Lots of folks have visited the caverns in New Mexico. This was my first visit, possibly my last, as it was very hard to go down a mile deep. I started my panic breathing when the elevator hit the bottom and went to the restroom to splash cold water on my face. I knew I would make myself stay. I had waited so long to see them and wasn’t about to leave. I stayed underground 5 hours. Mike stayed above. I knew he couldn’t do it and I wasn’t going to ask him to. I can’t say that I’m claustrophobic but there’s something about being in a cave…way down… that can be a terrifying thing.
I wandered around the well marked trails for a little while on my own and then went on a guided tour of the rooms with the most adornment. I can honestly say I’m so glad I was able to make this trip because it was so very beautifully and moving… things nature makes usually are.
The guide took us into an area where there was a low rock border where we could sit…turned off the existing lighting…and then told us this story… I want you to keep in mind a place so dark that I could not see my hand as it touched my nose.
In 1898, a 16-year-old, Texas-born cowhand named Jim White entered the caverns for for the first time in record. He had a kerosene lamp. Jim loved what he saw and kept right on going back. Now remember, this was a rough and tough, don’t make em’ like they used to, real life cowboy. On one of his visits, when he was pretty far into the cave exploring, his lantern went out. He panic and ran…right into a wall. When he woke up, he sat on the floor of the cave in the darkness. Now I can’t even begin to think of the terror I would feel, but at 16, I would have never made it out.
Here’s what Jim did. He sat..and thought…and reasoned. He had 3 matches in his pocket. He decided on the best course of action. He would light his first match to find his lantern. So…he lit the first match…looked and located the lantern. Whew! The second would be used to refill it will oil… He lit the second…and before he could start, the match went out, leaving him once again in total blackness. He was left with one match. In his wisdom, he filled the lamp with the oil without using the last lonely match but he spilled quite a bit on himself and didn’t know what had made it into the lamp. At this point I would have had a coronary…but not ol’ Jim. But I do bet he held his breath as he struck the last match and lit that old lantern. The flame rose and the lantern lit the whole room…and Jim made his way safely out…so that people like me could learn and understand his love for the beauty of these caves.
They say after that he never went inside the caverns without 2 other people from that day on. They also say that was the beginning of the Cave rules still used today. Take 3 people, each with 3 light sources and tell 3 people where you are going. Sounds like a good idea to me…