Exploring Cave of the Bells
(near Sonoita, Arizona) 

 

Young caver Margaret Harrison and her dad visited Cave of the Bells in Arizona during her spring break from school in March 2002. The cave is very near her grandparents home in Green Valley, Arizona. They were guided by Pete Fine, a member of the Southern Arizona Grotto from Tucson. It was a welcome beginning to the new caving season because most Colorado caves were still snowed in.

 

Cave of the Bells is located at the end of a long four-wheel-drive road in the Santa Rita Mountains, near Sonoita. Pete brought along a couple of local cavers and everyone got ready for the underground adventure at the start of the short trail. Since the cave temperature was 75 degrees (cool to the Arizona cavers, but hot to Margaret and her dad), the group did not wear coveralls. Margaret wore a helmet with two light sources, jeans, a t-shirt and knee pads. She also had her cave pack, with an additional source of light, extra batteries, canteen and cave snacks.

 

The cave is gated and Pete got the key from the Forest Service before the trip. Rather than opening both bars of the gate, Pete only opened the bottom one to save time and aggravation. Margaret had no problem crawling through the gate. The metal plate above the gate contains instructions for getting through the gateway without a key. That's in case someone loses the key during the caving trip. Unlike Colorado caves, which have combination locks, this cave gate is opened with a key.

 

 

The cave is more vertical than horizontal and Margaret found herself chimneying down a lot. Here, you can see her carefully making her way down, with her trusty cave pack around her neck. This was the first trip that Margaret got to use her new caving helmet and her extra helmet light (an LED configuration that has three intensity levels and two flash levels to save batteries.) Now, Margaret had a second source of light readily available, should her first headlight go out (like while in the middle of a climb, for instance). The extra light adds only 3 ounces to the helmet, and is also handier than pulling out a flashlight during rest stops, to give the batteries on her her main light source a break.

 

 

Pete was eager to show us the beautiful speleothems in the cave. Here he is looking at formations that are taped off to warn cavers not to touch them. Pete has been in the cave many times and said it was his favorite "local" cave. Margaret's dad was having quite a time trying to adjust to the heat and humidity in the cave. Unlike the 39 to 42 degrees caves he was used to in Colorado, so he was sweating profusely in the 75-degree Arizona cave.

 

 

The cave descends for several hundred feet, and Margaret found herself honing her rock-scrambling skills. Pete was a good leader, and showed Margaret where to put her feet as she climbed down. Pete explained that many kids, like Margaret, are good cavers -- they just don't have the same reach as adults and sometimes need a hand negotiating climbs.

 

The formations in Cave of the Bells are very pretty, and still growing. Although there is some evidence of vandalism, many of the formations appear to be untouched. The cave gate, and the Forest Service monitoring access to the cave, helps keep vandals out.

 

 

This view is looking down a crawlway (a "hole" to non-cavers) that leads to an underground lake. The bottom lake is actually warmer than the average cave temperature, so it's thought that it is being heated thermally.

 

 

Margaret found herself drinking more than she normally does in Colorado caves. She and her dad brought along canteens filled with Gatorade to replenish the salts and minerals they were losing by sweating so much. Responsible cavers are very conscientious about not contaminating the cave, and carry their own waste out of the cave, too. (We've yet to find a bathroom in a wild cave).

 

 

After a break, Pete let Margaret lead down a crawlway. That's her disappearing into a hole to the right of Pete. She had a great time seeing how different this cave was to the ones she's explored in Colorado.

 

 

In other places, Margaret was right behind Pete as he showed her the underground wonders of Cave of the Bells. She had a great time, but the 75 degree temperature of the cave made her long for the coolness of Colorado caves. She and her dad thanked Pete for the guided tour and they made plans to explore more Arizona caves when she returns next year during the spring break.

Following her return from Arizona, Margaret found out that her caving adventures were to be featured in the June, 2002 issue of Jack & Jill magazine.  She completed a photo shoot for the magazine in several caves in Williams Canyon, near Manitou Springs, in April, 2002. Read the four-page article about Margaret, Hazel Barton, and caving in the June 2002 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine!

 

-- by Wayne Harrison
NSS #18689

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Last Updated: Monday, April 15, 2002