The most disturbing myths and legends seems to come from small towns. The city legends are, of course, better known. The haunting of the Driskill or Menger hotels, the ghost children of the San Antonio railroad crossing, or the ghost soldiers of the Alamo. All are famous in Texas.
The legend I’m about to share is not much known outside of the small town where it has its origins.
In Brooks County, four miles southeast of the little town of Falfurrias is a lake named simply Lago Salado, or Salt Lake. It is two miles long by a mile wide. It is in the monte, as they say, the wilderness. No one lives close to it. No one much goes there because it is on private land.
In the 1960s a few adventurous boys would climb through the fences. (Isn’t that the way such things always begin – boys ignoring the fences). They went there often to swim in the salty, gray waters and fish a little. To the north side were white cliffs no more than 30 feet high, looking like miniature versions of the white cliffs of Dover. At noon in the bright summer sun, with locusts singing vehemently in the brushlands all around, it seemed like an otherworldly place.
An old, weathered man who lived in a ramshackle hut along the dirt road to the lake, a man they all thought crazy, warned them, every time they passed: “That lake breathes. It’s part of the ocean, connected underground. You can watch it take in water with the tide and exhale it when the tide goes out. Ten cuidado, chicos. Be careful, boys.
One day three of the boys rode their bikes out to the lake. They were swimming and diving to see how deep it was. They wore goggles. They would hit a sandy bottom at 15 feet consistently until one boy discovered a hole in the bottom where the sand gave way to dark stone. It was ten feet wide. All excited, they explored the entrance, but could not hold their breath long enough to go very far inside. All they knew was the water was cooler there. Who knew what riches might be hidden in that tunnel?
One of them had an older brother who had scuba gear and some lake diving experience. They got him to come out and explore the tunnel. They didn’t tell anyone in case there was treasure to be had. He went down about forty feet into the hole, as far as his courage would take him. Though it was noon with the sun high overhead, it got dark in the limestone tunnel quickly. He felt a gentle current pulling him down and went back to the safety of sunlight as fast he could.
So then the brother got two expert divers he knew from upstate – San Antonio, they say – who came down to take a look. They were down for three hours and reported that the tunnel sloped off to the east. At a level of 75 feet it entered a cave system that had large chambers the size of houses. There were catfish the size of people down there. They passed through three chambers and returned for more air. Next day the two divers went down with extra tanks and more lights, but they never returned.
The authorities were notified and local law enforcement did what they could, but mostly that was just to declare them missing and presumed dead. No one could survive down there all that time.
They did eventually find them. They found the two divers four months later floating in full scuba gear in Baffin Bay, twenty miles away. The boys felt horrible – responsible in some way. The old man was right, they concluded. They were pulled through underground passages and finally sucked out into the bay through a vent in the ocean floor.
Of course experts say it never happened. It’s geologically impossible, they say. Just a myth – many claim.