Cave of The Bells: The Trip When No One Was Bitten By A Skunk

  • Updated: January 03, 2015
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

January 2nd & 3rd, 2015

This was part of the annual New Years trip for 2015.  This year it was a long haul out to Tucson with the main goal of finally getting to explore Cave of the Bells after missing out the previous year.

New Years 2015
Jen and I had tried to do this cave before.  Back in December of 2013 Cave of the Bells was planned as our last activity of a multi-cave multi-peak extravaganza.  We jumped through all the hoops, had our permit and the gate key, and spent the night camped out front only to have a freak occurrence hit when Jeff was bitten in the face by a skunk while sleeping out on the ground.

Actual picture right after Jeff was bitten.  Remember!  Save your friends but then take a picture.  They'll appreciate it later

Sadly this meant no cave. And also a very large number of shots administered by incredulous medical professionals for poor Jeff. So Cave of the Bells went back on the bucket list until the 2015 New Years trip. Jeff didn't seem overly interested in going back so instead, we had Kristen with us.

We'd spent the previous night in Picacho Peak State Park.  (One of the many Picacho Peaks around)

And it had been rather cold.

I'd strongly suggest not actually staying at this campground due to the massive amount of noise you hear from the 10.  I don't know where else you can stay in the area but there have to be better options.  On the plus side the traffic noise did partially drown out the RV generators.

You do get to enjoy the sun rising over the local Adult Boutique

It also isn't cheap though the tent only sites are actually only $15 not $25 according to the sign on our individual site.

We got out of there early and headed for downtown Tucson to get the key.  This involves waiting for a federal building to open and going through TSA levels of security.

We went upstairs and picked up the key with no complications.  By the time we could get to the cave it was going to be kind of late so we ended up exploring some mines outside of Tucson for a while but everything we found was somewhat disappointing.

We also took advantage of the fact Kristen had a grandmother who lives part-time in Tucson and helped ourselves a hot shower before heading for the trailhead.

The road was rough in a few spots but at least the signs are friendly.

We drove to the place we'd slept last year but no one was in a hurry to risk another skunk encounter.  It just had a somewhat creepy vibe to it.  It was also really cold and that spot didn't have much of a fire pit.  We ended up backtracking to a rather nice spot by a river crossing and taking over a Jeep camp.

The fire ring was huge and the firewood was plentiful, what more could you ask for?

The next morning we drove back to the cave parking lot and examined the location where Jeff was attacked before loading up our gear and setting off down a short trail leading to the cave.

The cave is rather interesting right from the start.

Right off the bat you have to drop down maybe 10 feet to even access the gate.

The key worked (fortunately) and with a few jokes about how long we'd be waiting if it jammed on the way out we descended.  It quickly grew warm and humid.

The entrance chamber was neat because there was gold colored flecks sparking in our headlamps.  (It's hard to see due to the dust we were stirring up)

Then came the crawl space.  It looked to have been the old gate since there were instructions on how to open it on the back side,

We found the register here along with a spare key and some notes about the cave.

The main tunnel had numbered markers so we were constantly running around looking for little red tags.

This is what we were looking for.  They weren't spaced very far apart but depending on the section we had to do a lot of scrambling around before we could locate the next tag and two were either missing or we just could find them.

Parts of the cave were also rather tricky like this section.

Kristen is emerging awkwardly after having climb up a very narrow room

Decent pictures are pretty much impossible due to the narrow confines, dust in the air, and limitations of a point and shoot camera.

Unlike Crystal Cave (the only other comparable cave I've done) there was mud all over the place

The red tags eventually petered out at 20.

We went a little further, explored several rather tight dead ends, and found a way to drop down further.  The picture above is where I stopped but we sent Jen down to look around.  She reported it basically ended there so we headed back.

This doofy shot was taken at the end of a long side passage that just seemed to go on and on before terminating in a small white room barely big enough for two people.  I was disappointed when it turned out Jen & Kristen had never read Ted the Caver.

As we made our way back toward the entrance explored every side passage we could find that didn't require ropes to enter.  In addition to a few big drops, we found some passages that had steep mud covered slopes that we didn't really want to risk.

We knew from other people's writeups there was an underground lake but they weren't real clear how to find it.

We did find this small pool.

Eventually, we'd had all the fun we could stand and headed for the surface.  It was dark out and I swear as I led the way through the crawl space we caught a whiff of skunk.  We were once again happy we'd camped elsewhere.

We spent another night at our excellent little campsite only slightly wishing for another shower.  Our clothes were all caked with mud after crawling around for the 8 or so hours we were underground.

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