All About Caves!

Hi everyone, as promised in the last post, this one is all about how in a short month and a half we’ve found a new hobby, or if we’re being honest, a new obsession. This might be a lot to ask, but do you remember back in our Carlsbad Caverns National Park post I told you to remember the name Ranger Dave? He’s the park ranger who walked with us for a little while on our first visit to answer a lot of questions and give us a quick mini-tour along part of the entrance trail. 

Following that first visit, we went back to the park twice more within about a week and ran into Dave each time. During the first few conversations, he encouraged us to join the National Speleological Society (NSS) and then reach out to our local grotto to get involved. Most caves are somewhat restricted and the locations kept under wraps, so getting in with the local caving community is the best bet for getting into them, and getting involved with local grottos (as a non-local) is sometimes a little easier as an NSS member. So, after our second visit to Carlsbad and chat with Dave, Matt joined the NSS and then reached out to the local grotto to introduce himself and ask about local cave access.

It turns out there are two grottos in the Pecos Valley area with similar names and Matt had unknowingly emailed the wrong one. The original recipient of his email was kind enough to pass it along to someone at the other grotto though, who happened to be none other than Ranger Dave. So that’s the story of why, when we ran into Dave on our third trip into Carlsbad Caverns, he invited us to tag along to visit a cave just north of the city. 

This particular cave was an interesting one, in that it was formed in a potash tailings pile that was created as a result of potash mining for fertilizer production. So while the cave itself is inside a human-created pile, it was formed by natural forces (mostly water) the same way other caves are, and it has the same formations you might find in any other cave, just made out of salt instead of rock. We had heard that this cave is sometimes referred to as the “Mars cave,” and it was immediately obvious why.

Standing above one of the cave entrances

Another cool thing about caves like this is that they form much faster than normal, all-natural caves. What might take hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of years to form out of let’s say limestone, might take ten years to form out of salt. If you were to visit often enough it would be as if you were watching a time lapse of a regular cave forming.

Heading into the cave
Salt formations

As cool as this cave was, that wasn’t even the best part of the day. When we wrapped up there we headed back to Dave’s house where he set everything up for Colin (another Carlsbad ranger who also went to the cave) to train Matt and I on single rope technique (SRT), the stuff we need to know to get into vertical caves.

This SRT training was what enabled us to get into the cave we briefly showed you in the last post. For safety reasons you always want to have at least three people when you go into any given cave, and for this one Colin was our third. He got the permit for a few days after my birthday (unknowingly) which worked out well for my plan to do something new.

I know we showed you several pictures already, but the cave was incredible and I took so many that I have to put more in this post! This cave, our first (and so far only) “wild” vertical cave, is in Slaughter Canyon, an unfortunately named part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Since then we’ve been able to get into two more caves, both horizontal and both also in Slaughter Canyon. The first of these other two was the less exciting of the two. It has a massive entrance that’s visible from one of the hiking trails, so even though you are supposed to have a permit to go in, it’s accessible without one and did have quite a bit of vandalism. This one was also incredibly dusty (probably mostly guano, but we don’t think about that when we’re in there…), so if you notice some of the pictures are a little fuzzy, that’s why.

Outside looking in
It didn’t take long to find the cool stuff

Even though this cave was much less decorated than others we’ve been in, it was kind of nice in that it allowed us to get a little closer to some of what was in there. It wasn’t quite as narrow of an area to walk in, and there wasn’t the same concern of having to watch your head so as not to hit stalactites or anything else.

Getting a closer look
Looking up

The third and final cave we explored is one of my favorite ones so far. This is the one I was looking forward to the most and it definitely did not disappoint. There was a bit of a hike to get to this one which is always a nice bonus. We ended up doing a little bushwhacking to get from the previous cave to the trail leading to this cave, but even the questionable route and the scratches we got along the way couldn’t dampen our excitement over this cave with a lake. Yup, tucked away in an otherwise perfectly ordinary mountain is this beautiful cave with a little body of water in the back.

The highlight of the day

Aside from simply committing to the screen time to sit at my laptop and write these posts, the most difficult part might be deciding which pictures make it in and which ones don’t. The fact that none of them do these caves justice doesn’t make it any easier.

Since we’ve been on the road I’ve taken a lot of videos. While I’m not making any promises, I will tell you that we’ve talked about getting some of those uploaded somewhere we can easily share them, maybe throw together some compilations of the highlights. I’m not entirely sure yet what route we’ll go, but lately I’ve been wishing we could show you all more than we can capture in a few photos.

I’m going to wrap this up with one more picture. Matt’s a bit blurry but this is a good one to show you the scale of the last cave.

2 thoughts on “All About Caves!

  1. I’m so glad that you are getting to experience a profound sense of awe together. Life is incomplete without that sense. What you are enjoying now will affect you forever! And you’re right; it doesn’t fit in the box, no matter how good a camera you have, or how good a photographer you are. There is no substitute for being there. And the journey there is half of the appreciation anyway! So happy for you guys!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is truly incredible. I’ve started having kind of a hard time not having a better way to share all of this. I know a blog is better than nothing, but it doesn’t feel like enough. These experiences are beautiful and I wish I could just pick you all up and drop you here to share a few of them in person.


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