I took my long-anticipated caving trip to the Guadalupe Mountains (in southeastern New Mexico) on November 7-9, 2008 with Rod Williamson, Jimmy Williamson (Rod's son), and Brett Colter (a friend of Rod's and the son of Craig Colter, a member of our ward). Our friend Jim Rasmussen had planned to go, but finally he was too busy at work to get away; consequently we ended up being a party of four. (Taking only four people was a little bit of a waste in that the USFS caving permits were, as usual, for six people, but at least it enabled us to travel down in one vehicle -- Rod's four-seat Toyota Tacoma.) We left Albuquerque at about 10:00 am on Friday the 7th and stopped to eat lunch at Chili's in Roswell; it was already starting to get dark by the time we made it up to the high Guads, so we decided to pitch tents first at Texas Camp and then walk back up the road to go see our first cave, the entrance passage of Cottonwood Cave. Cottonwood Cave has some huge, very beautiful formations, although the entrance passage (as opposed to the second parallel passage, the entrance to which is gated and kept locked) isn't much of an adventure. Later we fixed dinner (I had decided to eat well on this trip, so I had stir-fry with chicken chunks), lit a campfire, and shot the bull before retiring.
The next day we planned to do Black Cave first and then come back up the hill to Hidden Cave; however, I was a little unclear how to get to Black Cave, and we ended up on the fork in the road that goes to the trail to get to Hidden Cave. Rather than backtrack and have to come back later, we decided to do Hidden first. A combined 80' rappel is required to get from the entrance to the "lower" half of the cave, which is about all the adventure on a rope that I can handle these days. (A second cave entrance to the northwest has now been blocked off.) We had a lot of fun scrambling around in the "lower" half of the cave, and in the end we didn't even bother going to see the "upper" half. At one point I jugged out of the cave to fetch a second rope so that the other guys could do a short rappel at the end of the longest passage. Unfortunately, as I was rapping back into the cave, Dorine's camera fell out of my pocket and dropped about 40'; needless to say, it didn't work too well after that! (I bought a replacement camera at Wal-Mart in Roswell on the way home.)
Later, we ate lunch back at the truck and then set out to find Black Cave, which Rod and I had already visited twice on previous trips. I thought had a pretty good idea how to find it without using the step-log provided by the USFS, but if there was a constant on this trip, it was that my memory of dimensions and distances was often way off. We did, finally, find the cave, but not before Rod had a few doubts about my cave-finding skills! All of the caves we saw were pretty moist, but Black Cave was sopping wet -- slippery and quite treacherous. By that time of the day I didn't really care much about seeing the whole cave, but we did slip-slide our way down to the end, poking around a little in one of the parallel passages before heading back out. We were hoping to get back to camp before dark, and we succeeded, but unfortunately, one of Rod's tires suffered a sidewall puncture on the way back. We put the spare tire on back at camp, but our not having a spare tire pretty well killed the idea of making the rough drive up to the "Pink" parking area the next day (Sunday) and hiking to Pink Dragon Cave.
That night I had an excellent sirloin steak -- medium-rare with Montreal seasoning -- for dinner, along with mixed veggies and a couple of hashbrown patties. Rod and I later walked down to the Dark Canyon Lookout (which has a decent privy) and had a nice talk on the way. We camped out again, then packed up and headed back the next morning. I'd like to go back sometime in the next year, but only if we can get permits to some different caves (hopefully not Sentinel Cave, which is still the stuff of my nightmares). It might be worth going on a cave-restoration trip just to see other caves -- Hell Below Cave, Three Fingers Cave, the lower part of Cottonwood Cave, maybe the Cave of the Madonna, etc. We'll see.
[The photos above show (a) the "Chinese Wall" formation in Hidden Cave, (b) Brett, Rod, and Jimmy in Hidden Cave; (c) a view out over the Guads from the Dark Canyon Lookout tower; and (d) our campsite at Texas Camp (a favorite caver's hangout). The video embed below shows me doing the first 25' or so of the drop into Hidden Cave.]