By Craig Springer
I looked down into a gaping metal well casing. At 20 feet, the perpetual darkness swallowed the sunlight. Over a hundred feet below, I would start a trek that few have had the opportunity to enjoy. Fewer yet would probably want to descend this opening into Edgewood’s basement.
The geology that underlies Edgewood is prime for caves. The limestone lying below is the same limestone jutting into the sky atop the Sandia Mountains. You will even find the same seashell fossils in both places.
Long-time Edgewood residents that have sunk wells know first-hand about caves. Caves are prevalent out here, and it is not uncommon to hit voids underground, usually starting around 90 feet below the surface. Caves are stacked on top of each other, like a honeycomb.
Recently, Roger Holden from Edgewood’s Parks and Recreation Department and I, along with a few members of the National Speleological Society, descended into Edgewood Caverns via an entrance located on property owned by Wes Cavenee near Dinkle and NM 344.
Except for a purported and unconfirmed natural opening somewhere near NM 217, this is the caverns’ only known entrance. They were discovered in 1973 and soon after partly explored and mapped by U.S. Geological Survey geologists. The entrance was capped off and exploration has been limited for liability concerns. My party of six was the first to go in since 1993.
I was securely hoisted into the well casing, which ran 130 feet to the cave below. I’m not an experienced caver but I was in good hands – everyone there was a veteran. John Stephenson, the only one among our party who had previously been in the caves, led the trip. John Lyles was first to go down, skillfully rappelling to the bottom. After Lyles, it was my turn. I secured a diaper-style harness around my hips and thighs and was lowered down into the subterranean dark. Lyle’s headlamp was a speck of light below. I felt like a human pipe cleaner, my knees and shoulders brushing the metal casing as I descended, my face never more than a few inches from its sides. At the bottom, Lyles helped me out of the harness and guided me to a meeting place.
Holden followed. After a moment of serious apprehension, we moved on, slipping out of the confines of a dripping wet room and into a large passage. The cave walls were carpeted with small white and buff-colored crystals called calcite. The old limestone was fractured in many places, and other, darker minerals had leached through the cracks, leaving a dark thin streak in the gray-green limestone. In an open area called the Glory Road, one side of the passage had stuck to its side what looked like a huge dip of caramel swirl mint ice cream.
Another geologic structure speaks directly to water. Called the Raft Room, it was covered with small, thin plates of rock that look like corn flakes and are known as calcite rafts. Ranging from dinner plate size down to a matchbook, these rafts formed when Edgewood Caverns was filled with water when ancient Lake Estancia was above ground some 15,000 years ago. As the water slowly receded, the calcium carbonate precipitated out of the water, leaving behind this testamentary evidence.
After five hours in Edgewood Caverns, I was tired. I twisted my way over the wet, muddy rocks near the bottom of the well casing and was very happy to see the circle of blue sky at the top. Edgewood Caverns is no Carlsbad. But the cave is beautiful and very much worth taking care of, and Holden sees recreation potential in it for the Town of Edgewood. For now, however, it remains closed to the public, its entrance sealed.
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