Who is Don Cuevas?

My photo
My blog name has nothing to do with my history of underground activity. It's a quirk of geographic coincidence.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interlude: Tenting Tonight On The Old Camp Ground

When we began seriously exploring the Stone County and environs cave areas, we were living in Springfield, MO. At the time, it was a 4 hour drive away. When we could, we'd camp out somewhere near the cave.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two Faces. One Cave: Janus Pit. Part 1

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building.  
Around you is a forest.  A small stream flows out of the building and 
down a gully.”— From the early computer game, Adventure, by Will Crowther and successors.

Two Faces. One Cave

Thanksgiving Holiday, 1974

You are standing on a hillside in Stone County, Arkansas. Around you is a forest. A small, wet weather streambed goes down hill to end in a dark, vertical shaft.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What the well dressed caver wore and bore

I want to pause here and discuss the basic non-vertical caving equipment of that era. The only caving equipment supplier we had was mail order from Bob & Bob. The rest we scrounged together on our own from Army surplus stores and outdoors and climbers' supply shops.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

El Pozole de Cuetzalan Is Not A Cave

This has nothing at all to do with caving in Arkansas, but my food and restaurant blog, My Mexican Kitchen, now has a post entitled Our First Time.... in Mexico.

It's about our 1980 trip, the two of us and Alexia Cochrane, jammed into a Datsun King Cab pickup and sought caving adventures. We had plenty of those in a short time. But it was also when Doña Cuevas and I got our first taste of real Mexican food.

So, there's brief caving descriptions, "cultural" notes, and short food notes. You are invited to taste a sample.

 Don Cuevas

Pozole Blanco

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In a cavern, in a valley, excavating for a mine

Alien formation. Courtesy of Teddy Marsdan
“You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
Dead end

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
Dead end”...
From the early computer game, Adventure, by Will Crowther and successors.

Ennis Cave, Stone County, Arkansas.

In July, 1966, I had the pleasure of participating in an extended trip south from Columbia, Missouri, through the Current River area of the state and an incursion to the fabled Ennis Cave. We were led by our amiable friend, Earl Neller.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Adventure Begins

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building.  
Around you is a forest.  A small stream flows out of the building and 
down a gully.”— From the early computer game, Adventure, by Will Crowther and successors.

From 1957 to 1995, I was a caver. (“Caver” is the preferred word for someone who explores caves for sport or recreation. “Spelunker” is a jocular term and is less accepted.) Now I look back with fond memories of some of the great adventures in which we participated, while increasingly convinced that we must have been insane.

I picked up the bug as a freshman in high school, when I read “The Caves Beyond”, by Lawrence and Brucker. I was amazed at the intricacies of the nucleus cavern of what was later to become The Longest Cave. It’s an understatement to say that I was totally naïve as to what was really involved in caving. When you read the following, you may wonder why any sane person would engage in such an activity. As compelled as I was by the sport, I also now wonder at our sanity.

The naïve 17 year old freshman caver had a dreamy sort of concept, something like wandering about in labyrinthine* tunnels and grand chambers, with an occasional crawlway or a bit of a pitch to liven things up. Give us a squeeze, love. Through the Keyhole. It's fun! Oh, maybe there was some dirt involved. It would be like playing in the dirt when you were a kid. That’s it.

When our family moved to Missouri from Connecticut, I was in heaven, so I first thought.

The first Missouri cave I visited was down in a sinkhole in Jefferson County, a climbable descent that led to a mudbank flanked stream passage with a small maze of crawl ways networking above the banks. For some strange reason, we always visited this cave at night, and once emerged, soaking wet on a New Year’s Day at 1:00 a.m. Our sodden, muddy clothes froze as we shed them, and we hurried to change into dry ones. Great group fun! It built warm feelings of camaraderie.

On an overnight trip to Gasconade County, I was introduced to the Central Missouri caves’ characteristic red clay banks, some of the slipperiest, most viscous, clinging and staining muck imaginable. There was also some stream passage with waist-deep water, underlain by boot-sucking red clay. The reward for these exercises in discomfort was a room decorated with petal-like spathite speleothems (cave formations). The truth is that I gave up in tired disgust before reaching the prize.

As experiences grew, I was privileged to visit Missouri’s longest, Carroll Cave. It is a huge tunnel of several miles in aggregate length, but characteristically, lined with the worst red clay banks imaginable as well as seemingly interminably dreary river passage. There is a fiercely disgusting sucking sound ones’ boots make as they attempt to negotiate the exhausting banks of clay. 

The rewards are some very fine areas of speleothems and a brief view of a thundering waterfall, part of a separate drainage system. There’s also potential hypothermia, exhaustion, mud and leg cramps.

Back then, Arkansas was across the frontier. It was "The Land of Opportunity". The roads were not as well developed as those in Missouri, and little was known about the caves, other than “Half Mile Cave”, later to be developed as Blanchard Springs Cavers, and especially, Fitton, or “Beauty” Cave, located in the rugged mesa topped mountains in the drainage of the Buffalo River Country.

My first visit to Fitton Cave, about 1963, ws what we called a "bop" or "tourist" trip, involving no original exploration, yet it pushed risk taking through sketchy maneuvers to a new level of imprudency. A group of friends from Missouri U. at Columbia and I made a slippery, bald-tired, rusting wreck of a drive two days, to the area around Harrison, Arkansas. There I also discovered the joys of cheap, all-you-can-eat buffets and continued my education in all night cafes. Signature dish: Southern Comfort: Country Sausage Gravy.

Our group was heavly laden with basic underground camping gear, some of it in laundry bags and my buddy Ed’s gear in a folding suit carrier. Our rations included glass jars of peanut butter and grape jelly.

The unsavory maneuvers included chimneying up and down in sinuous, increasingly deeper canyons, with tension growing as we negotiated our way across the lacy ledges that rimmed the rooftop of the Round Room, a large central dome-pit about 80 feet high. Beyond that we haltingly advanced by means of incredibly thin chert ledges, supported in some cases by spindly stalks of remnant rock.

Some of my companions must have thought they were immortal, but I didn’t hew to that belief. I was terrified.
Then came an 80 foot descent, interrupted by intermittent paralysis, by chimneying and leaping from one sloping ledge to another, until we at least reached the level, more or less, of the floor of the Round Room.

But the risky business was not over. A series of broad and often awkward “Jumps” over an incised stream canyon were necessary to reach our snug encampment under the overhanging walls of the Round Room. Not bad going upstream, but exceedingly awkward and requiring agile leaps of faith when going in the downstream direction. A total of 21 Jumps; a few, benign and easy, many challenging, a couple totally and absurdly difficult. (Stand on sand and gravelly edge, reach forward in ceiling channel as far as possible across the gap; kick leg high while propelling ones' body forward, and slightly upward. I took the Chicken Route and walked through the stream 12 feet below, rather than make a few of the leaps.

That was just the entrance route to miles of far larger, grander, more complex series of passages and large rooms. There were many rewarding areas to see and to photograph. Although often stretched beyond my limits, and terrified at intervals, I had a great time. From that visit, I knew then that some Arkansas caves were special, and there it was that I wanted to concentrate my explorations.

Later, there was Ennis Cave. That story coming soon.

*I was quickly enamored of the word, "Labyrinthine" and so it is, to this day. "Labyrinthine". Roll that exquisite word about in your mouth.

NOTE: Comments are now open. Owner moderation and Word Verification are ON in order to limit Spam, Vienna Sausages, and especially, Potted Meat Food Product. (Cavers will understand this.)