28 July 2008

Cañon Catarpe and Cave of the Bones

Originally drafted 27 July 2008

Finished exploring Cuevita de Catarpe, and about to down climb to ground. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Today, Knutt’s team continued to map Cueva Lechuza de Campanario, while Pete and I deployed sensors. Knutt has indicated they expect to spend about two more days mapping this cave. There after, they plan to further refine their mapping techniques. The mapping station interval was too small resulting in the team spending a lot more time at this cave than they would like. We feel by increasing the mapping interval slightly will still provide us with the volumetric information required to best model cave thermal behavior. I am purposefully being vague here because we plan to publish a paper using these new volumetric mapping techniques. So, for those who may be interested, you’ll have to wait for the paper to be published.

Christina taking a break from mapping Cueva Lechuza de Campanario. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Pete and I deployed sensors at two cave-like features. These features were small piping caves – neither of these had a dark zone. The purpose of monitoring both caves and non-cave features is so we can ultimately differentiate between the two by interpreting thermal imagery.

Cuevita de Catarpe.

Our first stop was Cañon Catarpe. This canyon is incredibly picturesque. To get to the upper reaches of this canyon, you must cross the Rio San Pedro several times. This canyon has been cut by the Rio San Pedro, and historically it likely saw quite a bit of water. At the lower reaches of the canyon, it contains the small village of Quitor, as well as Ruinas de Quitor and Caverna de Quitor.

With Cuevita de Catarpe rigged, I can now ascend this 15 foot climb. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

The view of Cañon Catarpe.

Pete attempting to rig a rope to ascend a 15 foot nuisance rappel to get into Cuevita de Catarpe.

Cañon Catarpe also contains one of our non-cave features Cuevita de Catarpe. A photo of this small cave was published by Shane Fryer in the 2005 issue of the NSS News. This is a small pipe about 50 meters in length with the upper end of the pipe terminating in a sinkhole. The entrance of this feature faces the canyon floor. It required a short climb up about 6 meters before I reached walkable passage. Because the rock in this canyon as well as in the Cordillera de la Sal is incredibly brambly and unconsolidated, there were little to no reliable hand and foot holds. So, Pete and I had to rig a rope so that I could have a belayed climb.

Image of ungulate bones observed in the walls of Cuevita de Huesos.

After spending about two hours working this area, we left for another small cave-like feature we were calling “Casa de la Araña.” Well, we’ve decided to change the name of this small piping cave. We found hundreds of thousands of bones and skulls eroding out of the cave walls. So, we’ve renamed this small cave Cuevita de Huesos (or Small Cave of the Bones). While we didn’t need a rope to get up to the upper reaches of this piping feature, we did need to free climb up about 4 meters to get to horizontal walkable passage. This is where we found all the bones mixed in with tree branches.

Another view of bones from Cuevita de Huesos. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

I’m not certain whether these animals were dumped into this small piping cave by prehistoric peoples or whether these animals were trapped in a flood and accumulated in the portion of the unconsolidated sediment, which is now the piping cave. Whatever the mechanism for their deposition, this find was incredibly cool and rather exhilarating. Pete and I had a blast marveling over the extent of this deposition as well as discussing what could have possibly lead to the deposition of these bones. Once the sensors were deployed in this feature we moved on.

It was late in the day, and we had planned a climb up a steep ridgeline to another possible cave. However, given the time we chose to investigate a large sinkhole located on a highway outside San Pedro. We spent about an hour at this feature discussing how we would rappel into it. We determined the best method would be to anchor off the truck, and that it would involve about a 120 foot rappel. We plan to do this within the next few days.

It will take some time to do this and we will also need our safety officer to be present during this part of the project. There has been mention of bad air within this sink; however, we don’t believe this to be the case. Just to be on the safe side, we will be lowering an O2 sensor prior to rappelling into this feature. There is a good possibility there is lateral passage at the base of this sinkhole. However, we won’t know until we get down there! If not, it will make an excellent non-cave study feature, and may be an analog for the pit craters on Arsia Mons, Mars.

Cañon Catarpe and Rio San Pedro. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.


Lonely Paul said...


Patrick said...

Very cool find!! I had to look up "ungulate." I don't know if I'll be able to use it in a sentence, but I'm going to try. I was led to this blog by a Yahoo news article on the find, written Robert Roy Britt of LiveScience. I climbed in a lot of caves as a kid, but nothing like this! Now I'm a married, 43 year old father of three. I'm glad I got my cave climbing in while I could. Good luck and be careful down there!


John said...

Could Noah's flood explain why thousands of animals sought refuge high up in a cave? and how plant matter ended-up there? (in a dry desert where little to no water is)