Personal History

submitted by: Col. Matheson

Our Cave 2023

During the early years of my parents’ courtship, mother worked for the Union Pacific Park Service at Bryce Canyon while my father drove a supply truck for the same company to Cedar Breaks where he also worked a part-time second job and drove commissary vehicles to each of the other national parks. On one occasion he carried a bouquet of flowers to the dormitory where mother was staying and left them on her window sill. The practice became routine and was frequently accompanied by a short excursion into the surrounding area. On one particular trip they found themselves at Cedar Breaks National Monument where they proceeded to hike down the dangerous escarpment of the east rim to a projection of white sandstone just above the red rocks of the canyon hundreds of feet below them. There they placed a heart made of rocks with initials in it as a token of mutual affection. They also visited points of interest in the local area. One was to be Mammoth Cave, East of Cedar Breaks National Monument.
In search of Mammoth Cave (which was not identified by roads or maps) they attempted to follow verbal directions and knew they were close to the opening of the cave, but were unable to find it. They parked their car and proceeded into the woods in search for the gaping hole that would have given them entrance to the large lava tube cave beneath them. In the midst of their search Dad noticed soil collapsing under his feet. Out of curiosity he removed the rocks surrounding the opening to discover a rooftop entry to an extensive labyrinth of lava tubes beneath him. After enlarging the hole and placing a post in the hole, he was able to climb into the cave and realize that he was standing on top of what had been a ceiling rock fall from thousands of years prior. The rock fall enabled him, followed by mother, to enter the cave below.
Having been prepared for Mammoth Cave, the explorers had lanterns and flashlights with them, and they proceeded to explore the cave before them. They determined that to the northward the tunnel extended beneath the earth’s surface for over ¼ mile where the end was closed off with the evident internal lava flow. Upon close inspection, they observed that during the time the volcanos above them were formed, gas and lava had flowed down this tube until the eruption waned leaving a progressively slower flow of lava with waves and ripples frozen in time. They also found splash marks and cavities, evidence of the molten lava dripping from stalactites to the floor of the cave. They also explored in the opposite end of the tube, finding that the lava tube extended several hundred yards before it apparently ended in a solid wall.
Over many intervening years they shared the curiosity of “our cave” with family members, enjoyed numerous picnics at the site and invited other friends with similar interests to visit our cave including forest rangers and geologists. It was not infrequent for local college professor, Parley Dally, Professor of geology at the Branch Agriculture College in Cedar City who was astounded at the unique character and contents of the cave.
Over the years our interest in the cave waned until during my teenage years a rock-hound friend visited with my parents and the discussion of the cave came up. He insisted on having a chance to see the cave, so a visit was scheduled and preparations made with a great deal of excitement in our family who generally knew of the cave, but had not visited it. When we arrived at the cave, the party proceeded with lanterns, flashlights, and a great deal of paraphernalia expecting that they were going into a” Lehman Cave.” After entry the party proceeded to inspect various assets and aspects of the cave. In my youthful exuberance, I ran ahead to the end of the cave, saw nothing of interest to me, turned around and bypassed the group on my way to the opposite end of the cave. I was not to be denied the privilege of not being certain that I was at the end of the cave. Accordingly, I lay down on my stomach and inched my way to the apparent end only to find that I could continue on my stomach through a narrow opening between the lava flow and the ceiling through which my light showed no end. I inched my way through to find myself in a large and spacious portion of the cave that extended well beyond my sight in a series of gentle turns. I excitedly ran through the tunnel with ceilings often 14-16 feet above me and walls 20 feet on either side to a junction to many tunnels both above and below me. Unable to contain my excitement, I returned through the group to find them more than amply distress at my disappearance. It was only when my excitement prevailed and their curiosity was aroused that I was able to lead them to the new entrance and a continuation of our cave.
After a number of years and multiple visits, we were able to map the cave with magnetic compasses and chains to determine that in its entirety the cave extended for nearly a mile with a number of branches that have yet to be explored and recognized that though our efforts were sincere, we could not positively ascertain that we had come to the end of our cave. We made a marker of oak emblazoned with ut names fired by a torch and then waxed to serve as an identifier to anyone else who should be fortunate enough to locate the entrance. We also left several items such as flashbulbs, cartridges, and other items that might be of interest to future visitors. On our departure, our cave was carefully sealed, rocks replaced, and a triangle of marking blazes cut deeply into adjoining ponderosa trees to identify the spot for future opportunities. And the cave was forgotten
It was not until I returned on leave from school with several friends who visualized themselves as spelunkers, I was cajoled to return to the cave. We were well prepared with lights, cameras, measuring equipment, and enthusiasm. Ostensibly, our goal was to remap the cave to perfection and record it on a national register of speleology. We proceeded to do so, and then once again sealed the cave after checking our bearings.
Some twenty or thirty years later I returned circa 1995 and found that I was unable to locate the cave. Disappointed, I dedicated several family trips and Boy Scout trips to Mammoth Cave and stole quietly away to see whether I could relocate our cave. Eventually in the company of my wife Barbara we were able to rediscover the location of the cave confused by a series of forest fires that had ravaged the area. I was able to take a GPS position of the exact entrance and verify that the blazes were still intact. To my knowledge our cave has never been visited and its existence only rumored since that date. On one occasion geologists from the Arizona State University in Tucson learned of the cave probably from speleological records. Anxious to visit the cave in search of samples of lava, stalactites and stalagmites that had been recorded at what is now Southern Utah University. I agreed to assist them and looked forward to revisiting our cave at some point in the future, but contact with the school has been lost or forgotten.
There may come a time when it is appropriate to share the location with other family members. I have been routinely challenged by the Dixie Forest Rangers to share the location with them in the interest of “public safety”, but my evident mistrust has always dissuaded me from doing so. There may come a time when it is appropriate our cave with the concern that I am neither as small nor as agile as I used to be? To be physically able to enter the closed extension of the cave, but it would be fun to try. It would be a great thrill to family members small in stature to do so. We were never able to observe or identify any hazard to life, limb or structure within the cave or the extensive tubal system. As a note the cave was completely devoid of any moisture or any evidence of biological or animal intrusion. It was also completely soundless. And so it remains today.