oh give me a home, where the spelunkers roam, and the trails are not marked and lit...
July 19, 2006 6:16 PM   Subscribe

I went spelunking in the Nutty Putty caves in Utah a few years ago, and -loved- it... Can anyone recommend similar non-commercialized caves in which to go exploring with friends in California, Oregon, Nevada, or possibly Arizona?

Gorgeous is not a requirement - but a lack of handrails and tourist signs is! I'm not terribly safety-worried (obviously, I suppose), as we have good senses of direction and pack cautiously - chalk, extra flashlights, extra batteries, water, food, et cetera. We're skinny, agile, and athletic, so no constraints there, either. Abandoned mines and the like could also easily fit the bill... Anything that isn't Carlsbad Caverns, Mammoth Caves, and others subjecting visitors to a led-by-the-hand, quick-and-easy tour with safety non-slip flooring and a giftshop at the end. Any suggestions?
posted by po to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Its outside your parameters but I spent a couple of weeks caving on the Wyoming/Montana border. Several of the caves required a long rappel in, it was pretty fantastic.

The only caves I know of out here in California are small and have been inhabited by homeless people.

By the way, you should really, really think twice about exploring abandoned mines, they're not stable at all.

And the last bit of advice, before you go caving, write down your plan (where you are going, how long you expect to be gone, who you're going with, etc.) and leave it with someone so they can come and get you if you do run into trouble (a broken leg down in a cave is a serious problem).
posted by fenriq at 6:59 PM on July 19, 2006

I haven't been since I was a kid, but I remember Lava Beds National Monument in northern California very fondly. They allow you to go caving unattended throughout the park. I looked at the pictures of Nutty Putty, and it looks similar to what I remember of my childhood trips to Lava Beds.

Bonus: LBNM is very close to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, which is absolutely beautiful.

posted by woj at 8:17 PM on July 19, 2006

Just don't go exploring Ted's Cave...
posted by tomble at 9:43 PM on July 19, 2006

Lava tubes in snowflake canyon just north of St.George Ut.
posted by hortense at 11:08 PM on July 19, 2006

There are some very cool areas in and around Sequoia National Park, especially Mineral King.
posted by frogan at 11:19 PM on July 19, 2006

Tomble -
I've just been reading that story you linked to, it's really exciting (and yes, has put me off ever going into a cave...!) But I've just got to the bit when he goes back into the cave for the last time (I think!) and page 11 of the account wont load! I need to know what happens! Any chance you know how it ends or another site where Ted's diary is published?! Thanks!!
posted by schmoo at 3:28 AM on July 20, 2006

Oh ok I get it...just googled around a bit and realised that it's not actually meant to be finished....and in fact people think it's a hoax. Now I feel silly...!
(Sorry for the aside!) :-)
posted by schmoo at 3:31 AM on July 20, 2006

I strongly suggest you contact your local cave club. They can teach you to cave safely. In addition, they probably have permission to go into caves that would otherwise be barred to you. Afterall, most caves are on private property.

However, if you don't want to join a club, I'd head fenriq's advice and also google 'caving' or 'caving safely'.
posted by malp at 5:52 AM on July 20, 2006

Seconding malp. Find your local Grotto of the NSS (at malp's link) and go to a meeting. I advise you not to begin any statement to cavers with "I went spelunking," though. Nowadays, spelunkers are the people that cavers have to rescue from caves, or that's what they tell each other.

There are also more aspects to safe caving than you mentioned preparing for. Do you have helmets? An unexpected encounter with a low ceiling can leave you unconscious. Some caves flood unpredictably. Hypothermia kills people who don't realize it's a risk. Some caves are mazes, where even experienced cavers with a "good sense of direction" can get lost.

Hooking up with experienced cavers can open your eyes to a lot of hazards you haven't thought of, and can let you into caves you'd never know about otherwise, using techniques you won't learn elsewhere. It's a very safe sport, for people who are ready for its peculiarities. For people who aren't really prepared, it is not safe.

You'll notice I'm not telling you where to find any caves. I'm sorry that I can't answer that part of your question, but it's not something cavers do. Caves that are well known and easily-accessible invariably get trashed. By "trashed," I don't just mean filled with litter. Mineral hunters will completely strip the beautiful formations from a cave, leaving nothing but bare rock. I've seen this happen repeatedly. I am not implying that you or your friends would do that, but I have no way of knowing, and I have no way of knowing who you or they would introduce to the cave. If you go to a Grotto meeting, they will take you to wild caves. If you telephone or email them, they won't tell you where the caves are
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:02 AM on July 20, 2006

Ape Cave near Mount St Helens is self-lead and fun. There are various other lava caves in the area, too.
posted by zonkout at 10:38 AM on July 20, 2006

I did a lot of spelunking growing up southeast of Bend, Oregon. There are are tons of lava tube caves out there. Some are well known and yet still fairly "wild" -- others are way off the beaten path and are fantastically pristine. Like Kirth, however, I refuse to divulge any specific locations. If you ever get to Bend, though, drop me an email (in profile) and I'll hook you up with some good guides...
posted by maniactown at 5:38 PM on July 20, 2006

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