April 2013 (i.e. this coming April). Everyone is invited to the party and if you are interested in renting a teardrop trailer contact Charlie at hitchandgoadventures.com ahead of time and let him know you what one just like ours (we have already put in a reservation). But don’t worry; Steve Soulen will be coordinating the tent campers and the ever present campfire!
So, mark your calendars for April 26-28 and plan on joining us for a VERY fun weekend!