Underneath the Gypsum Hills

After our last encounter with the Kansas Speleological Society, I had some doubts about the existence of caves in Kansas. But digging garbage out of holes isn’t the worst use of a weekend, so we decided to give them another chance and attend their fall meeting at Alexander Ranch in the heart of the gypsum hills.

We had previously passed through the area on our south west Kansas road trip and I was disappointed by the lack of public access and potential for exploration. Caving was a good excuse to spend some more time in a pretty scenic part of the state. The campsite was a sandpit on the ranch, ridden with needle-sharp sand burs that had an annoying talent for creeping into your shoes, tent, and even sleeping bag. Otherwise it was pretty cozy and more importantly, it was located in the middle of gypsum cave country.

We woke up Saturday morning and headed to Dancers Cave. In the middle of a vast field of grass, we found a sink hole. At the bottom lay a rocky entrance into the underworld. This was when we realized we were in for a fun weekend. Dancers cave started off with a crawl through a narrow water-carved tunnel. This took us to a 10-foot ledge (an impressive waterfall in the spring, we’re told). The down climb is a bit tricky because of the rough terrain below. There’s some scrambling over piles of fallen rocks and a very narrow squeeze that leads to the exit. Not everyone was able to make it through the final squeeze. Mere feet from the cave exit, we had to turn back and do it all over again (which we didn’t mind at all). Getting up the tall ledge was about as tricky as climbing down, but we managed.

The second cave, walking distance from Dancers, was called Triple Arch Cave. We scampered down into a canyon for the entrance, which was a walk-in. It led us through some very large, walkable passages with two skylight sections before going into a longer underground section. The exit involved a squeeze with our entire front side submerged in water.

Most of the group was pretty pooped at that point, but they were at least willing to point me, Kerry, and Allen in the direction of Walnut Cave. After examining a detailed map drawn in the sand with a twig, we crawled down yet another sinkhole and wormed our way into the ground. We spent another 40 minutes or so squeezing and crawling and popped out on the side of a canyon. Evidence of the Anderson Creek fire, back in the spring, was pretty clear from the charred cedar stumps. There’s also a good chance that this fire affected the cave morphology through erosion.

We made it back to the campsite where we conducted the KSS meeting where various highly classified secrets were discussed. There wasn’t much enthusiasm for late night adventures, so we went to sleep.

Sunday morning we mustered some of the group to take us to one last cave: Havards. Havards Cave involved a very short crawl followed by a series of rooms that are the largest found in Kansas. We spent a couple hours climbing on massive, truck-sized rocks. The cave wasn’t particularly long, but it was a fun one.

Want to explore some caves like these? Join the Kansas Speleological Society.

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