To part 2
Dave couldn't get a date into Lech for a few months. So Brooke invited him up for a founder's tour of Serious Cave and a look at the data she had about Yellowstone.
Two weeks later she picked him up before sunrise at his motel and they left for the cave.
He was very pleased with the detail of her survey maps and the fact that there were leads in the cave that hadn't been pushed to their conclusion. She let him pick one just past the Bus Stop and they worked it for several hours through a series of crawls they began to refer to as the 'where ya at?' maze. Then they decided, after becoming somewhat lost for awhile, that that was a perfect name for it.
They were tired of crawling and worked their way back out to a larger space. Then they pushed on through some tight squeezes that seemed to run on forever slowly sloping down.
Without warning the crack opened to a larger room with several other cracks continuing down from there.
"Well my dear, the name is correct. You've got a Serious Cave here." He nodded his approval at a lead he spotted off the chamber that would involve an interesting freeclimb up the undercut ledge. Brooke wanted to go for it but Dave had had enough for that day. He stooped to examine some rocks that looked familiar from Lech. "Well I'll be." He said as he wiped dust from the rocks.
"That's the clam layer." She said. "There's more fossils like that in the Haystack room. Permian Crinoids aren't they?"
"I am really impressed. With your cave." He stood up and looked at her. "And you."
They even took their swim in the stream.
Later at her parent's house Dave looked over her data. And the reports from other sites. And the historical documentation from caves and mines for a hundred miles in any direction.
Then he sat back and sighed for a long minute.
"I didn't know you were this heavy into it." He said.
"So what do you think?" Her dad asked him.
"Of it or her?" He said marveling at how pretty she really was when she wasn't covered with corrosion residue and other muck from a cave.
"Her first." Brooke's mom said with a smile.
"I think I'm loosing my professional objectivity with her work."
"That's good." Her dad said.
Dave said he'd love to push that lead they'd discovered and it didn't take Brooke long to convince him to stay on another day and they could do an actual expedition to it and not worry about getting out of the area before dark.
Bright and early the next morning they made sure Brooke's parking permit was visible through her windshield then they set off with their packs into the cave. She locked the access behind them and signed them in. Then they set off for The Cracks.
"This is a lot more fun than Lech." Dave said as they worked their way through. "There's so many off limit areas and so many formations you can't move around like this."
"Caving should be fun. If it's not, it's work. Like your sampling run."
"You didn't have fun doing that?" Dave asked as he pulled their supply pack through the last of the cracks into the Crack Room where they'd actually start their exploration from a base camp, four hours of steady walking into the cave.
She climbed through and fell on top of him when her foot cleared the crack. "This is more fun." She said. In spite of everything, after they kissed they separated and both wanted to see where the larger crack went.
They took a break and organized their survey and camera equipment, then they checked their lights one last time. Then each tried to get the other to go first. Finally Brooke played a trump card and kissed him again then told him to go.
"That's not fair." He said. But he patted his head light and stepped into the crack.
It went down at a steep angle more or less at the same steady rate with no other breaks or openings for a long way. And they followed it down as best they could.
Now the fissure appeared bottomless, they had to brace their knees against the walls to keep from pinching their feet too tightly to move as the crack below them narrowed too much to navigate several meters below them, but as far as Dave's big light would reach, there was no bottom. At first they took measurements every so often, but then it got too interesting to keep doing that and keep their place between the nearly smooth rock walls.
"Dave, look up."
He did. Far above. Way far above, there was a tiny speck of light. They turned off their lights to make sure it wasn't a reflection. It wasn't.
"How far do you think it is to that opening?" Brooke asked him.
"Hard to tell. If it's a big hole, a long way, if it's a little bat crack, might not be very far at all." He switched on his light. "Let me see if I can shimmy up there."
He put his feet on one wall and his back and hands on the other and inched his way up. Brooke watched him go for a long time.
"Well, it's further than it looks. And it starts to get narrow again up here." He called down.
"Not that I can see.... Wait a minute." Dave swung his light one way then the other. "I see where the bats go... But I can't get there. Not this time anyway."
"They can stay there. You coming down?"
"Yes ma'am." She heard him say, then he started half sliding and half climbing down.
They pushed on in the crack. It started to get a little wider so they began going further and further down.
"Whew." Dave said. "An opening."
They eased out into an only marginally larger opening where their crack intersected another fissure running at an angle to it. The room the merge created was half filled with broken rock creating something of a floor.
"Break. Then down some more?" Dave asked playing his light down their crack's continuation.
"Yes sir." She said using his cave nickname and as she sat down and stretched where they room was the widest.
"Oh no. You're the team leader. I'm just here to put down survey markers." He said, then he put one off to one side in the narrow room.
Brooke drew an approximation of the crack system with the numbers from the marker in the room, and indicated about where they thought the daylight opening was.
They drank some water and were polite when they used the relief bottle. They agreed to share it to avoid carrying two half full bottles through the narrow passage. Dave taped off a dry area of the room and put the bottle in it, then wrote a note stating that it was an approved common use site.
In a few minutes they started into the next passage with Brooke taking the point this time.
Now it was running down at almost an uncomfortable angle.
"We're getting really deep." Brooke said.
"Yeah." Dave answered from above and behind her. "We're going a meter down for every two or three horizontally.
"Let me know when you want to turn back."
"If you see flames and a guy with a pitchfork, we'll turn back." Dave chuckled at the old caver joke.
The fault in the rock started to shift from vertical to more of an angle. Brooke had to stop and turn over so she was crawling on her hands and feet along the shaft. Dave followed suit shortly thereafter.
Dave got worried when Brooke's lights suddenly vanished.
"Hey!" He called out to her.
"Well." Brooke said. "Look at this."
"What?" Dave said, then he sort of fell out of the crack into a long low roofed room that wasn't a fault line, it was a real cave room.
"We'd better not stay long." Brooke said making a face.
In the crack there had been a slight but constant breeze from above them. Now in the room they could smell something like tar.
"Where's it coming from?" Dave asked.
Brooke sniffed, then pointed. One end of the room led slightly up, the breeze was blowing gently that way. The other direction was down. That's where the smell was coming from.
Dave took the point and crawled forward. They went down for awhile, then stopped. "Feel it." He said then he coughed deeply.
"It's... Yuck. And fumes." Her eyes were watering.
"Rock bugs. We'll come back with a sample kit. And some masks." He coughed again. He backed up a little and put down a survey marker while she took a couple of quick pictures. Then they backed out to where they came into the low room.
"Wanna look up there?" Brooke asked. But she was already crawling that way. There was occasional evidence of the rock eating microbes, but this area was for the most part dry. Meaning the rock dissolving process had all but stopped here. After a short distance the room played out into an opening too small to allow them to continue. The far side of the room was thicker with both fumes and slime covered rotting rock. They coughed their way back to the crack with the fresh air flow.
Brooke looked around and quickly sketched the area. "Up?" she asked as she finished.
They scrambled up the crack and finally came to the intersection. They probed the cross crack for some distance, but it began to get too small to work not far from the room. Then they took a prolonged break in the intersection room for a light lunch and a lot of water. Afterward they marked off the map then worked back up toward another lead they had seen further up.
Finally they arrived back at the base camp. Brooke stretched with her arms over her head, then sagged onto a narrow ledge and relaxed.
Dave was exuberant, "I love pure exploration like this." He picked up the map and looked at it.
"Oh." She mock pouted. "I thought you just wanted to spend time with me."
He looked over the map at her. "Well. There were a couple of other reasons."
They rested for awhile, then made another push in the maze. But its complexity still overwhelmed them. Back at base camp Brooke got out the larger map of the cave and began drawing in the new passages.
"I-70?" Dave said watching her work.
"Oh yeah." Brooke traced the large cavern with a finger. "There's still leads off it that haven't been pushed. That section is just honeycombed with tunnels, all working off the main passage."
"Tomorrow?" Dave said.
She smiled. "Tomorrow."
They rested for awhile. Then pushed the last lead off their base camp room. It was two more hours of alternating crawling and bellying and a half slide crabwalk down a fissure before the lead played out in a deadend shaft. They searched it for a continuation but it led nowhere.
"Now that's unusual." Dave said. "Not even a crack."
Brooke was sitting near the entrance. "But there's a breeze." She held her hand in the opening, air was flowing gently from the pit into the passage.
Dave nodded. "Could be a whole lot of small openings." He looked up. "See, up there." The ceiling was fractured in several places.
"But no way out"
"Not for us." Dave put down a marker and Brooke made the note. "There was that one lead back about halfway up."
"OK." Brooke said, she turned around and started to belly back up the fissure.
"One more push, then we get some rest."
"You're starting to sound like.... again." She called him his nickname.
"Somebody has to take care of you."
The lead went on and on. Multiple openings, double backs, a pit or two, but then Dave stopped.
"Here's a survey marker." Dave said shining his light on the small flag with cryptic numbers on it. "There's another one." He pointed his light through a gap into another room.
"That looks familiar." Brooke said. She unfolded the lead sheet. "It's from an extension off I-70." She wrote down the numbers at the end of the passage they'd just squeezed through. "The Lovers are in the next room over there." She pointed through the opening.
Dave raised his eyebrows, then smiled. "I thought the lovers were in here."
She blushed and smiled back. "They've been at it longer. Come on."
The Lovers, the stone variety, were two large columns somewhat intertwined with smaller speleothems. Instead of human lovers, they more closely resembled affectionate giant squid.
The Lovers, the human variety, were just as affectionate.
"I think we should go for another swim."
They picked up their clothes and made their way back to base camp laughing and joking.
Dave untied the pads and asked where she wanted him to put them. She smiled and said side by side.
Later, over a warm meal of canned stew heated over an alcohol burner Dave got quiet.
"OK. Spill it. No secrets underground." She repeated one of the club's rules.
"I was thinking about something." He said. She waited. He continued. "Your stuff about Yellowstone."
"Scary isn't it?"
"Horrifying." Dave said, then looked up. "And I don't think I've ever used that word to describe something before...." He thought about it. "No, this is it. It's horrifying."
"But if they all know about it, and say they're monitoring the situation. What can we do?"
"I don't know." He put his small plastic plate down. "I know a guy whose family owns land in Wyoming. There's a couple of small caves up in the hills near there..." He looked at Brooke. "If I remember right, their property is only a hundred miles or so from Yellowstone."
She smiled at him. "I knew was falling in love with you for a reason."
They slept for a few hours, then woke up next to each other, then, later, slept for a few more hours.
Brooke woke up and blinked. Dave was already up, fixing breakfast. She sat up and smiled at him.
"Good morning..." Brooke looked at her watch. "It's really early."
"Very. But I thought breakfast was in order." He stirred the skillet. "Grilled spam, scrambled eggs..."
"Real or ..."
"Liquid." He held up the container. "Toasted pita. Coffee."
She got up and stretched. "Sounds good."
"I can eat powdered eggs, but not by choice." Dave said.
"Me too." She sat next to the alcohol burner and smiled at him. "Thank you."
He looked up a little puzzled but her smile said it all. "Thank you."
They kissed until the eggs sizzled and broke it up.
They breakfasted and laughed and talked about the day's agenda, and the trip they both wanted to make to Wyoming. And Dave's ongoing effort to get a major expedition on the books for Lechuguilla.
"Before summer." Was all he'd say about a possible date for the trek. "But I want to work on Yellowstone too." He looked at her. "I want to go back up there. Soon."
The idea of going into the middle of a caldera larger than the county and that could spew a pyroclastic flow that could swallow a couple of states without warning simply chilled her. But... "I'll go with you."
After they cleaned up their meal they got back into caving gear. They put together a kit to help them map the maze once and for all. At least they thought it should.
Three hours of crawling and marking later, they were about to give up. Then Brooke started shouting excitedly.
"Look!" She pointed down through a narrow opening where the roof and floor met. The ceiling of their passage continued on, but the floor vanished.
Dave crawled over to her and looked.
It was a large room, with a huge formation in the middle of it that looked familiar. "That's..." He couldn't remember the name.
"The Caravan side of Grandpa's House."
"That means." He backed up and pulled out a copy of the map. "The maze has wound back through here..." He put one hand over the other. "We're above that one crawlway."
They made the note on the map and put down a marker that could be seen from the other chamber. Then pushed on with Dave taking the lead.
The passageway got wider, but it also got lower. Then all of the sudden Brooke heard sliding rock.
"Oh Shit!" Dave exclaimed, then he repeated it with even more inflection.
"What?" Brooke said from behind him. Then she heard more crumbling rock and more exclamations from Dave.
"Pull me back!" He was making frantic swimming motions backward but barely moving. "Damned punk rock."
Brooke grabbed his feet and pulled.
"Allright. Whew. Thanks." He sagged onto solid ground.
"What is it?"
"A blind pit." He sighed deeply. "They always get your blood pumping."
Brooke slowly crawled forward and carefully approached the undercut pit that opened unexpectedly into darkness in the middle of a slight rise in their passage. It extended across the tunnel and back into the walls on either side. The rim of the pit was corroded rock that crumbled if you looked at it too hard. They carefully stretched up to the edge of the opening, then they both peered down pointing a larger light down into the hole.
"Fifteen, twenty feet." Dave said looking down.
"Something like that. See any leads?"
"One." He pointed to one side.
"There's another. And down there."
"And across." He looked back at where he had been going. "But don't ask me how to get to it." He looked around shining his light here and there, then lastly, he looked up.
"Maybe there's a way around it in the maze." Brooke said peering across the pit.
"Look up." Dave said.
Brooke rolled over and directed her headlamp up. "Oh my."
"That. Is why I do this."
Brooke took picture after picture of the gleaming crystals growing from a row of stalactites that marched across the fractured dome over the pit. They refracted their lights into small rainbows and twinkled with the flash. The cavers laid there and looked at them for a long time.
"OK. What do we call it?" Brooke asked him.
"I can't think of anything. I've never seen anything like this."
"We'll think of something." Brooke was trying to sketch the passage and the pit.
"Perfect Sword Pit." Dave said suddenly as he put down the marker.
"I like it."
"Back to that lead on the left this side of the window?"
The maze began to play out, but so were they.
They went back to base camp and took a long break. Then they made love while the water heated for some coffee. Then they started putting together some equipment for a push on a climbing lead off I-70.
"Brooke?" Somebody called. "Dave?"
"Here." Brooke answered the echoing voice.
"Sounded like Bill." She said. "From my caving group."
"Oh yeah, the Wasatch group. He was at the convention last year."
They added a little more water to the pot and planned to offer him a cup of coffee, then show him the pictures of the Swords.
"Well... Boo!" Brooke said when the dog appeared in the room wearing her pack. "I guess Bill brought you along." She ruffled the dog's fur and introduced her to Dave.
In a couple of minutes William Anderson and two students from the University scrambled out of the cleft in the rock that led back to the main part of the cave. After the introductions and coffee offers Brooke broke the news about their finds.
"Oh my." Anderson said looking at the pictures on Dave's PDA.
"And we still haven't mapped all of the maze." Dave said. "Who knows what else is in there."
They checked the maps, and Anderson's group updated theirs, then they discussed what the now larger group could do.
"We could check the Sword Pit." Dave said. "We'll belay and somebody could check the leads in there."
"We've got enough rope, how far back is it to the window. We'll rig a line." Anderson said. "Put a blanket over the breakdown and go for it."
"What about Boo?" One of the students asked.
"From what I hear she's smart enough not to try to crawl over punk rock like I did." Dave said.
With plan in place they all geared up and began the elbow scraping crawl through the maze.
Brooke told Boo to stay in camp. She lay down on Brooke's blanket and closed her eyes.
The first lead from the bottom of the pit was a dead end. The other one filtered through tiny spaces that seemed to lead back to Grandpa's room. There were two other leads in the pit. One opened into a crack that led down at an angle.
"Let me look at the map." Dave said as one of the students squeezed ever further into it.
"Is it going to cross that one we were in." Brooke asked him.
"Looks like it."
Eventually it got too small for them. They backed out to see how Anderson's team did in the other lead.
"Still going." He called back to them. "Come on, there's plenty of room."
The three crawled in and after a short distance they could almost stand up and walk. Before long they caught up with the others.
"Look at this." Anderson said. He pointed his light into the blackness one way, a massive bolder of granite sat off to one side where the ceiling was much lower. "It's just sitting there, I went in and crawled all the way around it."
Dave couldn't resist. He got on all fours and almost scampered around the stone. "I love my job." He said with a grin.
"I found a survey marker." The student called out from an even lower opening. They read off some numbers.
"OK." Brooke said checking her map. "Got it." She showed the others where the passage came out.
The student bellied out of the crack. "This is great! I want to go through there." They pointed off to the other side.
Anderson nodded. "Better them than me."
They pushed more leads. And they all did a free climb down a crack to what turned out to be a small collection of narrow passages and interconnected rooms, each about the size of a bathroom. They decided to name it after the student's suggestion. Now Serious Cave had the only Bathroom Maze any of them had ever heard of.
They made their way back to the base camp by crawling through the opening that ended up in another section of the cave to avoid the climb up the Sword Pit. They were all feeling quite satisfied with themselves.
Boo was waiting for them right where they had left her.
"Yes please." Brooke answered when one of the students offered her a bottle of water.
"So you agree with us?" Anderson asked Dave.
"Totally. And now that I've thought about it. I've had misgivings about Yellowstone for a long time."
"What if Jacobs is right and the hotspot is moving north east again?"
Dave shrugged. "What if? It's still going to erupt someplace. And it'll probably be big."
"But what do we do with the information?" Brooke said. She glanced at the students.
"If the Park Service and them don't want to believe it..."
The other one just nodded with nervous eyes.
"We get more evidence. We put it all together, and we publish it." Dave said.
"Wonderful idea. But I've already been rejected twice." Anderson exclaimed. "They don't want it."
"You haven't had the right connections to the right publications."
Brooke looked at him. "You might get fired."
Dave laughed. "And?" Then he grinned. "If my dad fires me I'll move back home and sponge off them until he hires me back." He stuck his hand out to Anderson. "We do a full collaboration, including a trip up to Wyoming to some mined caves I know near Yellowstone. Deal?"
"You got it man." Anderson said. They shook.
Dave turned to the students. "We'll need interns."
They both shook on it.
"And I just need you." He looked at Brooke.
They kissed on it. Boo barked at them.
"And we'll need you too." Dave said to the dog.
Now the cause had an outlet. And the outlet was on fire.
"This is great." Dave said as he waded through piles of information. They had everything down to temperature monitors in mines in southern Wyoming.
But where the group had been taking their time, doing exacting research and putting things together slowly, Dave felt an urgency to it. Once his father, the magazine's publisher, was told what was going on, he wanted weekly updates.
Within a month of the handshakes over the camp stove in Serious Cave the group was in a van on their way to a ranch in Wyoming with crudely drawn maps of two caves up a ravine from the calving barn.
The ranch was back in the hills between the Grand Teton Park and the Wilderness Area and an Indian reservation. The directions from Route 26 made no sense at all to anybody until they had gone some ways past where they were supposed to turn, then once they turned around in things started to fall into place. Dave got just enough celphone signal to call his friend and they met them at the end of a narrow winding road that went around mountains and over hills as they followed the decrepit four wheel drive back into the rolling countryside.
The ranch house was as well worn as the road and the truck. But the table was loaded with food and the older of the hands told story after story about how he'd explored one of the caves back as far as he dared.
"Ya can hear the Eart moan in thar." He said.
They slept on the floor in the big family room addition to the house. Then in the morning they set out for the first cave.
During breakfast Dave's friend Paul told them about how that while the caves were natural caves, there were signs all through parts of them that they had been mined.
"But the ore just wasn't worth it. So they boarded them up and everybody forgot about them until we found them back... well. When we were kids."
Dave laughed. "They were the reason I got into this. Every summer we'd explore them."
Paul's mother agreed. "I don't know how many times I'd have to go in after them because they hadn't come out for two or three days."
"If we find that lunchbox I'll bring it out." Dave promised her.
She laughed about it. "Leave it down there, somebody will find it in a hundred years and it'll be an antique."
The two vehicles were loaded for a major expedition.
Dave pointed to the map of the ranch. "This one is the deepest. There's vertical shafts that go down, a long way. And they're not mine shafts. I've always thought they were lava tubes, but I never confirmed it."
Paul's face froze. "You're worried about the volcano in Yellowstone coming alive and you're going down a lava tube that's part of the same thing?"
Anderson nodded with a smile. "Yes indeed. You still coming?"
"I wouldn't miss it." Paul said. "Let's go." He waved to his mother and they piled in.
The old hand was coming with them to the first drop. Then he'd hang out and wait for news.
Boo's attitude improved considerably once she saw the opening to the cave. She had been wavering between car sick and a general mope. But when Brooke got out her pack she was almost too excited and wanted to get going.
For some reason Brooke had thought the shaft would be just inside the opening. But after an hour of hiking in and down along what used to be tracks for mine cars, she realized it wasn't. In places the miners had blasted or carved away natural rock that was in the way of their tracks, but for the most part the cavern was natural. It branched here and there and some of them had tracks in them. At one point Paul and Dave stopped and pointed out thin veins of copper in the rock.
"That's it. Copper. But the veins just never panned out. Not nearly as rich as those down in Carbon County."
"There's just a touch of silver in here too. Deeper. But it wasn't worth mining. They never found gold in this one." Dave added.
Then they trudged on.
"It's this way." The old hand said pointing down a branch.
Dave was at a loss.
Paul paused and thought about it, then he looked at the walls. "Where's the star?"
"It fell." The old man kicked at an old rusty metal star.
They turned and went down the tunnel that started sloping steeply downward.
"Look at the walls." Anderson said.
"Glass." Brooke and one of the students said as their lights made the walls shimmer here and there.
"Lava tube." Dave grinned. "I'd forgotten about the glass in the walls."
The mining car tracks ended just as the walking became difficult.
"Now take care ya'll. Don't go slipping and slide down. It's a long way down." The old man said.
"You ain't kidding." Paul said.
It wasn't much further that they came upon an old wooden railing. There was evidence of mining along one side, but it wasn't extensive. The shaft on the other side of the rail was nearly vertical. Brooke checked the air, there was a very slight breeze out of the shaft toward the surface.
"We tie off on those." Paul pointed to two massive iron rings bolted to the wall with huge screws. He jerked on it a couple of times. The plates behind the old rings didn't budge. He tied off one rope to each, then tossed the ends over the side.
"How's she gonna get down there?" The old man said petting Boo.
Brooke looked down the shaft. "We'll use her sling. Somebody go down, then I'll rappel down and you guys can lower her with me."
Dave went over the side and eased himself into the dark. But just as they were getting ready to send Boo and Brooke down, he was back. "We need more rope."
"Those were hundred footers." Paul said. "I've been down there on them."
"Not down there. I was a good thirty feet from the bottom. Too far to jump anyway."
Paul didn't believe it. He rigged up and went down the same one Dave had just climbed back up. In a few minutes he was back too. "Well. Hell. They worked... oh... a year or so year ago."
The old man helped splice a spare into the longer ropes giving them another fifty feet on each.
Then Dave tried it again. This time he made it.
Brooke went over with Boo by her side. Soon they too were at the bottom of the shaft.
"That's the side tunnel we talked about." Dave pointed up at least twenty feet above them. "I have no idea what's happened."
Brooke looked around them. The floor of the shaft was solid with only a little rock debris around them. Then she noticed something. "Dave. Look at the walls."
"Yeah. Looks like rock."
"Those grooves." He said. He went to the far wall and ran his fingers down them. All the way to the floor. "This is a plug. It's been retracted into the tube." He looked up. "Thirty feet in a year."
"The magma under us is receding." Brooke seemed puzzled. "That doesn't make sense."
"It would if the land around it is being uplifted and the magma is staying still. But..."
He didn't get to finish his sentence as Paul bounced himself toward the tunnel opening and found a way to let down a rope for them and Boo.
In a few minutes the team was working their way deeper into the side tunnel. It too was descending, just not as steeply as the other shaft.
As they descended the air got warmer and the smell of hot rock became more pronounced. Dave constantly checked his gas monitor for the levels of hydrogen sulfide and other toxic gasses. At one point he chuckled.
"What?" Paul asked.
"The air just reached about normal for a day in LA."
Boo was getting even more excited as they progressed and led the way staying just inside their flashlight beams. Then as the tunnel began a slow right turn Boo became reticent and finally she stopped walking all together. They gathered around the dog and wondered what was going on.
"Shhh." Dave said. He put his hand on the wall. "Hear that?"
The others looked confused.
"No. But I feel it." Paul said touching the walls. "It's like a sub woofer."
Brooke could almost hear the low rumble that reminded her of an elephant's pulse she had heard as a child. She smiled at the memory of the zoo visit with her grandparents. "It's just the Earth's heartbeat."
"And she's got an upset stomach. Let's back up. Boo was right about this one!" Dave said as he compared the readings on two different detectors. "Higher readings across the board down this tube. Let's go back to that last junction."
The smaller lava tube that branched off theirs ended in a sheer wall of rhyolite granite.
"Another plug." Paul said crawling backwards out of it.
They took a break and then began the long slow ascent to another branch some distance back.
Later the discussion was whether they should spend the night in the tube or slog all the way back to the surface.
"If it's all the same to everybody. I'd rather get out of here. Let's take a break, then pack out." Paul said.
Brooke nodded. The students agreed.
"OK. Lunch and then up and out."
They reached the main shaft several hours later. Paul hollered up for the old man several times, then they heard a muffled reply. They organized their stuff and one of the students started up the ropes.
"Look at this." Dave said. "The plug has dropped an inch or so since we left." He pointed to a horizontal crack in the wall. "This was only a little above the floor."
"I think I took a picture when you were looking at it." Brooke said. She dug out her camera and scrolled through the pictures she had taken. "Here."
The photo showed Dave examining the cracks. The largest of the horizontal ones was clearly closer to the floor than it was now.
"What's it mean?" The other intern asked.
"I wish I knew." Dave said. "Let's go."
It was late when they finally got back to the house. But they all had to examine the pictures and air sample readings and offer opinions of what it meant.
Then they finally turned in and slept soundly.
The second cave was more of the same. The natural cave had been mined for everything worth carrying out of it. But then lower a single lava tube ran down at a steep angle toward the north west. They half climbed and half slid down the tube clinging to the rope.
"It's heading for the same major feed pipe." Dave said evaluating a map and estimating distance and angle.
"Any bets on it ending in a plug that's been retracting?" Paul asked.
Their journey ended suddenly with them standing on a floor of crumbled rock. The tube was completely blocked. The air in the tube was stale with only a hint of the gases that had drove them out of the other one.
"The fault line shifted." One of the interns said following a straight sheer line that ran at an angle across the tube. "Then it broke." The crack ended in jagged fissures near the top of the tube.
They took some measurements and gathered some samples to see if they could be dated and Brooke took a lot of pictures then they had to begin the climb up.
"Let's go look." Paul said as they walked back through a larger passage in the mined area of the cave. "We used to play miner in there." He explained to the rest of the team.
Brooke smiled at Dave who shook his head.
The passage followed the copper sulfide vein back into the mountain. But they could see the discolored rock above them narrowing more and more until it played out into thin ribbons at the rock face.
They looked at the old drilling rig still hanging from the ceiling and some of the tools left by the miners and carefully hidden by Paul and Dave when they were here.
"We took copper ore to school for science projects every year for ages." Dave said.
Paul grinned. "We also learned that silver will get a higher grade than copper."
"I bet." Anderson made a hair thin line of silver sparkle with his light. "We see this a lot in the Wasatch. Volcanism leached the metal out of the rock." He said to the interns.
"I still find a nugget or two." The old hand grinned. "Just enough to keep me coming back."
"Why did they quit mining it if it's got silver and copper?" One of the students asked.
"Not enough to pay'em." The old man said. "Can't make a livin' at it."
"This is hard rock mining. It takes a lot of dynamite and a lot of labor to get it out of there. Then you have to refine it. If there's just a little bit of silver, that's not a lot of money. Now if that was a gold vein..." Paul trailed off.
"They followed the ore until it quit paying, then they moved on to the next one." Anderson said kicking at the floor.
Brooke had taken enough pictures. She sat on an old timber and petted Boo. "Like we do. We exhaust the leads, then move on to the next one.
They all nodded.
Then it was time to go.
"Mister Jacobs heard you were here, and thought you might want to take a look." Paul's mother said as they unloaded.
A short fat man was standing on the porch next to her. "Hi'ya Davey, been a long time."
Dave shook the man's hand then they listened to his story.
"It just opened up one day last week. Out past the branding shack." Jacob's said. He put his calloused hands together then spread them dramatically. "And it's deep."
They agreed to meet at his house first thing in the morning.
Jacobs' place was a short but kidney bruising ride along another half forgotten hardpan road.
"Remind me to hire a helicopter next time." Dave said rubbing his head where it had bounced off the roof of the old truck.
Jacobs was in the same work clothes he had been in yesterday. They followed his battered Jeep along an even rougher road through some more backcountry past a small pole building. Then he stopped and the gentle morning breeze blew the dust cloud away.
"There it is." He pointed down.
Some weathered boards covered a large chasm in the hard ground.
"I think it's bigger than it was the other day."
Brooke took pictures as the others moved the boards and peered down into it.
"It's big enough, for quite a way." Paul said. "Wanna come?"
"We'll belay off the truck." Dave answered.
They rigged up their gear and tied the climbing rope securely to the frame of the old pick-up.
Brooke held her breath as the two men descended into the crack. She didn't expect them to go out of site, but in just a couple of minutes they lost track of their lights.
"I guess it is deep." Jacobs said.
After about ten minutes Paul reappeared in the crack. "You've all got to come see. Bring the camera and the tapes."
Brooke descended into a large cavern of bare rock.
"It's another plug that's receded." Dave called to her from the far side.
The room was roughly oval with pointed roof. Jacobs' crack had opened where rainwater had exploited a small crack that extended to the surface.
"This is new. There's no growth activity at all." Anderson said appraising every inch of the roof with an intense light searching for speloetherms or other activity.
"Not even bat poop." A student said doing the same to the floor.
"And no leads." Dave said. "This is it." He was showing Brook a small area of unbroken stone.
"Granite." She said after taking a couple of pictures.
"The plug was that close to the surface, and it's been pulled down." He pointed to a ridge on the wall that ended about ten feet above them.
"So this valley was a caldera?" Anderson said with amazement.
"I didn't think so. But..." Dave looked down at the evidence. "Maybe."
"No." Brooke said. "This wasn't the caldera. This was a side plume. The caldera is north of here. And it's pulling the magma back in."
Dave's entire face frowned as he nodded. "Yeah."
They took turns free climbing out of the cavern, then helped Jacobs cover it over.
He had to see all the pictures and evaluate the samples and offer his own commentary on the phenomenon.
Then it was back to Paul's place where the exercise was repeated with his family.
Finally they had some quiet time to evaluate the maps and Brooke's hypothesis.
"If you consider that Yellowstone may be one of the largest active volcanoes on the planet. Then yeah, our tubes down here could be side pipes. Like some of the formations in the Siberian Traps." Anderson said.
"Change of plans." Dave said over dinner. "We're going to Yellowstone tomorrow."
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