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Alabaster Cave

Apr 5, 2011 Leave a Comment

It wouldn't be Adventures in the Underground without me posting about my first caving trip.  On Sunday I went with my caving class to Alabaster Cave, between San Ysidro and Cuba, NM.  It was cool!  Our teacher told us it was a training cave, meaning that if you can get through this one, you are ready to go on to even bigger and better cave adventures.

Just to give a little background, alabaster is a type of a rock called gypsum, or CaSO4-2H2O for you chemistry-minded types.  It forms by evaporation of salts from water, also known as a chemical sedimentary rock.  I was first introduced to gypsum in college when I went to a mine for my intro geology class.  I remember liking it so much, I even made up a poem about it.

Oh gypsum you're the one
in many different states you come
coarse, satin, alabaster
you are much better than plain old plaster

(which is funny because you can totally make plaster out of gypsum)

We arrived at the cave site at about noon, got a little introduction/safety briefing, and then were told to squeeze through the tiniest hole to get into the cave.  When our teacher first pointed out the entrance, I thought "yeah, right, buddy."  But it wasn't so bad once I got down in there and actually saw that I could do it.

We wiggled through a crazy narrow passageway into a large "room" that easily fit all six of us on the trip.


We continued to make our way through short passages, like this one, that required crawling and sliding on our stomachs to get through. 


This is where equipment like knee and elbow pads become essential.  And even with them, my knees were still incredibly bruised, and my arm and leg muscles still very sore.

In the cave were some pretty cool things.  We were told that we may run into some wildlife, mainly of the bug variety, but we were definitely not expecting this.


Bats don't typically live in this type of cave.  I can't remember why now.  Sorry.  Probably because it's too shallow or warm or something.  It was awesome, though. 

We each took turns leading the way.  When it was my turn to lead, I had to lead us toward the light, which would be our exit.  And when I got there, it looked like this.


I thought it was cool looking with the light coming in through the small passageways, but that also meant we would have to once again squeeze through to get out.  For this particular tunnel, we sent the smallest kid in first and we had to take off our helmets to be able to make it through, while pushing our backpacks in front of us.

Even though that was our exit, it wasn't the end of the trip.  First, we wanted to go see the water.  The way to get there was to go past the entrance, down through a narrow passageway and into a really cool tunnel, which we entered here. 


The way in was either to crawl behind the weird sticking up rock or to climb above it.  I chose the easy road and took the low tunnel, which was pretty neat, and led me to this.


A warning?  Maybe.  But not too long after that, we found the water, which led to yet another exit. 


Murky and stagnant, this water was around 35 degrees and went up to above chest height before leading out through the cave exit.  The crazy boys in the group decided to go out through that way, while the girls, choosing not to get wet and even more gross, decided to backtrack to the original exit.

After attempting to remember which path we had taken to get there (which was difficult), we finally made it back to the exit, and outside into the sunlight.


See that teeny little hole?  Yep, that's what we crawled out of.  Pretty wild, huh?

The one thing I could have used, but forgot, was a dust mask.  Gypsum is very soft and erodes easily (hence the cave being formed) so it was really sandy and dusty in there, and at times I even picked it up with my camera.


Breathing in gypsum dust is not that awesome for you and when I blew my nose it came out looking all gross.  I didn't take a picture of that (you're welcome).  Luckily, I had a bandanna that I tied over my mouth and nose, which I'm telling myself helped a little bit.

All in all, it was a good trip.  Next stop: my old stomping ground, Socorro!

3 comments »

  • Chloe said:  

    how fun!!!
    I want to do that!!!
    It must be exhausting but so so so exciting!!!
    Thanks for not posting a picture of what came out of your nose!!

  • Rachel @ dreamingofthecountry said:  

    This is so cool! I love the bat

    BUT I would NOT want to do that. I think I would freak out...not a fan of crawling in small spaces!

  • carma said:  

    you are a brave one!! I would have balked at that crazy narrow hole...

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