Birthday Party . . . In the Cave of Domes

Date of Hike: 5/22/15

Grandview Trail / Herd Path / Cave of Domes: 8.0 miles 2,500 feet elevation gained

Trip Report: 
- Whitney celebrated her birthday on Friday and we were able to sneak in a pretty cool hike in the morning before the thunder and lightning storms came rolling through the south rim.  Our goal for the day was to hike down the Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa and find a herd path that would lead us to the Cave of Domes under the western plateau of the mesa.
- Last May I had hiked down to Horseshoe Mesa and out to the end of the left 'arm' to a beautiful outlook with grand views, little did I know that on my walk to the outlook I was directly above a series of caves a few hundred feet underfoot.
- The Cave of Domes used to be marked on maps but over the years has been removed.  It is still a popular off trail exploration destination, so much so, that a hiker entry book is located in the first cavern of the cave that rangers keep notes on every so often.
- The hike down to the caves is a little rockier than most canyon trails on the south rim.  The Grandview Trail has some rough spots footing wise but as far as Whitney and I were concerned it was still ridiculously easy compared to the knee hammering rocks, ankle twisting roots, and mud bogs we deal with every hike in the White Mountains.  Because of this it ended up being a quick and easy hike down to Horseshoe Mesa as we walked past the radiation warning signs by the old mines and over to the old stone foundation left from the miners ranch from the 1900's.
- Once past the stone foundation we stayed on trail for another half mile or so until dropping down a well defined herd path that followed a bone dry drainage to the western cliff just under the Horseshoe Mesa plateau.  The cave was pretty easy and obvious to get to and within a few minutes of hooking onto the herd path we were at the entrance to the Cave of Domes.
-  The cave has a small opening that you duck under and into an entry way before entering a large domed room where there is an old door that used to be attached to the entrance and the hiker registration box with some warnings about the cave and correct gear needed for safe exploration.
- Like you would expect a cave to be it was pitch black!  The cave was extremely dusty and dry and there were stalactites and stalagmites spread out, most were small and most were damaged or removed by vandals.  If you are wondering, stalactites are the formations that hang from the ceiling, and stalagmites rise from the ground floor.  So, stalactites hang 'tightly' from the ceiling where stalagmites 'might' eventually reach the ceiling from the cave floor! :)
- The rooms all differed in size, some rooms we could roam around and explore easily while others were small and cumbersome.  The entry ways between the rooms were sometimes very narrow and had to be crawled through, AKA lemon-squeezers.  We spent an hour in the cave making it far enough to walk through a long 'hall' with high walls on each side.  The cave had been explored since the late 1800's and there is even writing on the wall that dates back to 1905, which unfortunately I could not find, maybe next time!!
- When we exited the caves we knew the fun time was over as weather was quickly moving in above us, so we put our heads down and hiked quickly back up onto the plateau of the Horseshoe Mesa, by the old foundation, the radiation warnings signs, and up the canyon walls.  About two miles from the summit rain drops started to fall, followed by a quick cool shower, which stopped for a few minutes until the skies opened up on us again, not with rain, but hail!!!  For about ten minutes we hiked through some hail before the storm blew off and the skies above us cleared off.  Below us was a different story, for down on Horseshoe Mesa there was an inner canyon storm brewing in the area where we were just about an hour and a half ago!
- From here we meandered our way up the last mile to the rim and back to touristville at Grandview Point, it was a pretty crazy ending to our hike and we both toughed it out when the weather changed rapidly.  It's also a relief to have a hiking partner who never complains and toughs it out when the weather turns, the trail conditions sour, or the bugs come out. :)
-   After the hike we headed back to Tusayan and while eating lunch the wind picked up and a thunder and lightning storm viciously rolled through.  Meaning we timed our hike perfectly once again!!

 The upper part of the Grandview Trail has rougher footing than most canyon trails.  There's some evidence of masterful trail work over a 'cobblestone' section along the way

 Looking down at the Coconino Saddle

 Our destination is in view, the Plateau of Horseshoe Mesa

 As the trail drops to the Horseshoe Mesa plateau the trail becomes much easier over a nice red clay footing

 Passing by the radiation area from the old mines

 Historic masonry structure at Horseshoe Mesa

 We check out the inside of the structure before heading over to the campsites where we spot a privy (toilet) with a view!

 Walking through the campsites

 Heading down the heard path to the Cave of Dome

 The dusty entrance to the Cave of Domes

 We enter the Cave of Domes and sign the hiker log book

 Whitney gets her bearings then heads by some stalactites

I navigate a narrow corridor

We explore the cave for about an hour, we head back maybe two hundred feet to a long high hallway

The floor was covered with thick dust which settled over polished stalagmites.

Whitney heads back through a small opening between two rooms

 Heading back out to the entrance of the cave

 Back out on Horseshoe Messa we see a storm coming in from the west but luckily up on the south rim the weather is still ok...for now!

 Heading back through Horseshoe Mesa

 At the bottom of this picture is an old foundation, don't know if it was for a well or a fireplace

 Ascending back up the Grandview Trail

 The skies open up and we get rained on

 The rain then turns to hail!

 Then the skies clear up above us

Down below us is another story as the storm is pounding the inner canyon and over the spot where we were about an hour ago

Whitney makes her way back up the narrow trail to Grandview Point

As we top out the weather now clears off on the Horseshoe Mesa

I circled the location of the the entrance to the Cave of Domes and added a zoomed-in image.

 View from Grandview Point

Route for the day, click here for details

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