Thursday, January 29
There’s very little information to be found about Enchanted Rock’s cave. If a visitor were to look at the large elevation map handout available at the park headquarters, they might notice the arrow pointing to the backside of the rock with the small printed words: “Enchanted Rock Cave”. There is no informational blurb to be found about it, and no trail signs to point the way. It’s existence is not really a secret, but not openly advertised either.
As park hosts, Julie and I had heard about it from our co-workers, and we were itching to try it out. Today, we finally got our chance. The high is predicted to be a pleasant 71 degrees and it’s a weekday, so no worries about the crowds. We bring a plastic shopping bag with us to collect any trash we might find inside (the nice thing to do when you’re park hosting) and a park radio, just in case.
To get to the cave, one must ascent to the top of the Summit Trail, and then start walking down the backside of E-Rock. A wooden plaque affixed to an unassuming pile of boulders announces “Cave Entrance” – that’s all you get.
Like the caves at Pinnacles National Park, E-Rock Cave is a talus cave, meaning it was formed by boulders falling into a ravine but leaving a space underneath big enough to walk through. We were warned though to bring headlamps, something that wasn’t strictly necessary for the caves in Pinnacles where the gaps between the boulders overhead let enough light in to see where you were going.
The first room of the “cave” is easy. After crouching to get through the entrance, there’s ample light and plenty of space to maneuver in. We pick up three plastic bottles right off the bat – it’s looking like bringing the trash bag was a good idea. The first room empties out into part of the ravine that is open with no rocks overhead, instead you carefully clamber over the rocks below where scraggly oaks have found a tentative purchase in the cracks.
One such crack is a bit larger than the rest, and a yellow arrow painted on the side points into it. Going down! We get out our headlamps and I secure my phone in my Camelbak since my pockets aren’t large enough to keep it contained. Julie’s pockets velcro close, so she takes all of the photos in this post.
I guess I was expecting a short, easy little stroll with as little press as this cave gets. There really can’t be much too it, right?
Not far in, a black rope is wrapped around a boulder, and it trails down into the darkness. Huh, I wasn’t expecting there to be spelunking in here. We’re both wearing our Vibram Five-finger shoes, which have very flexible soles. There are loops knotted into the rope to climb down with, but we’d hurt our feet using them with these shoes. With some scrambling, we make it down.
The way gets darker. Yeah, you really need a headlamp to do this cave. With all of the crouching, twisting, and crawling, having both hands is necessary to stabilize yourself. This isn’t like a cave that’s been formed by running water, the floor is not smooth. The rocks that make up the bottom are as uneven as the rocks overhead, and falling down into one of the cracks could bring serious injury. Maybe that’s why this place isn’t advertised. I’m surprised there aren’t warnings at the entrance about how tall or wide you can be to fit.
I’m in the lead and make it to another drop, but this time there is no rope to hold on to. If I’d been by myself, this is where I would have had to call it quits. I’m not quite tall enough to reach the bottom with my feet while still hanging on to the lip of the rock at the top, and I don’t feel comfortable with letting go at the top and hoping my feet find good purchase at the bottom, especially with these thin soles.
Luckily, Julie is a bit taller than me. She passes the garbage bag off to me, climbs down, takes the garbage bag back, and braces my foot when I come down. Whew! This is a lot more effort than I bargained for.
Have I mentioned yet that it’s wet down here?
Water seeps in through cracks between the boulders overhead, making it even harder to get traction. There’s no on else in the cave, and the only sound is the water dripping. We stop in a larger room and eat the sandwiches we brought with us. While eating we turn off our headlamps, and it’s pitch black.
“Maybe once our eyes adjust we’ll be able to see light filtering in from somewhere.” Julie opines.
But no, it’s truly dark. Enough boulders are jammed in over us that no light manages to get down to our deep little hole. If I let myself think about that too much, I might get worried. It’s not one solid mass of rock above us, but numerous boulders, free rocks that at one point fell from some point high above the ravine. Theoretically, at any point those boulders could shift and we could get trapped. It’s not likely – thousands of people have been through this cave without incident – but it’s still possible. Well, I’m glad we brought the radio, just in case. I’m not convinced that it could get a signal out from down here, but that’s another thing I resolve not to think too much about.
When we turn our lights back on, two insects above us on the wall scurry out of sight. It’s impossible to identify them, but there is something else of interest up there. The light bounces off of shiny flakes of yellow embedded in the granite. Iron pyrite, fool’s gold! Further on, a large crevasse out of reach has a lot of it, wet and glimmering from water seepage. Alas, with the light conditions, it’s impossible to get a good photo of it.
I’m glad for the arrows pointing the way. At the beginning of the trail they seemed unnecessary, but there are enough openings now that it’s possible we could wander off into a dead-end. Twice the passage is narrow enough that not even crawling will work, and Julie and I take turns handing our loads off to each other to wiggle our way through a tight spot.
And finally, when I’m starting to think I’ve had enough, light appears once more through the the nooks and crannies around us. Going up!
What an adventure! Enchanted Rock Cave ended up being a lot more cave than we had bargained for, but there are no regrets. Just a greater appreciation for mother earth and all of these fine places I have the great fortune to be able to explore.
Have you ever found yourself out of your depth on a hike or other outing? I’d love to hear about the results!