Notes From Underground

Exploring Peppersauce Cave, Southern Arizona - July 2006

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That is how it always begins... very small
You could walk within 50 feet of the small entrance and not realize it was there. It just looks like a gap in a jumble of rocks against a canyon wall on the backside of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The cave is named after nearby Peppersauce canyon where an early spicy-food loving pioneer was said to have lost his beloved bottle of Tabasco. Peppersauce is an undeveloped limestone cave - no gate, guides, walkways or lights - enter at your own risk and bring your own lights. Lots of them. An spare batteries.


A Tight Squeeze
After crawling through a couple of low passages, the cave opens out into a larger room where you must then squeeze through some narrow slots in a complex of stone walls sometimes called 'the fins'. Should not have had that extra slice of pizza.


Broken
When the forest service road was built near the cave in the 1930s, it led to many more visitors who unfortunately broke off and removed many of the more fragile formations. All that remains of this stalagtite is the broken stump. When I first visited the cave in the 1990s, it was badly vandalized with trash and spray paint, but a volunteer group has recently done an excellent job of cleaning up and restoring many of the main rooms.


Stone Curtains
Despite the vandalism, there are still many interesting formations. A few hundred yards in there is a break in the ceiling lined with these delicate ribbons of stone - called draperies - the results of minerals deposited on the walls over thousands of years by water seeping down from above. Peppersauce is still an active 'living' cave where water is still creating and rebuilding formations (very very slowly).


Grand Tower
This is one of my favorite formations in the cave. Here a large stalagmite has grown all the way up to the ceiling to form a pillar. Stalmites grow up from the bottom, while stalactites grow down from above. Both are the results of minerals left behind by dripping water. Additional deposits of flow stone can be seen in the background.


The Arch
Not far away is the largest of several arches in the cave. The main passage actually runs right beneath it. The red at the base is spray paint - it used to be much worse.


Fancy Wall of the Big Room
About a half-mile from the entrance, the main passage enters the largest chamber in the cave ('The Big Room'). It is probably about 70-80 feet across with a 20 foot ceiling. Its most impressive feature is a large and very ornate wall of flowstone.


Caveman Ron
Friend and fellow spelunker, Ron, sits near the top of the ladder used to reach the famous 'big pool' that is hidden in the furthest back reaches of the cave. Although bolted in place, the ladder is pretty slippery with mud and goo. Even from here, you must crawl, slide, and scamper down a steep and slippery slope to reach the edge of the pool.


Care for a Swim?
In 2000, a group of expert cave divers from California attempted to explore the underwater tunnel that leads back from the lower depths of the pool. They went over 300 feet before murky water prevented them from safely continuing. Most of what you see in the picture is the roof reflecting on the water.