Written March 19, 2009
I had heard about Antelope Cave all my life. But I’d never been there. Here’s what I knew: it was a cave way past the Little Creek mesa, somewhere in Arizona, actually, in a fairly desolate, isolated area. My dad discovered the cave when he was a young man out herding sheep...probably in his twenties…so it would have been sometime in the 1920’s most likely…or even earlier. I really have no idea, since he was born in 1897 and died in 1949 when I was only one. I heard the tales growing up of how he was chasing a rabbit and watched it go down a hole and disappear from sight. When he followed it, he discovered an opening in the ground that was much larger than expected. The sun was positioned at just the right angle in the sky to send a shaft of light into the hole, and my dad could see that the hole opened out into a large cave. He crawled in to investigate, and found a room as large as the gymnasium in the church house, he later told my mother. It was lined with rock shelves which were loaded with Indian artifacts…hemp sandals for sure, and I have no idea what else was there. I only know about the sandals because there were Indian sandals kicking around my house when I was growing up, and I had no idea of their worth. Other things I know: my dad paid for his college education with these artifacts—he contacted the BAC (Branch Agricultural College – now Southern Utah University) and BYU (Brigham Young University), and he got scholarships to both places. I assume both universities how house most of the artifacts he discovered on that day.
So Antelope Cave was part of the lore I grew up with. It was all connected with the many memories people had about my dad that I heard repeated. Once, years ago, Darwin and I actually tried to find it--with no luck. I was sad, because it felt like a tangible link to my dad.
I have no idea when any of these were taken...I think I heard my mother, Alice, tell me the middle one was Winferd clowning around after a swim...and the one on the far right was taken when he was on a mission in Ohio. I do know they were taken before he got married to my mother in 1930 when he was 33. I posted them because I like to think of the "young" Winferd who may have discovered Antelope Cave in the 1920's.
Now back to the Antelope Cave story....
A few weeks ago…I can’t remember exactly which Saturday...we had a hankerin’ to go exploring. Aaron had that same hankering, so we loaded into our Santa Fe with some tuna fish sandwiches and carrot sticks, and headed down the dirt road past what we used to call Branham’s Ranch—but is now Diamond Ranch Academy. I’m not sure what I expected, but it seemed to take forever to get there.
The roads were rougher than a cob (as Darwin would and DID say….) because people had driven over them in the mud and made huge, nasty ruts. We drove and drove, and then drove some more. We drove around 22 miles on that dirt road, past some beautiful southern Utah scenery...and it wasn't long until we were in Arizona.
We drove south until we came to the huge power towers that go from Glen Canyon Dam to California...huge giants marching in a corridor through the desert. There was a little road that turned west right by the towers...so we hung a right and followed it. We weren't sure what we were looking for, or exactly WHERE to look for it...but we parked the Santa Fe, ate our sandwiches, and started looking for a likely spot.
Aaron and Darwin struck off through the boonies…not really remembering where the cave was…and I started looking for pretty rocks. Oh, my word, there were flint stones (not the pre-historic family…I mean flint ROCKS!!!) all over…and some cool dry weeds that I gathered for a bouquet. They hunted, I gathered! Finally, I tried calling DeMar on my cell phone, and miracle of miracles, I GOT him. He said you had to drive through a wash first, then count three towers, and go straight south of the third tower. We did, and lo and behold…there was a little road that we took right to the caves.
I did not know what to expect. As we walked uphill through the boulder-strewn landscape, Aaron pointed out metal grating that blocked entrance to holes between the rocks. I thought that was it…that was Antelope Cave. I thought, “huh!” Not a big deal.
There were pieces of metal in every nook and cranny. The BLM or whomever had made sure no one else would get in this cave.
Then up over a rise, and down in a hole...there it was...the main doorway into the cave. Holy cow...it was lots more awesome than this picture shows.
Darwin and I slowly made our way across the rough terrain and down where the mouth of the cave loomed. It was AWESOME! We wished we had had a spot light of some sort. We couldn’t see how big it was back in there. Aaron stuck the camera in between and bars and tried taking some shots, but still…we couldn’t get the scope of how big the cave once was. There had evidently been massive cave-ins since the 1920’s. I’m sure the very ground we were walking on used to be part of the inside of the cave.
Another strong family connection to Antelope cave is the fact that Darwin's mother, Aleath, was digging in the cave YEARS after my dad discovered it...probably in the late 50's or early '60s...(correct me if I'm wrong, Darwin). By the time Aleath was out there digging, the roof had caved in on a lot of it, and many, many archeologists had cleaned the darn thing out. Even people from the Smithsonean Institute came, according to Aleath. She was there with her friend, Vilate Hardy, and they were poking around just for the heck of it, and Aleath heard a clunk when she dug in a certain spot. She uncovered a HUGE clay pot with a hemp lid still intact, and with grains of corn still inside. When I say HUGE, I really mean it. I wish I had a picture of the pot to post here. That pot graced Gerald and Aleath's front room for many years. Some scientist/archeologist told her that the pot was probably from around 600 AD, due to it's styling, shape, etc.
So you see, Antelope cave had a lot of historical significance for both Darwin and me. Not to mention the fact that it was just COOL to find such a huge cavern out in the middle of nowhere. It must have been like a Costco of its day for the Native Americans that utilized it. I remember some of the hemp sandals kicking around our house when I was a kid. Little did I know how special they were. By that time, my dad was dead, and my poor over-worked mother had more on her plate than preserving ancient artifacts. Her darn kids probably go into the stash of Indian stuff and threw things helter-skelter anyway. Ahhhhhhh....sorry, ancient inhabitants, for treating your things so lightly. I didn't know, honest!!!!
Well, by the time we explored to our heart's content, the sun was definitely sinking in the Great American Southwest! We clambered down the rocks without any major falls, and headed back, sneaking a quick kiss on the way, which Aaron totally recorded!
But here's a thing I'm thinking: We should have a family outing at the spot. There is already a fire pit there where many folks have whiled away a happy hour. If my children don't learn where this spot is, it will be lost in the memories of the dead. (Meaning Dad and me!!!!! We aren't getting any younger!!!) Of course, Aaron will hang around longer than us, but still....