Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2011 by P. Ruplinger




Photo Gallery

Rafael and Pedro

This Tindarapo or Canclo is called a Tailless Whip Scorpion in English. For more info, see Vinagrillos & Tendarapos.

Close-up of the Tindarapo's fearsome claws.

The walls of La Cueva del Venado are covered with veils, stalactites, stalagmites, and shark-tooth draperies.



Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:






The Michoacán-Colima Cave Expedition

26 December, 2010 - 9 January, 2011

by Peter Ruplinger, Josh Kaggie and Kent Forman

This was our ninth fantastic cave mapping expedition to the Coahuayana area of Mexico. The Coahuayana valley is on the border between Colima and Michoacan near the coast.

Now that we’re back, the questions that Kent, Josh, and I are most often asked are, “Did you find any cool caves?” and “Did you have any scary experience with drug violence?”

Yes, we explored and mapped nine super caves. We did a lot of rigorous hiking up steep mountains through dense and beautiful jungles. We also met a lot of friendly people who were anxious to help.

No, we didn’t have any scary experiences with drug violence, but were continually careful where we went and what we did. We passed two clearly visible marijuana fields and no doubt others, sheltered from view by dense vegetation. Once we were stopped by the army, interrogated and searched.

If you are planning a trip to Mexico there are two major points to remember.

Don’t be out at night.
Personally know the people in your immediate area. It is their “territory”.

The importance of territory can’t be over emphasized. Mexicans are anxious to help if they know who you are, but if you’re in the wrong area, and they don’t know you, you may get shot. Don’t go on other’s property without asking permission. Don’t go into the back country without a local escort who personally knows the people where you will be caving.

Similar advice could be offered for Mexican cavers coming to the United States. Don’t wander or drive into what may be hostile neighborhoods of major cities, during the day or night.

One of our objectives on this trip was to map El Tapazón, a cave high on the opposite side of the mountain where we have spent the past few years mapping the river cave, Cueva de Las Canoas.

Pedro, who has helped us on prior trips, introduced us to his neighbor Rafael who knows the Tapazón side of the mountain well. We ascended thirteen hundred feet over a distance of two and a half miles through dense jungle to reach El Tapazón. The name means “the large covering”. The cave’s entrance has a large overhang which has sheltered locals for millennia.

The cave was somewhat of a disappointment. We heard that it was large and possibly connected to Cueva de Las Canoas. The cave only went in about seventy feet. It was, however a beautiful cave with numerous formations.

Pedro ventured in the cave with us. Rafael had promised his mother that he wouldn’t go into it. So, he stayed outside and prepared us a scrumptious barbeque with venison from a deer that he had shot just the day before.

A Wolf SpiderHis mother believes caves are inhabited by evil spirits. Perhaps she is correct. We didn’t see any ghosts, but we did see several large spider like creatures which the locals call “Tindarapos.” Cavers know them as “Amblypigids”. They have pinchers and leg spans sometimes exceeding 22 inches”! They are totally blind. They don’t worry me at all. What do bother me are the tarantula size, black spiders which we often see in Coahuayana caves. Like Tindarapos, they are totally blind. Unlike tarantulas, they have pointed legs and delicate little fangs. They give me the creeps!.

Almost adjacent to El
Tapazón was a small fissure cave that went in about thirty feet and then up as a chimney approximately forty feet to the surface.

A stone’s throw to the south was a small tomb-like cave about four feet in diameter. It went down about ten feet, over ten feet, and down another twenty feet. Due to its structure, we named it, “Pierna del Perro”, (Dog Leg).

On our descent, we teamed up with Mario, another of Pedro’s friends. He took us to a hill topped with a mound of sharp jagged limestone. Snake-like roots wove over the mound like countless guardian serpents. Under the mound was a maze of cave passages. In the lower area there were numerous shards. Some say that indigenous peoples would take pots into caves and then, as part of a ceremony, break them. The cave wasn’t immense, but its Swiss-cheese-like passages didn’t permit time for mapping. It has entrances on the east and west sides of the mound. Locals know this cave as, “El Rincón” (The Corner}. I don’t know why.

To the east of El Rincón was a small cave which may have been used as a tomb. Mario chose to name it “Cueva del Javero.” Javero is the name of a large tree below the cave.

While I was preparing a representative sketch of El Rincón, Kent and Josh went to the west side of El Rincón and explored our sixth cave for the day. Mario scratched his head and couldn’t think of a name for it, so I named it, “Cueva del Otro Lado” (Cave on the other side).

It was a rough day. In the evening a local family Ricardo and Maria invited us for dinner. It was a lot of fun. Their two charming teenaged daughters were enchanted with Josh and dragged him off to a karaoke party to usher in the new year. Josh came back a little after twelve boasting that he had sung Moon River. In the meantime, Kent became a hero by fixing the families’ virus infected computer. I shocked everyone by relating a story about finding a venomous snake in the cave, and then producing it from within my shirt. It was rubber of course. Exon, their eight year old boy roared with laughter and was delighted when I gave him the snake.

The next day we made a return trip to “Cueva del Rumbo a Chanchopa” (Cave on the way to Chanchopa). It is located north of the Coahuayana valley, near the town of San Gabriel,

“Chanchopa” is the name of the town at the base of the mountain where San Gabriel is nested. “Chancho” is one of several Mexican words for “pig”. There is a large hog farm in Chanchopa, so perhaps the town is named after the hog farm. The people there go out of their way to be cordial, but the area stinks. How would you like to live in a stinky town called “Pigville”?

During last year’s visit to San Gabriel, Rodney Mulder descended the pit, but due to the late hour, Kent and I didn’t have time. On this trip we did. The cave is over four hundred feet deep. It took nine minutes to descend and twenty-five to climb out. Kent and I both came face to face, just inches away, with one of those big black ugly spiders.

At the bottom the air was bad. A cigarette lighter wouldn’t begin to light. Kent and I had to breathe twice as fast. I didn’t venture past the room where we got off rope. Kent went on to a second, highly decorated room with a hundred foot ceiling. This second room had a pit at the far end. Due to the bad air, Kent prudently didn’t drop the cave’s second pit.


Two days later, back in Palos Marias, one of the town’s oldest residents, Sirilo, took us to a cave near the summit of the immense mountain north east of Palos Marias. Sirilo is eighty-five years old. He has hunted deer and harvested exotic hardwoods in this area all his life.

Sirilo rode his little donkey. The rest of us walked. To save time we didn’t take the switchbacks, but marched straight up the hill. It was an arduous hike. Josh fell on sharp, weather eroded limestone and cut his shin. Kent, who always carries every possibly needed item in his huge backpack, produced butterfly sutures, and other first-aid items to dress the wound.

The scariest experience of our expedition was when an area where we sat to rest suddenly began to slide down the hill. The rocks rumbled like thunder. Fortunately they only slid about five feet. When the rocks stopped, my left leg was pinned to the knee between two boulders. Fortunately I was able to remove it. We carefully crept to safer ground.

Sirilo says there are numerous caves on the mountain. It’s just a matter of finding them. He found this cave ages ago when he shot a deer. He tracked the wounded deer to the entrance of the cave, where it had fallen. Sirilo wasn’t aware of a name for the cave. Mario said we should call it “Cueva del Venado” (Cave of the Deer).

The cave was in a beautiful area with huge trees. There was only one opening, but it quickly divided into two parallel fault-like passages. Once again, we simply did not have time to make a detailed map. About half way down the right-hand passage, I found what appeared to be a pedestal. It consisted of four fist sized stones with a dish-like stone on top of them. It was in a shrine-like corner area. It was obvious it had been placed there by hand. Below the pedestal was a large elegant pot, broken to pieces.

Although moderate in size, the cave was heavily decorated. Almost every surface was covered with veils, stalactites, stalagmites, and shark tooth draperies.

Our last cave of the expedition was once again on top of a humongous mountain. I thought our guide, Ramon, looked familiar. On the hike, once again straight up the hill, he told us that cavers had been there before, but had not reached the cave’s bottom due to its immense depth. Once at the cave, I realized that this was the same cave I had been to in January of 2000. Ten years ago we ascended on the opposite side via switchbacks. Mario’s younger cousin, Noe, carried our ropes on his mule. Mario didn’t recognize me now because of my mustache.

The cave has a spectacular entrance. It is near the top of the mountain, beside a jagged weathered limestone cliff. The entry room is about thirty feet across. On the side is a pit about two by four feet wide. Its lip is covered with slimy black guano. The pit has an overpowering stench of ammonia. When large rocks are dropped into the pit, disturbed bats swarm with the sound of surf smashing on a rocky shore. We could never hear the rocks hit the bottom.

This is the cave where Lynn Anderson and I contracted histoplasmosis ten years earlier. Perhaps that was our recompense for not descending the abyss. We didn’t descend it this trip either. Perhaps it is the world’s deepest cave. Who knows?


Editor's note: On previous visits to the Palos Marias area, Peter Ruplinger's team found the two caves whose maps appear below. Note: the drawings are for decorative purposes only. There are no artifacts in these caves!

Click on picture for larger version of map

Click on the image to see a larger version of the map.

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