travelog 2

Cave People, Number 2 - Spider Cave

On time, we stand equipped with knee-pads and gloves. We receive a helmet with flashlight from a ranger and then start hiking down a small canyon where the entrance hole is situated. In front of that hole the ranger stops and talks to the whole group. He tells us that it is not necessary to wear thick clothes inside the cave because this cave is a "warm cave". Therefore, both of us leave the jackets and the pullovers in a small rucksack and begin our tour only wearing a light t-shirt (that works out to be a mistake). Through a hole in the canyon bottom (we feel like being subterranean canal workers...) and on a 10-foot ladder we climb down into the dark. We follow the first tunnel, which can only be passed by crawling. Unfortunately we have no elbow-pads; they would have been very useful for this creeping. The floor is covered with stones, around 1 inch in diameter, with sharp points and edges. Because it is impossible to crawl on all fours, the tunnel is not high enough, we have to crawl on our forearms and bare elbows. What a nice experience!

We barely pass the first hole and at the second we encounter some serious problems. Martin shovels some of the stones apart, but while passing the tight narrow hole it fills up again because he pushes with arms, hands and feet to slide through. We have to do it with our heads twisted sideways, otherwise there is no chance to pass the hole with helmet (and head!).

Afterwards we joke about the matter, that he fortunately had lost some weight, otherwise he would have got stuck... After that tight tube he is drenched in sweat but really happy as the ranger informs the group that this was the tightest spot of the whole tour - but nobody thinks at this time about the moment of return...

What's coming up is all absolutely bearable. You have to climb here and there, to slide sometimes or to crawl on all fours, you have to swing your body over deep, dark holes (one is called "Grand Canyon"!) and balance over fins and rocks. After a few yards you just stop thinking about the mud and preventing your clothes from getting dirty - they all need to see the laundry afterwards. On the other hand, the surroundings get more and more interesting. There are little white crystals hanging from the ceiling. A little bit deeper in the cave these objects are increasing in size, grow together on the floor, reflect themselves in crystal-clear water pools and are exceptionally fine structures. Without a guide we would get lost. There are innumerable holes, pipes, tunnels and passages. Some of the group want to try it and get permission to lead. It is a totally new experience to be the first of the group. Your voice echoes out of the holes and crevices, everything you see is illuminated by only one flashlight - from your own! And you have the choice of all these different paths.

At the most beautiful place of the cave called "Cactus Springs", we sit down on the wet floor for a quarter of an hour. The rangers tell us some nice stories about the discovery of the cave and some of the funnier ones. So we get informed about the name "Spider Cave". During the 1930s the discoverer of the cave wanted to enter with his friend for the first time and explore it. It was late summer. He sent his friend ahead. The fellow must have been a little bit shocked, because when he entered his head into the tight opening of the cave, he saw hundereds of big awful looking spiders, drew his head back and invited the discoverer to enter the cave first. Thank heaven (we think for us) it's winter time and there are no spiders at all, but we also plan never joining a cave tour in summer time. Although the spiders are not venomous at all, it might certainly be a special "treat" to crawl through a tight tunnel full of spiders! Another story deals with the discoverer and a group of guests he led - he didn't find the exit and had to wait around 36 hours until his friend came to rescue the group. The ranger uses that story to demonstrate how dark it is in such a cave. All lights have to be turned off and you sit in the absolute darkness, breathing silently.

Stand up and you hit your head somewhere on the rocks. After that - that's typical for America - you have to write your name down into a cave-register, which stays in the cave and will be archived one day (for future use, they tell us...) from the National Park Service. But who will be intested some day, if we two have visited the cave?!?

We admire the formations in this part of the cave, an obviously very rare cave type - a gypsum cave. Totally white formations, partly in bizarre forms growing out of the floor or hanging from the ceiling - funny figures, looking like white plants growing out of the soil, but constructed out of gypsum particles dissolved in water, dripping endlessly onto the same spot...

Our ranger knows the way and we return safely back to the narrow entrance - there might have been a ranger who didn't find the way back, telling his group-members that it would be a special "sightseeing- tour". Finally we had to crawl once again through the tight tunnel, then there is the ladder and - thank goodness - the daylight! The first thing I do is to drink some water - the first for Martin is to curse about the crawling. For him it was a real challenge to pass the tightest spot of the tunnel. The sharp edges of the stones had bored into his chest and left some bad, really blue bruises. The undershirt has red bloody gashes and the elbows were open wounds. Happy landing!

After 10 days his blue bruises are yellow and green and we will wait half a year until our next tour of similar character. No, probably we wait another year!

February 1998

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen