Not quite Hidden Cave

Free BLM-led tours to Hidden Cave begin at 9:30 a.m. every other Saturday, leaving from the Churchill County Museum, 1050 S. Maine St., Fallon, turning right off U.S. Highway 50. Tours take two hours. Bring water.

On a whim, we turn off Highway 50, a few miles east of Fallon, and trek down the bumpy dirt road, inadvertently driving beyond the parking for Hidden Cave. A couple miles later at gravelly notch in the mountainside, a large white sign says, “No shooting.” Bullet holes perforate the sign and handwriting announces: “I shot yer mom.”

My teens, road-tripping with me across central Nevada to Ely, propose writing a sequel to The Hills Have Eyes, a film in which a family of tourists is systematically tortured and butchered by mutant nuke survivors.

“This could be the part of the movie where the family gets lost and decides to turn around,” Steph says. “Then they get a flat tire.”

Ahead of us, a handful of people cluster around two SUVs, a dirt bike and another all-terrain vehicle. They glance up. I nod, smile and turn around. Dust rises behind us. We park, the only car in a small lot at Grimes Point Archaeological Area.

“Should we lock up?”

“This is the part where it looks like no one’s around. No one knows what lurks in Hidden Cave.”

“No cell phone signal.”

I walk a few yards into the desert and inhale crisp sage-tinged air of this place, one of Nevada’s many arcane assets.

A narrow cave opening is visible on the mountainside. Is this Hidden Cave? Layers of smooth gravel, igneous rock and sediment form a colorful mosaic—guts of the mountain spilled out into the arid open.

Some 21,000 years ago in the Pleistocene, Lake Lahontan filled this basin. Caves formed in the surrounding mountains of the Stillwater Range. The gymnasium-sized cavern within Hidden Cave was used as storage by American Indians.

In the 1920s, the cave was mined for bat guano. Archaeologists excavated through the 1970s—fighting fumes from the rotting shit of flying nocturnal mammals.

My teens recently watched Descent, a film in which cave explorers are systematically tortured and butchered by mutant cave dwellers. We speculate on this cave’s inhabitants.

“This is the part where everyone’s joking because they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”

Jesse darts up the steep path. Stephanie acts terrified. She begs him not to go on.

“Jesse, don’t. Who knows what might be in there? Dangerous animals. Crazed lunatics.”

“The whining girl is always the first to mysteriously disappear,” I say. “I imagine mutant cave dwellers pose less of a threat than snakes.”

We climb to the opening, scrabbling and sliding on loose rock. I take photos and enter. The place smells like dung, perhaps human. Jesse walks a few feet in but since we hadn’t planned on exploring dark places, we carry no flashlights. We’ll come back on a Saturday for one of the biweekly tours led by BLM rangers. There, we will learn that the cave we entered wasn’t the Hidden Cave, which is sealed behind steel doors.

For now, we hike along a steep ridge circling the mountain. I pick up a flat rock the shape of our state and chant: “Home means Nevada, home means the hills.” Then I lose my footing along a narrow path and stumble, cutting my palm on a sharp rock.

“You’re bleeding,” Steph notes.

“Someone go for help!” I say.

“We’re not leaving you here alone,” Steph says, straight-faced.

“No, you have to,” I say. “Save yourselves.”

As we walk to the car, I hum: “We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.”

Jesse spots wildlife sunning on the trail.

“Snake,” he says. “Yeah, it’s a rattlesnake.”

We pass, giving the critter plenty of room.

The snake retreats under a bush.