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mini location map2016-12-24
28 by photographer avatarddgrunning
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Peppersauce CaveTucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Caving avatar Dec 24 2016
Caving1.00 Miles
Caving1.00 Miles   2 Hrs   30 Mns   0.40 mph
 no routes
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Opting for a little adventure for our annual family Christmas Eve hike, we decided to visit Peppersauce Cave--a first for our family. I spent a fair amount of time gathering information about the cave, since downloading a route was not an option. Visitor reports ranged from ... just wander around and explore; you can't really get lost, to ... don't go there without someone who knows their way around, or you'll likely get lost. Ultimately, I decided to try to find most of the features people referenced in their trip descriptions and hope for the best.

Turns out we were able to find all of the things on our checklist, though I'm sure there is a lot more exploring to be done, but probably not within the comfort zone of my family-friendly visit.

My $0.02 on navigation in the cave: The primary course of travel is pretty straightforward from the entry to the Big Room, which ends with ladders down to the "lake" on one side (to your right as you enter the Big Room), and to the Rabbit Hole (aka Birth Canal) on the other side (to your left as you enter the Big Room). On the way, we passed under the Arch, and passed by the two Columns (which we didn't actually notice until our return, since they are above the head and somewhat tucked back on a shelf that you have to look back to notice as you are heading into the cave).

After arriving at the Big Room, we descended the ladder to the lake and admired its clarity and depth, but weren't tempted to take a dip, as there were some "floaties" and I had read enough about bacterial contamination, etc...

After a few photos, we crossed the Big Room and then descended the second ladder to the Rabbit Hole. The bottom of the second ladder was the muddiest section we encountered. In fact, the cave was remarkably dry. There wasn't even any mud in the Rabbit Hole. And while we got plenty dirty, we didn't emerge caked with mud; we left with clothes in need of a good wash, but no temptation to just chuck them (as I understand many do).

After the Rabbit Hole, navigation becomes a bit more tricky, as the cave quickly splinters into a lot of offshoot with no clear "main" source of travel. We brought some glow sticks, which we found helpful in marking some points on our way in, to help on our return (retrieved them all--of course). There is a lot of graffiti in the cave; arrows and directional notes are everywhere (sometimes helpful for navigation; other times, contradictory; always, unsightly and misguided).

The Slide is the first feature we encountered beyond the Rabbit Hole, and is easily found. Beyond that, we wanted to make our way to the Book Room or Signing Room, but had little intelligence on how to get there. We made it ... through some trial and error.

From the top of the Slide, with the Slide to our back, we headed off to the left, along an extended crack on a significant slant. After about 30 yards or so a passage way opens up to the right. We followed it to a T-intersection and took another right. This led down a narrow crack that eventually forces you up what we later realized was the Spiral Staircase. At the top of the Spiral Staircase, we realized that we had taken a circuitous route, as we heard down below the voices of a couple in our group who had opted not to explore too far beyond the Slide. Upon close inspection, we realized that, from the Slide, we could have headed to the right and up to the top of the Spiral Staircase, for a more direct route.

Meanwhile, about halfway down the Spiral Staircase, is another offshoot that leads to the Book Room, with one belly-crawl section required. We signed in and checked out the contents of the book box, which included a full bottle of beer.

After signing in, we made our way back to the Slide area, rejoined the rest of our group and made our way out. Along the way from the Big Room to the entrance, we explored an offshoot to our left (facing the entrance), which led down to an area that looks like it is probably filled with water during wetter times.

All in all, we had a great adventure. Now that I'm more familiar with the setting, I look forward to returning to do more exploring.

Given that it was Christmas Eve, and we arrived relatively early (9:30 am), we had the cave entirely to ourselves until we met one other group in the Big Room on our return. As we were leaving, another car drove into the parking area. Otherwise, we enjoyed a lot of solitude--not something that is very common here on a weekend, as I understand.

On the way back, we stopped at the Peppersauce Campground, where we changed clothes, cleaned up a bit, and enjoyed the rope swing attached to one of the huge cottonwood trees!

A great trip!

A note re driving: The road in was well-maintained up to to the campground (despite warning signs that it wasn't maintained regularly). After the campground, the road was a bit more rough for the last 2 mi. to the TH, but still probably navigable by sedan, if careful--though high clearance would clearly be preferable. We expected the road to be more muddy, given that it had rained hard over the past few days, but we didn't have any problems.
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