Travels in the American Southwest

Hidden Cave

Saturday AM, 8/23

Got an early start on this Saturday morning. We had a deadline of 10:00 AM that we had to meet it if we were going to be able to tour the Hidden Cave outside Fallon, NV. MSO and I made excellent time heading west on US50. We passed through the mountain mining town of Austin, zipped by the Shoetree near Middlegate and paused briefly at Sand Mountain. Wanted to pick up some sand and check out the Loneliest Telephone on America's Loneliest Highway - US 50. On this day, the phone was inoperable so calls to family and friends would have to wait.

Cruised into the parking lot of Grimes Point. Knew we were early but also knew that there would soon be a caravan of vehicles coming down the gravel road shortly. While waiting, I reviewed some paperwork and had a cup of tea. Then another cup followed by another. A lone vehicle with a single occupant arrived and we continued to wait for the caravan. Took a good look at the vehicle's occupant and noticed she was wearing a uniform. It was a BLM employee but she was alone, not leading a pack of cars. I approached her, gave a hearty good morning and inquired about the scheduled tour. She replied, "Oh, there was no one at the Churchill County Museum for the tour today so I just came out to restock the brochures. I'd be happy to give you a tour."

The private tour was great! Our guide was knowledgeable about the geology, botany, and anthropology of the area. I learned that lichen is responsible for allowing the sandy desert floor to support plant life. This brown/black lichen stabilizes the sandy soil allowing plant seeds to root rather than be washed away in the rain. But this type of lichen is fragile. Were it to be walked on, it would be damaged and its ability to provide a suitable soil for other plants would be greatly lessened. That's why you stay on the path; Especially when visiting Hidden Cave and other developed areas. Colorful species of red and yellow lichen adorn many of the rocks along the trail. I was stunned to hear how slow-growing these species of lichen are. A colony about the size of a silver dollar is roughly 100 years old. A thoughtless hiker jumping from lichen-covered rock to rock would destroy the lichen colonies, colonies that have survived and grown for thousands of years. That's why you stay on the path.

One stop was Tufa Cave. More correctly described as a shelter rather than a cave, it is covered with popcorn-like tufa, a calcium carbonate that precipitated from hot springs when the entire area was 400 feet below the surface of ancient Lake Lahontan. A large chuck of tufa lay on the ground. Our guide pointed to the ceiling where the heavy chunk of rock originated. "This fell one day after a tour was completed. That's why we stand at the mouth of the shelter rather than venturing under the overhang now."

We continued our short walk to Hidden Cave. Another hiker appeared as our BLM guide unlocked the heavy steel door at the mouth of the cave and started the generator. Together, the four of us entered the cave. Our guide explained the history of the cave, artifacts found during archeological excavation and that the odor of ammonia was from generations of bat guano.

Due to problems recently experienced with the generator, we had been issued flashlights just in case it stopped part way through the tour. We were listening to our guide explain the mechanics of an archeological dig. I was snapping pictures when MSO leaned against me. I'm a lucky guy to be the object of her affection, I thought. Then she whispered those three little words : "I'm gonna faint". Huh? I turned around to see her on the verge of unconsciousness. "OK, nice and easy. One foot in front of the other and we're getting out of here into the fresh air." We make it two steps, the flashlight slips from her grasp and she crumbles into my arms. Our BLM guide steps forward to support MSO but it's much too late for that. I cradle her and slowly allow gravity to take her down. Training taught me that once someone who has fainted was on their back, they recover quickly as did MSO. Her first words : "Why am I on the ground?" She slowly got up and gingerly made her way to the mouth of the cave, resting on a bench outside in the fresh air. Seeing she was well on her way to recovery and had no desire to re-enter the cave, I decided to push my luck. "Uh, honey. Can I go back into the cave and finish taking pictures?" At that point in time, I could have asked to go to Timbuktu, the Cottonwood Ranch or a Roman orgy! As long as MSO could sit in the fresh air I could do whatever I fancied! I finished snapping my photos and we carefully negotiated the path down to the parking lot at the bottom of the hill.

Our morning activity done, we headed into Fallon to stock up on perishables. It would be our last chance to do so for the next six days. That accomplished, our afternoon goal was to find the site of Fly Geyser north of Gerlach, NV.

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