2011 Last chance to get out of the house?

Late October in Utah, and the weather starts to heavily impact my inspiration to be out and about. The forecast for the weekend looked absolutely beautiful, and there was no way I could stay inside all weekend long, no matter how many projects were waiting.

I checked with a few of my regular troublemakers, and was absolutely striking out. Lee came to my rescue by being available on Saturday, and willing to just randomly wander around Logan Canyon for a while. I had a potential lead that snow had been keeping me from checking off completely in the past, so a destination was set. I shuffled my weekend projects and goals around a little, and a loosely concocted plan jumbled its way into existence.

Saturday morning was a slow start, even by my own low standards. I had been out to a show the night before with friends, and had warned Lee it would be best to make sure I was out of bed before he started driving to meet me. My eyes had been open at least two full minutes before I received a text message asking if I was up. I dragged myself into the shower, knowing I had an hour to work with.  After showering I very slowly strung together some basic hiking gear. For a trip intending to walk around and maybe take pictures, this should take 5 minutes or less. After 15-20 minutes, I decided I may not be as awake and energetic as I would like to be. Luckily Lee had his own delays getting to the house, and since we didn’t have much of an itinerary, I puttered along until I had everything loaded up and ready.

On the drive from Salt Lake up to Logan, the wonders of modern technology might have intervened to save my life. Lee had a desire to try a breakfast sandwich from a fast food chain that was being advertised. His GPS not only gave us a location along our route, but also a phone number to confirm they were still serving said sandwiches at 10:30. (Like I said, slow start.) At the time I didn’t realize those sandwiches were the most real food I was going to eat for the next eight or nine hours. We anticipated actually walking for maybe 4 hours–eventually I will learn this is never going to be true.

By noon we had stopped and borrowed some forgotten orange items from relatives, covered the drive, and located our parking spot on the side of the road. (The opening day of the deer hunt seemed like a reasonable time to at least consider safety.) Lee wasn’t impressed by the overly steep start to get up along a ridge. I reassured him Steph had done this part of the journey before, and we weren’t in a big hurry. We slowly meandered up the hill, enjoying the perfect temperatures and beautiful fall day. There were still some pockets of spectacular colorful leaves on the trees, and we contemplated some of the various types of bedrock as we sat on outcrops for photo/breathing  opportunities.

Fall colors high in Logan Canyon

About the time we reached the high point of our planned trip, we made the mistake of looking at the cliffs above us. There were wet spots on the rock, and it seemed that someone should investigate this new development. Two summers of pattern searching have instilled a bad habit in me of making sure to check things while I’m close, so I don’t have to return if it isn’t warranted. Mostly this is a bad habit because sometimes I really don’t want to climb another couple hundred feet up the hill. But of course we went ahead and climbed up to investigate.

Along the way we discovered a small spring and several seeps being forced out of the hill by a non-porous bedrock layer. There were several small solution features, but nothing big enough to consider calling it a cave. We continued to check along the cliff band until an obvious stopping spot. Along the way we spotted some very obvious holes in the cliff areas we were headed to originally. Not only were the holes exciting and inspiring, more importantly they were all downhill from our current location!

Downhill turned out to be almost as exciting as working along the cliff band. It was steep terrain covered by leaves, and occasionally damp and muddy from seeps. We were both glad for gloves and hats partially protecting us as we zigged and zagged down the hillside. Along the way we stumbled across several more solution features, and found the dark spot I had seen a year or two prior that had started this whole event. It turned out to be a large fracture system with piled boulders that created a perfect shadowed entrance to a five foot long overhang. It was dissapointing it didn’t do more, but nice to finally take it off the list of back burner items to visit someday.

Original hope, up close

Further down a gully between the cliffs was another feature I had seen in April that I wanted to check out. It had looked like a small cave entrance with dirt and vegetation that could be dug out of the way. I headed to the left side wall to hit my lead, and Lee kept working the right side. I found my feature and was momentarily ecstatic. There were deposits of spar over an inch thick visible. Further investigation proved my “dirt” was actually solid bedrock. And the spar deposits seemed to originate from a hole smaller than my fist. Wonderful feature, but definitely not a cave I would be getting into.

Spar in a feature

About this time Lee was yelling something to me about whether I wanted to check out any of the holes near him.  I hadn’t looked back his way for a few minutes while I was checking on my hole. I asked him where they were, since there wasn’t anything obvious from my spot sitting by the spar. I stood up and took a couple steps back his way to get a different view through the trees, and it became apparent which holes he was asking about.

Black and "cavey" looking

Glorious black round hole! My crashing adrenaline rush from the spar moments before went through the roof. Four to six feet wide for certain. Absolutely looks like it is going directly into the bedrock. And I need to get some of the crazy people rounded up before I come back to try and visit it. I suppose I will consider having a lead that intersting looking a good problem to have.

At this point we had to decide our exit strategy for the day. As fun as it would be to keep checking the cliffs, we were going to run out of daylight soon. Back up over the ridge would require some time to get up the hill with reasonable rest breaks. Downhill to the river would take far fewer rest breaks. But down to the river could be an issue if we were trapped between the water and the cliffs. We knew we could wade the river this time of year, but the two of us have a long history of going out of our way to keep our feet dry. It would be a shame to have to wander down the road back to the vehicle in dripping jeans!

We decided to chance going downhill, and work along by the river. As we stumbled through the scree piles below the cliff, Lee was even dissapointed we were missing sections of the cliff that could be checked with more time. He’s not even the one who necessarily cares about finding caves, he was just along for the excuse to get out for the day! He had observed during the day that looking for something greatly reduces the number of miles you have to cover to fill a day, and there was some satisfaction in knowing you had seen everything there was to see in an area before moving along. We occasionally looked back over our shoulder as we worked our way along the river, and found we definitely had another excuse to putter around some when we came back for the high lead. The twilight made it tough to tell if the hole went back very far, but it certainly looks promising for now.

The hole can’t be seen very well from the road, but I think the ledge system below it is visible. So hopefully I can check it with binoculars and see if it can be traversed. If necessary to get there from above, the rappel would be even more exciting than the round high lead we found earlier. Maybe more exciting than I want to deal with myself.

We lucked out, and could get back over some low cliffs without getting our feet wet in the river. We had just enough daylight left to drive up the canyon and try to spot everywhere we had been during the day, and then enjoy the fall leaves on the way down the canyon. I was mulling over what we could call our discovery if it panned out into a nameable cave. “Get out of the house” cave seemed too long to be functional. Lee asked if “OutHouse Cave” was an available name. I haven’t heard of another one offhand, so that may end up sticking. We’ll have to prove it is a cave worthy of such an elaborate namesake first of course… :-)

2011 Opening up plugs in a cave

We have some serious interest in trips to one of the largest caves in the state later this year. So I decided it would be good to make sure we can get through the log jam at the entrance, and other known obstacles. Lee and Jeremiah agreed to accompany me on a recon trip. We got off to a slow start, which wasn’t helped by endless roadwork on the way.  We found ourselves a camping spot in the twilight. Conveniently the nearly full moon didn’t come up over the ridge until after we had everything set up. We enjoyed a quick meal, and watched for meteors from the Perseid shower. After a couple big  fireballs we called it a night and tried to ignore the full moon. Woke up in a prettier than average campsite for somewhere we found in the dark.

We discovered that the road to drive closer to the cave had been closed and gate locked, probably for roadwork. So we had the opportunity to add a couple miles of hiking onto our trip as well.  That was irritating to discover, but better to discover on a recon trip than a full on expedition level trip.

We found the cave in short order, and introduced Lee into some of the highlights of the entrance area.

The real goal of this recon trip was to ensure we could get through the logjam high up in the cave, and to the passages that lead deeper into the cave. We found that someone had been working on the logjam with a saw, and keeping in mind that everything is relative, we made our way through fairly easily.

We played around in the cave for a while. We discovered that one of the main passages was blocked, and had to find ourselves a bypass. Luckily we were able to find an alternate route to continue on, that didn’t even require us to crawl down the 3′ high passage with 6 inches of water. Unfortunately it required more crawling than I had originally planned for. And in the process we ran into a couple locals that had come today to clear out a lower blocked passage for their own later trips. We helped move a few logs around, and zipped to the end of the “easy” part of the cave to make sure we could get that far on a later trip.

A good time was had by all, and we can now come back later in the fall. Preferably after we figure out the road access better, because a longer day in the cave is not going to be compatible with having to hike a couple miles out afterward…especially if my boots are wet. :-)


2011 Jewel Cave, South Dakota

This was part of a larger driving vacation well outside of Utah, but the second longest known cave in the world is not to be passed up when it is conveniently along your route. Over 150 miles of documented passage have been mapped in Jewel Cave as of the time of this post. The fine folks mapping out the cave are still adding miles per year, and are primarily limited now simply because of the lack of easy access points to the far reaches of the cave. Mapping and exploration trips now often require several days of camping in the cave, simply because it takes most of a day to get out to the known edges to explore. (A great caving description of Jewel Cave from a few years ago by someone who is now a Utah based caver.)

Another fun fact is that this cave has been outfitted with the tallest elevator in South Dakota at 234 feet, which beats my normal access route into caves.  The ½ mile loop that we toured is hard to even find in the sprawling maps you look at on the wall in the visitor center. There is only one known natural entrance, and now an elevator entrance about a mile away. It is incredible to think that something this large has only been proven to connect to the surface in one place.

Having experienced the convenience, I now believe most caves should be outfitted with elevators, and aluminum walkways before I visit. It would greatly stimulate the economy with job creation, and make travel through the caves much easier and safer. I am fairly certain if more Utah caves had elevators and walkways, our local caves would become considerably larger as well.

Overall the tour was great. We had signed up for the “scenic tour” and lucked out by being before the main tourist season. Even on a Saturday only really had about 15 people in the whole tour group.  So we had a little time to look around and ask questions between major stopping points.  I resisted the urge to go look around corners, knowing that I could spend days wandering around and never see it all.

The items I found fascinating as a caver used to wild caves:

  1. The elevator — After spending many hours of my life climbing thousands of feet to get to cave entrances, I have long argued caves should come with a parking lot and elevator. The fact that they had decided to install these 30-40 years ago is incredible. Most of us that ridgewalk can only dream of finding a cave worthy of tours, let alone elevators.
  2. Aluminum walkways — The sheer amount of aluminum used to make the walkways, stairs, and railings along the tour route was breathtaking in places. When you start out in the target room, you are standing on a massive platform that will easily hold entire tour groups. Comparable to a good sized set of aluminum bleachers in area. As you look over the railings while listening to the initial spiel, you realize there are small stairways and pathways down in the darkness below you. And you proceed to take a tour along aluminum walkways and stairs that even left my wife commenting on how much time and effort it would have taken to build. Then you factor in the concrete…
  3. Formations — The walls are absolutely coated in spar. As you are walking, you eventually notice that the small broken chunks of rock they lined the concrete path with are actually chunks of spar encrusted bedrock. There isn’t anywhere I remember on the tour that you aren’t able to stop and look around and see some sort of formation.  Beautiful soda straws, stalactites and stalagmites are the other things you will see. Some boxwork can be seen on the tour, as well as some small rimstone dams, and even flowstone draperies.

Overall the cave is well worth visiting if you are in the area. Anyone with even a remote interest in caves would enjoy themselves. It is a spacious tour, with only a handful of places you need to duck and watch your head. Most of the time you are on pathways in large rooms and passageways. I hope to come back and spend some time on wild tours or other projects in the future. At the very least plan to bring your own little light with you and you will see many more of the hidden corners and details. And recognize how big the rooms are, most cameras don’t have enough of a flash to light up a room.

2011 Easter Hike

Easter was being hosted near Logan this year. I have a dozen cave related things up there I have been meaning to do for quite a while now, and it seemed like I should check something off the list finally. Most of the items I have in wait are not compatible with anytime earlier than about July, but I thought of one that might work.

A couple years ago on my way home from another trip, I had stopped and wandered off the road a ways looking at cliffs and canyons for future trips. In the deep shade of some trees there was a darker patch than even the regular shadows. With a 10x zoom it was still just a darker spot. But the nearby cliffs had “cavey” looking signs on them. So I made a mental note that it should be checked out on a later day. Easter was now looking like my potential day!

The approach to my target was up a south facing slope and along a ridgeline for a ways to bypass the worst of the cliffs. It is still early enough in the season that there is plenty of snow on the north slopes, but the southern exposures seemed likely to be clear. I convinced Steph that she was interested in getting out in the sun for a few hours, and we headed out on the condition that we be back for dinner with everyone on time.

Once up the canyon I explained our goal to Steph in highly technical terms, from the best vantage point we could find along the roads. “We’re going to start walking from wherever we can park along the road back down there, and end up somewhere over there, by the cliffs and trees.”  Steph chose to roll with the vague description and wild pointing in the interest of simplicity. For those who haven’t been in Logan Canyon, I could have randomly spun in a circle and pointed, and hit something that could be described as “cliffs and trees” almost anywhere the length of the canyon.

We started out from the car with a lung numbing ascent up a steep hillside. For some reason most of my trips start out this way. I would take advantage of frequent “photo breaks” to try and pick out interesting items in the cliffs across the canyon with my camera fully zoomed. After we had successfully survived the trip and were driving home later, Steph pointed out that starting hikes like that has made her realize how close the words hill and hell really are to each other. Luckily I was able to bait her along by pointing out that once we hit the ridgeline it was relatively level the rest of the way. She doesn’t really believe comments like that anymore, but she humors me by continuing to grind up the hill anyway.

We did eventually reach the ridgeline, after a few more Gatorade stops. And were even rewarded with some spectacular views off the cliffs as we worked our way around. Unfortunately, there was considerable snow still drifted on the northern slopes around us. My potential lead was down in a steep ravine on a north slope, so I was fairly certain we weren’t going to get in it. But with all the hard work of the climb behind us, it seemed worthwhile to walk over and at least see if we could check off whether we would ever need to return up that hill again.

We started working our way along the “level” ridgeline toward the ravine in question. I use the term level loosely. Overall we were going to end up at the same elevation, but there were several short climbs and descents as we tried to pick our way around occasional snow fields. Eventually we hit a snowfield that was conveniently on a flat section, but 100′ across with no bypass. It looked mostly melted and shallow, and wouldn’t be a showstopper. But we knew it wouldn’t take much more than that to end our journey. We headed across the snow, and found it was crusty under the top half inch of slush. Unfortunately just crusty enough that you would walk a few steps, get confident, and the next step plunge through ankle or calf deep. Luckily it was a short patch, and we could see the clear ground ahead of us again.

On our clear patch it was smooth sailing until we were within a few hundred feet of the edge of our target ravine. Suddenly we were confronted with a new snow patch caused by drifting in a depression area and some trees. This was no longer ankle deep, it was knee deep and occasionally more. Steph surprised me by being the one to point out our socks were already cold and wet from the last stretch, and we were so close it wouldn’t make sense to back out now. (I had already spent considerable time muttering to myself about the extra 30 seconds it would have taken to grab the gators from the house and carry them along, as I should this early in the season.) Since Steph was game, we postholed our way across to where we could see down into the ravine. This was deeper snow, and Steph found herself knee deep and beyond a few times. Its hard to convince your wife that you care deeply about her cold pants and wet feet when you can’t wipe the grin off your face as she staggers in front of you.  Video evidence of snow on the hike was her suggestion, and she even edited it into a short clip for your viewing pleasure. It was a great view back down toward the canyon across the cliffs, and we took a break along with some pictures.

The moment of truth had arrived! We wandered around a bit on the short cliff above the ravine, and determined there was no way we could get into it. Drifts as much as 6-10 feet high on the edges, and not enough manuvering room to see the exact spot I wanted. So no definite confirm or deny on the trip. However, from our different vantage point on the edge of the ravine, we could see the far side of the ravine that was hidden from further away. There was one very obvious suspect hole at the base of cliff. Only 5 or 6 feet high, with a lot of rocks and dirt in the entrance, but it looked very likely that it went at least a short distance. Above it in the cliff was another hole that looked very suspect, but not quite enough room to get out and see it without an ability to hover.

We called it a day at that point, and had a relatively uneventful journey back down the mountainside. Steph would have to occasionally ask me why I was wandering the wrong way, and I would point the small rock outcrop that should be checked out since we were there, had time, and weren’t certain when we would be back. As I put it, “Because I’m defective like that.” We found a few treasures of interest, including what appeared to be an old deer skull.

To sum up our findings: The cliff bottom hole looks interesting enough on its own to come back at a later date and poke around a little. The ravine would be trivially easy to enter from above without the snow, and a few hours with a couple people would check off most of the area around it to determine if I had really seen a larger entrance. We could hear flowing water below us somewhere in the ravine, but it wasn’t clear if it was simply runoff splashing off a cliff or something more. It isn’t the highest priority on my follow-up list, but certainly worth climbing that hill at least once more on a cool autumn day. I again encounter the active explorer’s curse: so many projects, so little time.

April 1st 2011, a new beginning!

Another transition in the seasons, and a fresh start for the website. Redevelopment beginning April 1st, rebuilding from the ground up. I will be using some content management systems instead of hand coding, so hopefully things will progress quickly and future updates will be much simpler. I’ll be adding previous information back to the site so it shows in chronological order, so this post should stay near the top for some time. I’ll hopefully be adding new trips as they happen, but not much going on for a few months still.

Unfortunately, this means there will not be a lot to find on the site for a while. If you are desperately seeking a picture of rat dropppings in a cave, or geodes, I appologize they aren’t here for a bit. Things will be back up for you ASAP, post a message on any of the pages or contact me via email if you desperately need something. Viable needs for immediate attention would include upcoming school project deadlines, splitting lottery winnings with me, or help needed to carry forgotten gold bars out of a lost mine.


2011 Looking down into Onyx Canyon

I was talked into the this trip a few weeks earlier, and eventually psyched myself up for it. I know this sounds like a strange comment from someone who enjoys caving. Let me explain.
Little Brush is on my agenda of caves I want to visit several more times, and get to know better. It is currently the cave with the longest amount of mapped passageway in the state, so it can be seen many times and still have new areas to visit. It has one particular drawback though. It is not accessible during the warm summer months.
The cave entrance is in the bottom of a riverbed. During spring runoff there are large volumes of water that go into the cave, and it would be suicidal to venture very far in. During the summer there is less overall flow, but an unpredictability factor as well. The reservoir upstream occasionally releases water for irrigation down in the farmland below the mountain range. Since there are a few small and narrow areas to negotiate near the entrance, this could leave a bad case of being trapped in the cave waiting for water levels to drop. Or worse, being in the wrong place and swept downstream is an even worse case scenario.
So the generally accepted time range for visiting the cave is somewhere roughly from October through February. After the irrigation season, but before the spring runoff begins to pick up. Even in this range there are risks and spikes in waterflow, so paying attention to the weather and other factors is still a must.
Now that you have a little background of the cave, it may become more apparent some of the drawbacks to visiting. You are entering a cold, wet, high elevation cave in mid-winter. After spending several hours in the cave, you often come back out and trudge back to your vehicle through deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Many cavers have stories of brushes with hypothermia from these trips. So it takes a little mental effort to get excited about preparing and executing a trip.
This trip was originally planned as a visit to the deeper reaches of the cave. Unfortunately we had a few people that had to cancel a few days before the trip. But we had plenty of other folks to make up one big group, or two small groups if needed. So we converged on the cave from our various starting points and departure times. (I left home with my carpoolers somewhere around 6:30, which was nearly physically painful but a record departure time.) After we reached the parking area there were a few short introductions between the couple combining groups who hadn’t met before. Then we began our hike through the snow to reach the cave entrance. Everyone made it down the steep entrance ravine fairly uneventfully, previous visitors had packed a reasonable base trail under the couple inches of fresher snow.
Once under the overhang of the massive cave entrance, everyone finished getting gear and lights on.  I made one last brief foray out to take care of nature’s call, and discovered how useful the packed trail had been. After floundering through waist deep snow for a few minutes, I made my way back to the bare stream bottom in the cave in time to bring up the rear of the group headed downstream.
Being in a river bottom, this cave collects debris of various kinds. The most noticeable is the large tree logs that have washed in. They are expected early in the cave, but can actually be found deep inside the cave as well. It is hard to fathom how 30′ logs manage to get that deep, as you twist and contort in places to get a shorter human frame to fit. the power of water is amazing!  We also encounter various signs of human debris. Large railroad ties, tires, metal culvert pipe sections, chain link fencing, and others make up the large items. Smaller debris includes beer cans, food wrappers, empty plastic water bottles, even occasionally batteries and worn out glowsticks.  Most of the human debris has washed in with the river currents in the spring, but it is apparent visitors have left items behind inside the cave directly as well.
As you descend from the entrance the volume of the cave rapidly decreases from being large enough to hold my house, to small enough I need to duck and work around between the logs. Eventually sections are reached where the stream gravel rises toward the roof level, and crawling commences. There are long sections where crawling is interspersed randomly with higher ceilings and easier walking. And then the puddles start.

Conveniently placed logs

In late winter the main passageway into the cave is dry, due to the water upstream being frozen as snow. But there are some deeper pools in the bedrock that hold water year round, and the circulating winter air blowing over them keeps it chilled to freezing temperatures. In deep winter they can be frozen solid, but in March they have started to thaw. The last few years these initial pools have begun at the Window Room, and continue down to the Corner Pool, which are some recognizable landmarks.

Corner Pool

We monkeyed our way around the pools, staying reasonably dry. The new visitors received the grand tour and explanations of how the cave system worked as we went. And then after a while we found ourselves in a flat out belly crawl. We worked our way down single file for a ways, and had last larger area to congregate in while a couple people tried to continue. After twenty minutes of them scrabbling around and moving rocks and dirt, they reported back our route was plugged beyond what we were going to dig out that day. We were disappointed, since we had planned on going deep into the cave that day. (Afterward we discovered that we had someone missed a key turnoff a few hundred feet earlier, and weren’t in the passage we thought we were going to go through. Caves can be confusing, even when you know what to look for.)

Sam squeezing through

We decided to head back a short distance to the Onyx Passage turnoff. Only Dave had been down it before, and it had been several years. So we proceed on our new journey. What we hadn’t realized was how much crawling there would be in this journey from that point on.  The Onyx Passage was never tightly plugged until just the last hundred feet. But it never opened up enough to stand up. Hundreds of feet of relentless crawling, with a bag that would occasionally get hung up on the ceiling, wall, etc. I was looking forward to coming out into Onyx Canyon and getting to stretch and move around a little.
At the end of the Onyx Passage, we encountered an interesting couple of right angle turns with logs jammed in them. After a little contortion and wiggling we all popped through into a tall narrow crack of a room with beautiful eroded flowstone on the walls. There was only one route out that was human sized, and it was up a 45 degree slope covered in large loose cobbles.  We worked on our angled chimneying techniques to get up the slope while still in a narrow crack. And found ourselves looking out into Onyx Canyon at last!

Eroded flowstone in Onyx Passage

Upon further inspection, we found that we were looking into the canyon, but also at least 30 feet off the floor.  Something had plugged up the water flow, and redirected it upward to spill into the canyon. Leaving us on a high ledge, with no safe route down to the canyon floor.  We could hear water splashing off in the darkness, but there was no safe option to even attach a rope, even if our random assortment of webbing and handlines would have reached the floor.
We took some pictures, and I sadly headed back into the seemingly never ending crawl. We covered ground fairly quickly, but I also noticed that all the crawling was wearing me out faster than I expected.  Too many months of only sitting in an office were taking their toll apparently.  We eventually got back to the sections where I could stand up and straighten my back, which was much appreciated. The general consensus was folks were getting tired on our journey back out, so we didn’t take many more detours.
Those that hadn’t been to the cave before checked out the ice formations in the entrance area, and wallowed through the snow to look into the Toothbrush entrance briefly. Jeremiah ended up regaining some energy on the walk back to the car, and jumping into the snow to see how deep it was. Which eventually lead to him losing a shoe under about 3-4 feet of snow. We did manage to get a short video of him throwing snow over his shoulder in a hole while digging it back out.
We grabbed a burger in Vernal, and let various family know we were headed home that night. I have become far too familiar with the drive from Vernal back to the Wasatch Front over the years. And true to form, I had the joy of driving through a short round of white-out blizzard coming over the pass from Strawberry to Heber. I joke that it never fails, but these winter trips do run about 80-90% odds for me every time. We’ll see if the tradition continues next winter. In the meantime, you can enjoy the full set of decent pictures of the trip.

2011 Snow Canyon Lava Tube

This was a somewhat spur of the moment trip. We had spent the weekend with my grandparents at their rental property in St George. My wife was unimpressed with the fact that our midwinter trip to “the warm southern part of the state” coincided with rain and snow clear down to St George itself. But overall we had a good time and found some fun activities. On our last morning down there we made the last minute decision that instead of stopping at Zion on our way home we would swing through Snow Canyon. Steph had already seen part of Zion once before, and we are planning more extensive trips in the future. So the 3-4 hours we had free seemed better spent at a new and smaller destination.

We loaded our stuff, including Jeremiah as a hitchhiker who realized our vehicle would pass his home long before my parents vehicle would arrive. (They were headed into Zion, and planning to be there most of the day.) Jeremiah humored us, since he had been through most of Snow Canyon a few weeks earlier. We ran up a few of the short trails, and enoyed the views of snow on the surrounding mountains. It was warm enough that a t-shirt wasn’t quite comfortable, but a sweatshirt was a bit too much if you were moving.

We decided to take Steph out along one of the trails that ran across the petrified sand dunes, and over part of the lava flows. Primarily because these were both things that Steph hadn’t really seen or been around before, and with a vague idea that we might poke around and see if we could find some lava tubes. I knew there were a couple tubes out there, but hadn’t found out much about them before the trip because we weren’t sure if we would have time to see Snow Canyon that weekend.

As we wandered around taking pictures, Jeremiah and I tried to explain what a lava tube looked like for Steph. She decided she understood the concept, but having never been on a lava flow she wasn’t certain what she was looking for yet. That uncertainty became hilarious over the next couple hours, as Steph would be walking ahead of us and yelling back, “I think I found something. Is this what you are looking for?”

She proceeded to be the first one to find every lava tube we discovered that day. Jeremiah and I would climb inside and look around, and Steph would walk ahead and find the next one. Ideal teamwork in this case.

We found several different tubes, basically right along the trail. Obviously many people had been here before us, and heavily influenced the route the trail took across the lava flow. Jeremiah and I felt under-prepared as we climbed into the dark areas with only our headlamps. No helmets or gloves on this particular trip. But adventure is where you find it, so we just took our time and didn’t stand up fast without looking at where our head would be going.

We felt less guilty about our single light source each, and lack of protective equipment, as we met some of the other people who had found the tubes. One large group had come to the park that day specifically to visit the lava tubes they had found on an earlier trip. This time they had come better prepared, by making certain they had at least one light for every two people. As we stayed out of their way in a wider area while they came out of the deepest part of the tube, we found ourselves having to light the path to the entrance for a couple people. And most of the group that actually had lights were holding them in their teeth while they climbed up a short section that was nearly vertical. I heard at least one kid slip and fall a few feet while still out of sight below us. (The short bout of crying was a giveaway that it wasn’t intentional.) I mentioned to Jeremiah that we may end up involved in his first cave rescue if we were unlucky.  Fortunately, it seemed to be more of a surprise at falling rather than any actual damage, and everyone in their group was headed back to the entrance under their own power when Jeremiah and I zipped down to see the end of the accessible tube.

It was a neat little find for our day overall. As is unfortunately too common in well known caves, there was quite a bit of trash and human evidence everywhere. But there was also some of the brightest colored oxidization of the lava that I have seen in a while, and the tubes were also easy to find and get inside in this case. The above picture is the “hard” route out, just to see if we could do it. There is a better route to drop in through the boulder pile 20-30 feet away from the obvious large entrance.

Steph had become bored on the surface waiting for us, and wandered around a bit. We talked a bit with the group we had encountered while we waited for her return. She showed us her new discoveries, and we headed on our way. We still had some quick stops we wanted to make before we hit the freeway, and headed back north into the cold again.

2010 Recon with Steph

I again have the dubious honor of being the low bidder on a government fieldwork contract. Steph wanted to see what kind of craziness was in store for the next year, so we went out and checked on access roads, potential campsites, and other logistics basics.

Little Brush Creek Cave EntranceSteph hadn’t ever visited many of the Uintah Basin attractions before, so we played tourist a bit as well. We ran the first 100 yards or so into Little Brush Creek Cave, so she could see one of the more impressive cave entrances in the state.

Then we headed over to the contract area. It was a stormy day, and spitting rain. That kept us on the relatively good roads, with only a few hours of hiking around checking some close hills and outcrops. In this process Steph was able to watch her first massive cattle roundup. Several groups were being pushed down from the mountains, and headed south. We talked with one of the cowboys for a few minutes, he ballparked nearly 1000 head of cattle that were being rounded up that day alone in different groups. We also located the nearest pit toilet, important to have located ahead of time if you are having a rough day camping during the year.

Cattle RoundupForest Service Pit Toilet

On the drive home, we went north and so Steph could see some of the other scenic areas. My only complaint was the stormy overcast day made the pictures a bit dull, but a few areas are spectacular no matter what the sky looks like.

Our final laugh for the day was found at a gas station. Someone had obviously had an impact to the back panel of their truck, and decided to fix it with zip ties. Looked a little like stitching up Frankenstein’s monster…

Zip tie truck repair

Quick trip for new grotto member

I have been falling behind on posting reports the last few months, trying to repent. –BX

Jeremy was hoping to get out on a caving trip this month, was disappointed we hadn’t planned anything big at the July Grotto meeting due to the holiday. He mentioned he was interested in learning more about how mapping works, since he had previously made some sketches of caves he had found but never used instruments, etc. I checked my schedule, and we headed for Turret Cave on Sunday morning.

I managed to destroy most of my credibility as “trip Leader” in very short order on Sunday. I showed up with instruments, tape, and a ruler/cheap 50 cent protractor, but no paper/pencils. Jeremy provided some paper and pencils since my other supplies managed to stay on my desk at home, and in Ben’s gear from a trip the previous weekend.

We headed up the hill, and I quickly remembered why I normally visit this area in very late fall and early spring–it was warm! Jeremy pointed out some fossils on the way, and identified some of the lizards that aren’t normally running around in February.

We reached Turret Cave, and Jeremy checked it out while I was pulling out gear. For those unfamiliar with the cave, it is a short 20′ section of passage that passes completely through a narrow fin of rock. You enter at ground level on the West side of the fin, and come out about 20-30′ in the air on the East side. We made short work of the 3 shots for the survey, with Jason writing the survey data and Jeremy running the sketchbook.

After we decided that process was as complete as we were going to get with the tools at hand, we headed further into the canyon to look at some other nearby caves. Excavation Cave no longer has the register I had placed in it, but it does appear an animal had spent the winter there. (Jeremy decided probably raccoon.) We also gathered a couple crickets.

Checked out Cricket cave on the way past, and went a little further up canyon to see what we could find. There are a couple potential holes in the cliff if anyone is looking for an activity on a cool morning.

I pointed out some of the other known small caves across the canyon for Jeremy, but had to end the trip before we looked at them to try and show up on time for a BBQ back in Salt Lake.

On the way out of the canyon we ran into a local resident walking his dog and started talking about climbing routes that are evident in a couple places. He also provided a lead of a small 50-100′ cave a short distance to the north in a drainage that ends at the limestone in a “small box canyon” that should be checked on.

Mapping with Shurtz

Entrance pit

Dave Shurtz volunteered to lead a mapping trip to try and blow through a project as quickly as possible. After some brief delays meeting up in the morning, we all made it to the cave. Dave gave a brief overview of how mapping should work. Instruments, sketch book layout, assignments, etc. We picked our poison on assignments and the festivities began about 10:30 AM.

Dave starting sketch books

Ben and Dan quickly picked up instruments and point. I very slowly worked on profile, and will eventually appreciate the learning experience…at the time it was an exercise in frustration being the person slowing everyone down. :-) Dave played tour guide, helped everybody out, and cheerfully kept on top of the plan view as well.

Entrance from below, and old wooden ladders

At the narrow point just above where the steel ladder drops down we encountered our first bat–it flew past me, and then through the constriction and deeper into the cave next to Dave’s head. We estimated roughly 9″ wingspan, but it shot through too quickly to be certain.

Later, Jason watched a bat land on a big sloping boulder, crawl across it a few feet, and fly off again. Unfortunately my camera was not handy. Using my limited bat knowledge, I determined it was small, brown, and bat-like.(It also did not have ears big enough to be a Townsend.)

We made it through most of the cave on this trip. There is a small amount of mop up survey to finish next time, and couple small leads to still be checked for map purposes. And as advertised, dust masks were used and appreciated by everyone involved.

Dust masks
Dust masks

The cave portion of the trip was completed successfully without incident. We came back out of the dry, dusty cave into a world of rain and mud. I managed to keep my Explorer on the slick roads as we left, but occasionally more by divine intervention than any of my driving ability. Everyone safely made it back to the pavement, and headed off to other duties. The next trip to finish mapping is waiting to be planned…

Trip Leader: Dave Shurtz
On Trip: Dave Shurtz, Ben Simon, Dan Burgener, Jason Baxter

(Dave and Dan found a few other volunteers and completed the survey a few weekends later.)