For a place where "there are no caves to speak of", southern Arizona sure has some beautiful karst. The dense blue limestone exposed amongst subtropical forests of oak and pine adds an exotic flavor to an exotic landscape. In many areas, limestone hides below the rolling savannas of mesquite and chest high grass that flank the mountains. Cave country, indeed.
Where there are caves, there is a certain level of secrecy amongst the local caving community and the forest service to help protect the fragile and pristine environment found underground. Often, it can be hard to breach this secrecy, and it takes time to gain people's trust before much of anything related to caves is willfully revealed. Elitist? Probably. But once you see the harm that is intentionally and unintentionally brought upon these magical underground worlds by visitors, it's easier to understand why "there are no caves to speak of" around here.
Not far from the border of Mexico, we drive up a winding dirt road that leads into the mountains. You can see the border fence in the distance, an unnaturally perfect line dividing an otherwise unbroken landscape. On the craggy slopes above us are large areas of beautiful blue and grey limestone.
We continue up a deep canyon on foot, where flowing water and abundant shade provide a lush haven for sycamores, and hackberry, coatimundi and even jaguar. Fallen leaves have left the trail somewhat indiscernible but eventually we arrive at a small outcrop equipped with a tiny locked steel gate. Humid air, several degrees warmer, blows through. This rather inconspicuous locale is the entrance to one of the most pristine and protected caves in southern Arizona.
Our trip leader has been here many times. He tells us about how the cave used to be insignificant- a shallow hole that led nowhere, until a group of out of town cavers smashed down some cave formations to open a lead. Oh, the irony.