Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Peppersauce Cave

      Last weekend Jeff and I went to Peppersauce Cave near Tucson, just on the other side of Mt. Lemmon. It's a wet cave open to the public (no gate over the entrance), which gets lots of traffic from local weekend warriors. We drove north to Oracle then headed east on the dirt road that heads up the backside of Mt. Lemmon. A few miles up we passed Peppersauce Campground, and continuing on we crossed a bridge and parked just past it. We walked up the wash a few feet to the cave entrance, a small opening in the rocks. Just in we had to get down and crawl through a tight spot. In the next room we discovered Jeff's battery life was insufficient so he headed back out to get spares. I sat down on a rock and turned off my light and sat in the dark, quietly waiting. After 10 minutes of my eyes adjusting I still could see no daylight coming through the crawl space.  It was dark.  Jeff returned and we went on deeper into the cave passing a few others exploring the depths. We passed a lake with crystal clear water, but were warned by a sign at the entrance that there are mean little bacterias swimming around in the seemingly beautiful water. We were in a large room with a slanted floor trying to carefully get to the other side without falling on the slippery, very muddy floor. We read prior to coming to bring clothes you could throw away and it turned out to be true. We came to a room full of candles left by previous explorers and were told that the "rabbits hole" was in this room and was the key to the rest of the cave. Others we had seen in the cave had given us conflicting conditions of the hole.  One person said that the hole had collapsed and you couldn't get through anymore, and another told us it was flooded out. Both were false. We found the hole by climbing down a large boulder and underneath another, then down a tunnel to a hole with cool air rushing out. We climbed through head first into wrist deep mud.

I pulled my hips through and stood up to see a pool of water up ahead. We waded through it up to our ankles and headed onward through the passage getting muddier and dirtier. At the top of a narrow slick tunnel headed uphill we came to 3 different passages. Throughout the cave the walls are marked with spray painted arrows telling you the direction to head and the way out. Sometimes the amount of arrows makes it hard to know what to do so we picked the door on the right. After about 20 minutes of exploring we discovered we had come back to the same spot through another one of the 3 ways. We took note of the possible dangers of getting lost and were grateful for the arrows despite their excessive abundance. We back tracked a bit and saw an opening we had missed because it was above our heads. We climbed up and continued on weaving in and under and through, but paying close attention to our surroundings.

The cave is full of trash left behind by irresponsible people and the good people who clean it out every so
often can't keep up with the traffic coming in and out. The ribbon and string laying around, however, helped me keep track of were I'd been. After a bit more we decided that was enough for the day and we would leave more for later. The cave is over a mile long and we probably only covered a third, but that's just a guess. Back in the daylight we saw the extent of our filth and were glad to find extra clothes buried in the
truck. We continued on and over the mountain back to our borrowed home in Tucson.