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Name: Peppersauce Cave Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (base on four votes)
Type: Hike / Caving Difficulty: (Medium). I'm not a caver (spelunker) so not really sure how to rate this
Time: 1 - 3 hours Region: SE Arizona
Length: Not sure, but it's not a huge cave Elevation gain/loss/change: Not much
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 5000 ft
Best time to go: fall, winter, spring, summer Fees: NA
Fitness rating: Medium Educational Merit: Low
Danger/fear rating:Medium to high Scenic Beauty: Medium
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: October, 2008
Short Description: This is a caving adventure, not a true hike. The cave is not Kartchner Caverns, but it is interesting.
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. 4x4 Peppersauce; Cody's Cache
References / Contact Information: Hike Arizona; Wikipedia; Peppersauce Campground
Points of interest: Cave that you can explore yourself; Nice campground nearby
Special Considerations: Caution: this is a real cave, with real cave dangers. It's not like the movies. It IS totally dark in there. Don't go alone. Preferably go with someone with caving experience. Bring extra flashlights and other caving equipment. Where a helmet and bring a change of clothes.
How to get there: From Tucson, take Hwy 77 north to Oracle. Turn right onto American Avenue. Follow American Avenue through town and turn right at the sign for Mt. Lemmon. This is called the Mt. Lemmon Control Road, which also can be an interesting trip, but that post will be later. The road turns to dirt after a short distance, but don’t worry, this portion is well-graded and passenger cars can tackle it easy (unless it’s really muddy). Follow this road for approximately 10 miles. There is parking just after the sharp turn on the left side of the road. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

I know this isn't really a hike, but I wanted to include this adventure in Experience Arizona and this was the best place I could find a fit. I would guess that for those experienced to caving that Peppersauce Cave isn't at the top of their list. It's not Kartchner Caverns, but it can be a fun and interesting adventure.

The main portion (or at least where I have been) of the cave doesn't take an experienced caver to explore. I am a fairly claustrophobic person, but the few "tight" spaces didn't bother me much.

People going for their first time may want to bring along someone who has been there before or has experience.

General Information and History

I've known about Peppersauce since I moved her in the 1980s and first visited it during that decade. It has long been a popular site. From Wikipedia:

Peppersauce was initially made known to the local public in February 1948 by way of an article published in Desert Magazine. An article about the cave was later featured in a 1951 issue of National Geographic Magazine which showed photos of a scientist breaking off and removing a large stalactite for purposes of further study. The cave has always been and continues to be completely open to the public.

he cave has been subject to vandalism and heavy littering for over fifty years. In 2001, the Peppersauce Cave Conservation Project (PCCP) was established upon the discovery of E. Coli and coliform within the cave's lakes. The initiative is funded by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and is aided by volunteers who work to keep the cave clean. A sampling conducted in January 2003 indicated that no harmful bacteria were present in the water. The group was also highly successful in removing graffiti, though the cave continues to be heavily subjected to vandalism.

In 2000, two cave divers from California explored underwater passages within the cave. The two aimed to map passages and to venture into unexplored areas in hopes of discovering new rooms and formations. Due to an equipment malfunction, the pair was only able to travel about 100 ft from the main lake, but reported a strong possibility that rooms may exist which can only currently be accessed by traversing through underwater passages. While underwater, the divers also discovered a wooden ladder propped against one of the cave walls.
(I think I saw this ladder when I went there in the 1980s). This seems to suggest that the water level within the cave was at one time considerably lower.

On November 12th, 2011, a 16 year-old young man, named Mason Carpenter, from Gilbert, Arizona was injured in a fall while exploring the cave. Suffering a knee injury and subsquencial shock, he was unable to extricate himself from the cave, but was rescued by his scout troop that he was hiking with and bystanders from a location reported to be approximately 200 yards from the entrance. He was evacuated from the area via Air Ambulance coordinated by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office and the Oracle Fire Department.

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The Trail

From the small parking area, go to the sharp curve and head down to the wash. Walk along the wash (not far), look on the hill to your right. You will see a trail leading up to a small entrance (see red circle on picture here).

The first 20 feet or so is a little bit of a test for people. You will have to get down on your belly and slide under a wall (see picture). The is about the tightest squeeze that I go through. There are tighter squeezes in the cave, but I don't do them. If you can do this, a big portion of the cave will be easy for you.

I have no directions for inside the cave. Make sure you remember how to get out! Seeing the entrance that you have to crawl through can be difficult. Make sure you look back at it when you go through the first time. Also, you may want to leave something that you can find that points you the way out. Please don't use spray paint or anything permanent! This ruins the cave for everyone else. Please pick up after yourselves in the cave.

The cave can be anywhere from dry to extremely muddy and slippery. I usually bring clothes that I can just throw away. The mud has lots of clay in it and it can be sticky and slippery at the same time. You can get VERY muddy crawling in this cave. At a minimum, I would bring a change of clothes. It stinks (literally) to drive back home in your car with mud all over you and your car.

If it is muddy, watch out, it can be very slippery inside. One time a friend of mine slipped and slide right into the water. Another time, he got stuck head first in a small hole and we had to pull him out by his feet. He also didn't wear a hard hat and cracked his head open on a rock and had to have 6 stitches. So wear a helmet or don't take my friend with you :-).

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Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here. You can also rate this adventure by clicking here.

Member Comments

Explored the cave

June 2012: There are orange arrows thy will point to the exit. Hard to get lost. I went my first time alone. Went to the lake (which as of 2012 has e coli again), I went though every crevasse, and I went down in the pits. There where no other people there which was odd for a Friday. You are parked along a road do I figured if some one saw my truck over 2 days they would call for help and with the weekend coming up there where sure to be more visitors. It was awesome.

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