MEADVIEW CIVIC ASSOCIATION
Meadview Monitor, May 1967
QUARTERMASTER LOOKOUT - BAT MINE BY JACKIE BROWN
“A good time was had by all,” seems an appropriate phrase, when applying it to the Auto Caravan trip taken to the Bat Cave Tower and Quartermaster Lookout points, recently. For everyone really DID seem to have a good time and all expressed their delight at having gone.
True, it wasn’t everyone who would stand on the edge of the ledge and look over, but by and large, most of the folks were real brave and did at least sneak a peak.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain. In Saturday, April 8, 1967, a large group met at the Meadview Marina store, including yours truly and hubby, Hal Brown. Our destination was to the south rim of the lower Grand Canyon and specifically to Quartermaster Lookout and to the towers that overlook the bat cave on the opposite side of the Colorado River. Each of these viewpoints hold a fascination of their own and each has a story to tell, but will go in to that a bit later.
“Take off” time was 9:00 a.m. and the caravan departed pretty much on schedule. About half the vehicles were conventional automobiles and the other half pickups with campers. Our conveyance falls in either category as its part car and part pickup, one of those 2 seater, 4 door jobs with a truck bed on the back. The manufacturer calls it a Crew Cab so guess that’s good enough.
Hal and I, along with Martha and Ed Lopez, were in the lead car and equipped with a Citizens Band radio. Fourteen vehicles back, our follow-up car, manned by Frank and Clo George, was also equipped with the same. These radios allowed direct contact fore and aft, and this instituted as a precaution in the event anyone experienced car trouble, or for any emergency. The two way contact worked beautifully but was not very conducive to general conversation within the Crew Cab, and this was a terrible blow to two women who wanted to talk.
The first part of the took us through the large, nearby, Joshua forest, and this is an experience in itself if you have never seen Joshuas. These particular one are the largest we have ever seen anywhere, and are almost gargantuan in appearance, with their great huge limbs reaching out in all directions.
Next, we passed by the Diamond Bar Ranch where Suzie and little Joy Kump greeted us with a hello and goodbye. Here, the first ranch gate is encountered with another in close succession. add text.
With the nasty business of opening and closing gates out of the way, for a while, the string of cars processed up through a rather rugged and interesting canyon, rising in elevation all the time. It is along these hillsides that the vegetation starts to change to the Junipers, Pinon Pine, some Cedars and the Century Plant. A complete change of scenery.
Once out of the hilly terrain, the road levels off and soon the fence to the Hualapai Indian Reservation is in sight, with another gate. After dispensing with that barbed barrier, we took off for our final destination traveling through an entirely different kind of county, a flat grassy mesa.
With noting to obstruct our view, it is here you first begin to see the colorful and rugged formations of the Lower Grand Canyon, with their pink, lavender and hazy blue bluffs staring right at you.
These bluffs, on the north rim, are actually across the canyon from where we are going.
With in a half hour the caravan had started to skirt the top and the edge of the south rim of the canyon walls themselves; and had all the vehicles bee “bugged,” I’m sure we would have heard plenty of oohs and aahs. This is when the term, awe inspiring, applies, for the scene before you leaves one at a loss for words. The color and the depths of these canyon walls become too hard for this neophyte writer to describe.
It is at this point where the towers of the bat mine operation are located and where our group had lunch, and it would be pretty safe to say that everyone was quite captivated with the scenes before them.
This is what we have learned about the history of the bat mines. Several years ago some enterprising concern decided to mine bat guano from the bat caves, which are located on the north side of the Colorado River, at an inaccessible point on that side. Not to be outdone, a tower was built on the south rim, and from this structure a cable was strung high across the river to the cave on the other side. Gondolas were hung from the cable to ferry the men across, and once over there the mining of the guano began.
Standing on this point, underneath the tower, you realize what a tremendous fete the building of that installation was. That, plus all the natural beauty of the terraced canyon walls, which seem to have been carved with a knife; and along with that the rainbow of muted colors, well, it just about becomes more than one can grasp.
Tis profound evidence of man and nature is only marred by the fact that one day, a few years back, a low flying plane out an end to this spectacular crossing over the river.
Flying down between the canyon walls themselves, someone in a frisky jet, happened to hit the cable with the tip of the plane’s wing, and though the culprit came out unscathed, the impact broke the cable and that was the end of mining bat guano.
After a leisurely lunch, the vehicles once more lined up single file, behind the Crew Cab and within a short distance we were at Quartermaster Lookout. Elevation, approximately 5,000 feet.
This point may not have as colorful a history as the Bat Cave Towers it is equally, if not more impressive. One can drive right to the edge of the precipice (if they so desire), but all chose to walk; for here the cliffs just drop off into an empty void, straight down. Something like 3,000 feet.
Far below, wending its snaky way in and around the canyon walls, is the murky Colorado River, seemingly no wider than a strip of highway.
Quartermaster Lookout, we understand, came by its name from an old navy man, who noted the resemblance of one of the bluffs, to a ship. And it really does look like a large vessel sitting there.
To demonstrate the depth and the perpendicular angle of that particular part of the canyon wall, Hal stood on a jutting ledge and tossed large rocks down below. He made his point very well and soon others were also heaving and tossing, and all this bit of by-play literally turned yours truly’s stomach up side down. It was with a sigh of relief then, when the call came to head homeward.
The return trip brought us back to Meadview in plenty of time for a short respite before the Sportsman’s Barbeque commenced. Filing our tummies with those heavenly steaks seemed a perfect end to a perfect day.
Article reprinted from Meadview Monitor November/December 1976
Some 40,000 years ago, a rather large animal (approximately the size of a present day grizzly bear) with coarse, quite long hair, red-brown in color, moved very slowly toward the cave entrance. He and others of his kind, along with packrats, bats, and other small animals, called this cave home. The area around the cave was covered with a woodland of juniper, single leaf ash, and a variety of other trees, plants, and shrubs which no longer grow in the vicinity. About 8,500 years ago, this vegetation disappeared, and today is found much higher elevation further to the north and much further up stream to the east on the great river which still flows nearby. This big hairy animal and its descendants , known as Shasta Ground Sloth, occupied this cave for the next 8,000 years, then for some unknown reason they appear to have abandoned it for a period of some 19,000 years, only to return again for another interlude of some 2,000 years. This cave, located a few short miles inside the western end of the Grand Canyon, is known today by two names: Rampart Cave and Sloth Cave. Presently the cave is about 750 ft above the level of the Colorado River. During the 19,000 year absence of the Ground Sloth at Rampart Cave, Wood Rats (Pack Rats), Tortoises, Chuck-Walla and an extinct species of mountain goat (Oreamnos Harringtoni) made their homes in cave, along with the bats and rodents. Marmots also lived here at one time, but in 1976 they are to be found in forest areas above 8,000 ft. The nearest Marmot habitation today is in the Beaver Dam Mountains of Utah. They are no longer found in Arizona. The Ground Sloth probably left the region around the year 30,000BC due to the cold weather associated with the last glacial period in the northern hemisphere. Wood Rats and bats, however, continued to live in the cave, as they have the past 40,000 years or more. They are still living there today, or we should say there were, up to the time our story starts. Around 13,000 years ago, the Ground Sloth returned to the cave for another 2,000 years or so, then for some unknown reason, became an extinct species. Probably due to the hunters of that period, around the 9,000 BC. During these thousands of years of occupation, the cave filled to a depth of many feet with animal droppings. Through the carbon dating techniques, various layers or deposits have established a time frame of animal occupancy. Analysis of the dung gives scientists some idea of the type of vegetation growing in the area at various stages of the time frame. Bits of vegetation hauled in by the Wood rats provided further information. The cave truly has been quite a resource, one of which may be destroyed shortly. Some years ago the National Park service built a steel gate at the entrance of the cave in an effort to keep out those who might damage or destroy the site.
A sign was installed stating that entry was permitted only by special authorization. On Wednesday, July 14th, fire was discovered in the cave. Someone had pried the bars apart far enough to gain entry and either through accident or “pure cussedness” had built a fire some 150ft or so back in the cave. The dung, caught fire, and so far as it is definitely known, may still be burning—how deep and how far it has spread under the top layer, no one knows at present. Doctors Austin Long & Tom Van Devender, of the university of Arizona, are among the crew of men and women fighting the fire. I asked them what the plan was for, hopefully, putting out the fire. In Dr. Long’s words, “We’re not sure what they’re (Nation Park Service) going to do. What they’re doing now stirring it with shovels. At this point (July 23rd) they’re still trying to determine the extent of the fire—they have learned a lot about it in the last two days, but they’re not sure where the edges are. I think the first thing they are going to try is to determine that. There is a lot of intense heat and steam back in there right now. They spray water on an area suspected of burning, and if they get steam coming up, they figure, of course, that “its burning.” Inside the cave, breathing is a problem. As Dr. Long states, “It’s rough from two points of view. They have to wear cumbersome breathing apparatus, and then it is so very hot. There are dangerous gases in there. You could not go in without apparatus. Carbon monoxide is one of the gases. Steam is present. It is so hot it essentially boiling the men who are working in there right now.” Mr. Gary David, mining inspector for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, a mining specialist, ran tests which revealed the existence of dangerous gases just inside the cave entrance sufficient to render a man unconscious within 3 hours and which would cause death within 5 hours continuous exposure. Despite this, some of the firefighters spent 8 hours per day in this area without special breathing apparatus. Fighting this fire has been like no other in the N.P.S. experience, according to N.P.S. Ranger, Ed Hedden. First off, the cave entrance is some 750ft above the Colorado River, as mentioned earlier. The extremely steep trail to the cave entrance is near 1500ft in length, so steep one must use both hands and feet to make progress over a portion of it. Supplies, equipment, and personnel had to be transported to the site by helicopter, which sat down on a small leveled area prepared by the firefighters. Other than by air, there is really only one way to the site.—that’s on the river. Getting men and equipment to the cave in this manner would have been too time consuming. Water was pumped part way up the river. Large containers were filled at this point, then the helicopter would lift the load to the cleared area. From there it had to be carried on up to the cave by men. Before going into the cave, the men had to put on self-supporting breathing apparatus.
Then the water was carried into the fire zone, where it was sprayed on the burning area. Special hoses were installed to exhaust smoke and gases from the cave, and lights were set up inside. Generators down near the river’s edge provided power for the fans, lights, pumps, and other equipment. The fight went on for 8 days, until suddenly on July 22nd the roof of the cave started falling in, believed to be the result of heat and steam. Falling rocks cut one of the air hoses being used inside the cave, and several pieces of fire-fighting equipment were lost in the cave-ins. Mr. David, the mining inspector, checked the cave interior shortly after the initial rock fall and discovered numerous sections of the roof which were ready to fall at any time. So, on July 23rd, 10 days after discovery of the fire, the cave was considered unsafe for the fire fighters to enter, and the fire fighting phase, as such came to an end. A couple more days of work could possibly have seen the end of the fire, but that was not to be. A decision was then made to construct an airtight bulkhead at the entrance to cut off the air to the interior. An airlock was installed to allow entry if needed, and gauges were mounted in the bulkhead for use in monitoring conditions inside. Mr. Dave Steigelmeyer, of the Grand Canyon Fire dept., was in charge of the fire fighting effort. Mr. Ed Hedden, National Park Service Ranger stationed at Meadview assisted the fire crew. Other National service Park service personnel involved were Mr. Richard Baars, James Stanley III, Alan Foster, Scott Thybony, David Mathiesen (helicopter pilot) , and N.C. Johns, MD. Mrs. Patti Hedden of Meadview also assisted. Volunteers from the University of Arizona were Dr. Austin Long and his wife, Karen, Dr. Paul Martin, and Dr. Tom Van Devender. Five volunteer members from the Lake Mohave Fire Dept. in Bullhead City, AZ, drove the 100 plus miles to Meadview to help the battle. Some of these men got off work at 3am and were on there way by 4am to spend a grueling day at or in the cave. I’m sorry I don’t have the names of these meant to publish here. The Lake Mohave Fire dept. also furnished fans and other equipment for use on the fire. All these people deserve a huge vote of thanks for their efforts. Scientists, including those from the University of Arizona, the National Science Foundation, The Smithsonian Institute, and others, consider this cave to be an archeological treasure trove of the Pleistocene Geological period. Our thanks to Doctors Austin Long, Paul Martin and Tom Van Devender , of the Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, and to Karen Long, for the historical data and for some of the pictures and the other information used in this article. Thanks also to N.P.S. Ranger Ed Hedden for information on the fire fighting details. Now as of September 25th, a check of the gauges at the bulkhead seems to indicate that the fire is completely out. To further assure that the fire is completely extinguished, the cave will be left sealed and undisturbed for the next 90 days. Hopefully by that time, all remnants of the fire will be extinguished, and the cave may once again be explored by those qualified and authorized to do so.