NPS Photo by Ken Geu
1st Trip: On 10/3/2006, Rod Horrocks led Vickie Siegel & Bill Stone to the AL survey in the Historic Section where they discovered the Flatlans.
Trip Report: We went to the AL survey, which hasn't seen any trips in over 30 years. There were lots of leads shown on the sketches, so I had high hopes for the area. The first lead we checked, at AL14, led to over 400 feet of survey. After leaving a tight pit for some future small person, we surveyed up into an upper level dome. We were able to climb into a fissure/dome in the ceiling from one end of the room. This led to an upper level crawl that reconnected to our climb. However, it also continued as a crawl that opened into a junction room.
A steeply sloping fissure that was heading north, opened into a free-hanging drop. We later decided that this pit probably connected into lower passage between AL20-21. A crawl on the west side of the junction room eventually reconnected to AL29, at another one of the leads shown on the old sketch. The next lead shown on the old sketch was a walking passage. At AL58, we found a 25-foot deep free-hanging pit. We later surveyed to the bottom of this drop (station AL71). At AL60, we found an upper level dome that had moonmilk runners on the wall that resembled hieroglyphics. We named it HIEROGLYPHIC DOME.
After finishing all the leads in that area, we dropped to a lower set of passages and started surveying a side lead at AL20. This turned out to be an extensive area with lots of leads. We eventually reconnected to AL25 in a large flat room, which we named the FLATLANDS. There was a wide level passage that continued off this room. After one 35-foot shot, we ran out of time in big going cave. We will undoubtedly be returning to this area many times in the future. We were able to survey 570 feet for the day.
2nd Trip: On 10/14/2006, Rod Horrocks led Ken Geu and Cuff McCafferty back to the Flatlands in the Historic Section.
Trip Report: We went back to the Flatlands area and the AL survey to continue pushing the leads from our last trip. However, along the way to the AL survey, we decided to check a lead. We surveyed to a side lead at JH31. However, it was too tight for us to push. We then jumped ahead to JH62 to a lead from one of my earlier surveys that I had never been back too. After the last survey trip I noticed that that lead was 15' below a pit lead we left at AL39 on our last trip. I was hoping they would connect and it would provide an easier route into the AL survey. It did end up connecting to the AL; however, we had to go through six squeezes along the way. I guess it is six of one and half-dozen of the other as to which way is an easier route to Flatlands area. Once we were in the AL survey, we went to the Freshman Fairgrounds area and mopped up a couple of side leads. We then went to AL70 to push the multiple leads off that station. The dome lead connected to AL58, however, we did not make the connection. It was too exposed of a climb.
We then surveyed into a crawl that reconnected to the AL22 area. Since it was noon at this point, we ate lunch in the Flatlands area, at station AL25. We then pushed the high dome off of that station. The east end of the dome went up into a few crawls. We left a six-foot high lead on the opposite side of the dome that had a 20-foot exposure to get into it. It would be a difficult lead to push. We then jumped ahead to our last station from our last trip, AL78, and continued the survey to the east. We immediately hit a paleofill rubble breakdown slope that was sloping from the SE into the passage we were in. Our passage would have been a larger passage had it not been for all of that paleofill rubble. As it were, we only had 1-2 feet of open cave in most of that passage.
It was slow going winding our way through the high spots in the breakdown. The whole right-hand wall was entirely a breakdown wall. After three shots, the breakdown completely blocked the way on. There was air coming down through the breakdown from something above, but we couldn't get there. We then went to AL30 to push some leads there. We were surprised how large that unnamed room was! It is the biggest room in the AL survey area. Our first lead connected to the ES survey via a tightish belly crawl. It would be a direct route from the Eastern Star Room down the ES survey, then up to ES14 just before the Newspaper Room to get to this large unnamed room. After shooting into a dead-end dome above this crawl, we shot a 43-foot shot down a dead-end walking passage off the large room.
We then shot into an alcove along the western wall of the room that also ended. Jumping ahead to AL34, we surveyed up into a dome. This T-junctioned into two short dead-end crawls. The dome continued straight up another 14 feet, however it was unclimbable due to the very crumbly quartz rinds that made up all of the walls. We then shot to a downward-sloping bellycrawl on the opposite side of the dome. This opened into a steeply sloping tube that rocks bounced down a long ways! We decided to leave this lead for a day when we had a handline. Next, we went to the last survey station, AL37. The 1973 AL survey had ended their survey where the passage branched in several directions. We continued surveying down the main slide. This branched into two passages. The upward sloping passage was completely floored with clumps of spectacular white moonmilk and was too delicate to enter. The downward sloping tube ended after a couple of shots. We then backtracked to a northeastern heading crawl.
We discovered a mass mortality layer of brachiopods in the ceiling of this passage. We got lots of pictures of these. The crawl ended after one shot. Shooting into the last crawl off of AL37, this also ended after two more shots. As it was 9:00 PM at this point, we decided to quit for the day. It was a great trip. We've now surveyed 1,241 feet in the Flatlands or AL survey area. There is at least one more trip to finish the area.
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Did You Know?
Fire is an important factor in protecting the prairie. Historically, fires burned across the prairie every 4 to 7 years. Fires burn the small trees that would otherwise march across the prairie and turn the grasslands to forest.