Caves and Caving

Part 2: Spelunking

By A.R. Royo

In recent years, caving (also called spelunking) has gained increased popularity, especially around colleges and universities because of its physical and mental requirements. Cavers have many different motives for their underground passion. For some, caving is a sport offering physical and mental challenges. Others are drawn underground by the simple love of exploration. Still others enjoy the scientific aspects that may involve mapping and other methods of documentation. Still others find caving an inspirational or spiritual experience.

The National Speological Society (NSS) has been formed by those so drawn to natural caverns in the earth. The society supports cave exploration, research and conservation. Local chapters, called grottos, exist in regions throughout the US. The National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) is a volunteer group of the NSS developed to coordinate cave rescue resources throughout the US. Most NCRC cavers perform rescues as members of their local rescue squads, civil defense units or cave rescue groups.

Caving expedition at Anza Borrego Mud Caves

Some caves offer easy exploration, while others require tight crawls, challenging climbs or dangerous descents. Caves can be cold, dark and damp. They can also be dusty-dry, muddy or completely filled with water. All are dark and many can be extremely dangerous, especially without proper gear, knowledge and experience.

If you are interested in caving, local grottos can provide invaluable resources. Membership involves NSS membership, which includes newsletters, knowledge of those who have been there before, maps, fellowship and safety.

Serious cavers devote a good deal of time to training and planning. Acquiring approriate climbing gear and practicing how to use it is a preoccupation of local grottos. Mapping, photographic documentation and protection of local caves is also part of their charter.

Experienced cavers have established the following guidelines for caving.

Required Caving GearCalifornia cavers hone their skills

  • Three sources of light per person (Make sure batteries are fresh)
  • Hardhat
  • Warm clothing
  • Tough gloves
  • Tough, waterproof boots
  • Knee pads
  • Coveralls
  • Shoulder bag
  • Food & water
  • Space blanket or garbage bag
  • Pocket knife
  • Small length of cord or webbing
  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Small whistle for signaling
  • Extra batteries (and bulbs for your main light)

Caving Safety Tips

  • Never cave alone!
  • Stick together.
  • Don't attempt climbing a pit without proper training.
  • Don't cave while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Don't jump -- surfaces are hard and distances can be deceiving.
  • When crawling through tight spaces, keep your arms in front of you, not at your sides.
  • Be wary of going head-first down into tight spots.
  • Looking behind you will help you remember the way out.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.



Cave Conservation

Removing or destroying cave formations and disturbing cave wildlife is illegal.

  • Destroy nothing.
  • Take nothing.
  • Leave nothing behind.
  • Don't bother the wildlife. Don't shine your light on bats.
  • Don't urinate (or worse!) in a cave.
  • Don't touch any formation, especially with bare hands.
  • Respect the land around cave entrances. Never damage gates or dump trash.



Desert Spelunking Caves

Below is an incomplete list of caves in desert regions. Most are at least 400 feet deep and/or at least a mile in length. Locations within a state list counties only, since there is great effort to preserve these precious natural resources. The best way to discover precise locations and explore caves safely is to join a local grotto. Check with the NSS for the grotto nearest you.

exploring cave

(Caves listed below are limestone unless otherwise indicated.)

State County Type
Allen Springs Cave Yavapai Cou
Cave of the Bells Santa Cruz
Colossal Cave Pima
Falls Cave Coconino
Paiute (Black Abyss) Cave Coconino
Peppersauce Cave Pinal
Roaring Springs Cave Coconino
Sipapu Caverns Coconino
Tapeats Cave Coconino
Anza-Borrego (Arroyo Tapiado) Mud Caves San Diego Gypsum
Cat Cave San Bernardino
Thunder Canyon Cave San Diego Granite Boulder/Talus
Warner Cave San Bernardino
Winding Stair San Bernardino
Breezeway Cave El Paso
Cave of the Winds El Paso
Chicken Pit Eagle
Fulford's Cave Eagle
Hurricane Cave Teller Granite Boulder/Talus
Porter Cave Garfield
Rat Dome Cave Garfield
Premonition Cave Garfield
Spanish Cave Custer
Spring Cave Rio Blanco
Twenty Pound Tick Cave ?
Carcass Cave De Baca Gypsum
Coffee Cave Eddy Gypsum
Crystal Caverns DeBaca Gypsum
Deep Cave Eddy
Denmte's Pit ?
Dry (Pot) Cave Eddy
Double Barrel Shotgun Cave ? Gypsum
Edgewood Caverns Santa Fe
Endless Cave Eddy
Fort Stanton Cave Lincoln
Hells Below Cave Eddy
Jansill/Driftwood Cave system Chaves Gypsum
Lechuguilla Cave Eddy
Martin Cave System Chaves Gypsum
McKittrick Cave Eddy
Sand Cave Eddy
Scrooge Cave Lincoln Gypsum
Slaughter Canyon Cave (New Cave) Eddy
Spider Cave Eddy
Three Fingers Cave Eddy
Triple Engle Pit De Baca Gypsum
Baker Creek Cave System White Pine
Gypsum Cave Clark
Leviathan Cave Lincoln
Pinnacle Cave Clark
Tea Kettle Cave Clark
Weepah Cave Lincoln
Whipple Cave White Pine
Wounded Knee Cave Clark
Amazing Maze Cave Pecos
Caverns of Sonora Sutton
Diablo Cave Val Verde
Felton Cave Sutton
Indian Creek Cave Uvalde
Sorcerers Cave Terrell
Wizard's Well Cavern Terrell
Big Brush Cave Uintah
Canelelight Cave ?
Duck Creek Lava Tube Kane Lava Tube
Little Brush Creek Cave Uintah
Neffs Canyon Cave Salt Lake
Nielsons Well (Cave) Cache

Deserts Caves & Caving 1: Speology
Cave Features: Speleothems


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