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The ATM Cave & Concurring Fear

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

   My son at Jewel Cave, South Dakota

When ever chatting with friends and family about outdoor activities, and the subject of spelunking and exploring caves came up, I always said that’s not for me. I’m not all that claustrophobic but the idea of squeezing my body through a tight space in a dark cave gives me the eebie-jeebies. What if I get stuck? And panic? And no one is there to get me out? Flash flood? Cave in? Aliens? Nope, not for me… Forget it!

In 2015 we took a family vacation to South Dakota. While there we visited the Jewel Cave. The cave had an elevator, walkways, railings, and LIGHTS. I was a little nervous but there were not any tight spaces and as long as we kept moving and the guide kept talking I was good. On the outside of the Visitors Center was a block to crawl through demonstrating how tight some of the “off trail”  paths were. Nope, not for me.

This January my husband and I visited Belize for the first time. We were told that a “Must-See” was the Actun Tunichil Muknal “ATM” Cave. The ATM Cave is a Mayan archaeological site near San Ignacio, Cayo District, that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. It sounded cool, my husband did the research and we booked the tour when we arrived at the hotel.

On the morning of the ATM Cave tour I woke to this notice that it was a POW day back home.
We were instructed to wear cloths we can hike, climb, and swim in. Including water shoes and a pair of socks. I wore a one piece swim suit and a pair of light weight cotton shorts, (next time I will pack some river shorts). For my shoes I wore my Keens and a pare of smart wool toe sock booties. I wear prescription glasses, and so did most of the others in our group, we needed to wear retainers on them so we would not loose them or drop them on an artifact. We were allowed to bring a day pack with dry cloths, snacks, and a camera but we had to leave it in the van at the trail head. Cameras were not allowed in the cave, damage to the artifacts had happened when someone dropped a camera on a 2000 year old skull and broke it. After 3 separate incidents the government passed a rule forbidding cameras. I wasn’t even allowed to carry my eppi pen, I had to the guide to carry in his dry bag. At the trail head we were given a life jacket, climbing helmet, a head lamp, and a liter of water. It was a mile hike to the cave entrance and we were told to drink half the water before we get to the cave, the other half on the way back..


We hit the trail, the first thing we did was swim across a river that is several feet deep. There was a rope to hold onto to guide us to the trail on the other side. IOn the trail we crossed water 2 more times, and the trail itself had several muddy spots that squished around (and into) the shoes. When we got to the last several yards before the cave entrance we were told to find a place to set our water bottle. There were no facilities, the men were told to use the jungle on the left, women the jungle on the right.

entrance-to-atm-cave-belize-actun-tunchil-muknal-600

Entrance to the ATM cave from the Belize.com website
Click photo to read more about the cave.

It was a privilege to be able to visit the site, they only allow 200 people a day in the cave. All have to be with a guide. The guide instructed us on footing, how to step, and what to touch & not touch. Then back in the water we went and swam into the cave. What was I thinking when I said yes to this? I have NO IDEA what I was thinking! Maybe because the Jewel Cave was so commercialized I didn’t give much of a thought to what I was getting myself into. My darling husband, being the smart man that he is, didn’t tell me it was a non commercialized cave, we would be doing real caving. So, on I trekked, thinking “no prob, I can do this”.

Squeezing through the cave openings

The “Guillotine” – We could not have cameras, this is not
my photo, it’s from a stranger’s blog blog. But, I did that!

The water in the cave was over our head at the entrance, throughout the cave the water was anywhere from ankle deep to several feet deep. A little way into the cave we met our first obstacle, a tight spot nick-named the “guillotine“.  I was the second to last to go through, my husband was behind me. We had to position ourselves so that our head was above a rock sticking out, and the rest of our body below, so that our neck goes by the rock. Remember, up until this very moment doing exactly this was a “I will never do” activity, and definitely NOT on my bucket list! What was I thinking? HOLY CRAP! I was not going to turn around now, everyone would have to leave too, so OMG I’m going to do this! As the woman in front of me worked her way threw the opening I was having this quiet conversation with myself in my brain that started out “Oh sh–! Oh F—! Oh sh–! Oh F—! Oh sh–! Oh F—!….” Then I rationalized with myself that my husband is bigger than me and if he would not fit they would not let him go, therefor I will fit into that tiny little space and not get stuck. Once it was my turn, I made a couple tries then decided to take off my life jacket (not dangerous), I slipped right through, no freaking out, no panic, no alien abductions. YAY!! I could not believe I did it! I was so pleased with myself. The woman in from of me said she was having the same feeling about it too. After that anything else in our path would be a piece of cake.

A video of people passing through the guillotine.
 

On the hike to the artifact room the guide made many stops to tell us about the cave, the Mayans, the culture, stalactites, stalagmites, the sink hole, and answer questions. When we got about a mile into the cave we had to climb a bolder and up on a (wide) ledge to get to the artifact room. The guide instructed us on climbing the boulder. It had divots where to put your feet, I would compare it to hoisting myself into a saddle on an 18 hand horse without standing on a log, the first step was a doozie! I had my husband push my bum up that rock. Once we climbed onto the ledge we took off our life jackets and shoes. This is where the socks come in, no shoes were allowed into the artifact room, minimizing damage to the cave. The wool toe booties worked great! They were not saturated with water, the grip was good, and my feet were protected. As I was walking into the artifact room in my socks I thought to myself “this is sooo worth missing a pow day for!’. 

In the artifact room was pottery and human sacrificial remains 1500 – 2000 years old, some just inches from the marked trail. For example, an artifact named the “Monkey Pot” was right there, next to our feet, easy to get a good look at in detail. It was SO COOL! In the very back of the cave was a calcified full skeleton nicknamed ‘The Crystal Maiden’, our guide said that was just a name dubbed by a reporter and there is not enough evidence to determine if it is a male for a female. The archaeologists believe she (or he) was sacrificed during a period of drought, to appease the god of rain. The Mayans believing the cave was where all water originated.

Did you read this and say ‘Hell no! Not me!”? I want to stress… don’t let your fear get in the way of this awesome opportunity. If I can overcome my fear and do this, so can you.
On the way out we stopped and the guide had us all turn off our headlamps. Then he had us close our eyes. When we opened our eyes they did not adjust, it was completely black. Up until this moment I had not even given the darkness a second thought. Imagine the Mayans trekking to the back of this cave with only torches.

The next day it started raining and all the caves closed, and it didn’t stop the rest of the week. We chose our day well. Would I do it again? YES! However there are so many other cool things we didn’t get to see in Belize I probably would not do it on our next trip unless we were with someone who had not done it before.



A Pirate Hat with Style

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Every year the Jackson Hole Community band performs a Halloween Concert and the whole band wears a Halloween costume. The concert is for the children but adults enjoy it as well. In 2014 I decided to be a pirate.

When I started planning my pirate costume, [future post],  I knew I wanted a unique pirate hat to bring it together. I browsed Pintrest for ideas, adding the word “steampunk” to the search terms to find that swashbuckling look I wanted.

Once I had an idea in my brain of what I wanted my hat to look like, I dug through my craft supplies, and shopped dollar stores, craft stores, and yard sales for unique bobbles and scraps that would work in my color scheme.

 


 

 

I needed a plain pirate hat that would fit my head and I could glue and hand sew things onto. I found this hat on Amazon.com, I would not recommend this hat for someone with a small hat size, but it worked perfectly on my medium to large hat size head and it is very comfortable. The price is well worth it.  I gathered my supplies and spread them out to see my palette and went to work.

Junk and broken jewelry and some perfectly good pieces from the 80’s. Funny how the jewelry I wore in the 80’s is now appropriate for a Halloween costume!

Sewing box, buttons, tools, craft flowers, doilies, and some fabric scraps to get me started.

 

The first thing I wanted to do to the plain hat was dress up the smooth top into something more feminine. I had a few lace and crocheted scraps I picked up at garage sales. I dyed them brown to use in various places on the pirate costume, [future post]. Learning from the mess I made dying some things black for my Gray Lady Costume, I used the liquid, not the powdered Rit dye. 

 

I used the crochet scrap with the peacock design and some Tacky Glue to glue the doily to the top of the hat and let it dry completely before doing anything else. I dry brushed the scrap with some gold craft acrylic paint to give it some depth and sewed some old looking buttons to the front to give it a finished look.


For a really great costume remember to add detail as many places as possible. With this in mind, I added bobbles to all three sides of the brim.

On the left brim I stacked some doilies with parts of a burlap flower I took apart. I added an old broken broach to the center and used my jewelry tools to add some dangles. When I sewed it all together I added a couple peacock feathers behind the flowers. Later I added some felt to the back of the dangles because it was making sounds while I was playing my flute.

 

On the right brim I sewed on an old broken bracelet with coins, added a trio of buttons near the front, and a skull and cross bone button above the bracelet.

Fot the back brim I used a fancy Gothic black lace choker i had purchased for another costume but didn’t use. I used a needle and thread to tack the ends down, allowing it some movement. 

To finish it up I added a big set of pink ostrich plumes behind the brim, by the peacock feathers, and secured it by sewing it on with a heavy duty needle and thread, (a thimble on my thumb and finger was a life finger saver for this project). The bottom of the set of plumes is tied with a leather strip so if seen it looks finished, and the plumes stay in place. I found the plume at a garage sale back the 80’s and had used it on a couple other costumes and for decoration over the years.

 



In 2015 I brought the pirate costume, [future post], with me on a trip to to Cabo San Lucas, we planned to attend a Halloween event on the marina. I had to wear the hat on the plane because it would not pack, it made for an interesting flight. While there I was given this mask that gave the costume a less kid friendly look. And when I returned… I was wearing the hat when customs took my photo.




I took the photos with the black background with my new iPhone 8.


Milk the Cow Theory

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Valued Advice from an Old Cowhand

Always take a good look at what you’re about to eat. It’s not so important to know what it is, but it’s critical to know what it was.When I was 16  my family moved from Southern California to Bishop, a small town 40 miles south of Mammoth Mountain. It was there that I first learned to ski and love the mountain life. Just after graduation met a cowboy and I traded in my city slick’n lifestyle for good. We traveled the western states with everything we owned in the back of an old 70’s ford station wagon complete with the classic faux wood stripe. As short lived as my life in that world was, I learned a lot about ranch life, it was quite the education. Since then I never looked at a piece of beef, or a gallon of milk the same again.

Ranch jobs were generally in the middle of nowhere and included housing, beef, fresh rocky mountain oysters, and sometimes fresh milk. The women stayed home, cared for the house, the cooking, the dogs, and the men. Sometimes we got paid $20 a day to work the ground crew during brandings. And if we were lucky, housing was close enough together for us “Women Folk” to visit over a pot of coffee and a game of Gin Rummy, after the chores were done of course. My particular Cowboy, or as he like to be called “Buckaroo”, went through jobs (and wives) like scours through a calf, I got to sample a variety of ranches in a short amount of time. I could write a blog on the ranch in Lida, Nevada alone, but that’s another story.



One of the most valuable pieces of advice I was handed is one I use to this day. In 1980 we started a job on a JR Simplot feed lot in Mountain Home, Idaho. The housing was one of the better houses we lived in, except the fact that it was unfurnished. Remember I told you every thing we owned fit in the back of a station wagon. COW BOSS: In charge of the cattle operation on a ranch. They choose where the cowboys will ride and hire and fire cowboys. Answer to the general manager.After our first day on the ranch we were invited to dinner at the Cow Bosses house. He was a rugged old cowboy, like you might see on a painting of the old west. I was about 120 lbs soaking wet and had that city girl look, I felt small, out of place, and painfully shy. The Cow Boss’s wife was in the kitchen cooking like a pro, I was in the living room trying not to say something stupid. After a bit he asked me, in his natural bellowing voice, “Do you know how to mike a cow?”. Afraid of what he may say when he heard my answer, I very meekly said “no”. He replied in a very authoritative tone “Well don’t learn! Or you will be out there early every morning milking the cows.”.

“Milk the Cow Theory” was born.

I never learned how to mend fence either, spouting off my “Milk the Cow” theory as a reason not to help. “Nope, I don’t want to learn to milk that cow”. As a matter of fact, I can’t even be fooled into mending fence. (You know who you are 🙂 )


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