It was the spring of 1994 when I spoke with Michael “Mike” Ward on the phone after a busy weekend.
We’d met a few years earlier as freshmen at the University of New Mexico, and had already gone on many camping and backpacking adventures together. But that weekend was different. Mike had gone camping with a new group that was tied to an elective class at UNM–a caving class.
“How did it go?” I asked. I was extremely curious about caving and was excited to hear Mike’s report.
“It was awesome!,” Mike exclaimed, before I could finish the question. “We went to this dusty, butt kicker of a cave north of Albuquerque, spent about 4 hours underground crawling through tight spaces, and had a blast!”
This was very good news. Like all good New Mexicans, we’d been to the world famous Carlsbad Caverns and its system of
caves, at various times in our youth, but that was a tourist destination for the most part. This new adventure was wild caving. It just sounded like fun: Wild caving.
That next weekend, after a week of rigging up a hardhat with a headlamp, and scrounging up some kneepads (still on a college budget), we were off to Cave #5.
“This cave has a number of entrances/exits along the path,” said Mike as we drove across the dry New Mexico landscape.
“It’s not very maze-like, but it sure is dirty and dusty.”
Mike kept talking about his experiences in this cave. 1 section that caught my attention was a tight passage called the Afterbirth.
“The Afterbirth, “ he repeated. “It’s a tight crawl that’s about 6 feet long, but you have to go in on your back because it sorta bends upwards.”
“How tight?” I asked.
“Tight enough that if you keep your elbows near your chest, you won’t be able to stretch them out above your head to pull your way through.”
I thought about this, trying to envision myself crawling on my back, with my arms extended above my head, to catch on to a handhold and pull myself through. “Sounds a bit scary,” I concluded.
“Yeah, but if you can do that without freaking out, you just might be a caver.”
Turns out, I was indeed a caver. And fortunately, New Mexico has hundreds of wild caves.
18 years and many outdoors adventures have happened since my first wild cave experience. Over the years, we began shooting video and documenting the beautiful sights of the New Mexico underground. Our videos have been screened at film festivals and online (www.nm-digital.com), and our fellow New Mexicans genuinely enjoy watching our crew crawl around in the dirt.
2012 hosted 5 caves for the NMU crew and it’s amazing to remember cave #5 back in 1994, while looking forward to cave #52 in 2013.