Peppersauce Cave, on the Santa Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, has been the focus of a multi-year, multi-phase graffiti removal project by Central Arizona Grotto. The next cleanup project is scheduled for Aug. 10 through 12, 2018. The group site at Peppersauce Campground will be occupied by the group for the weekend.
The cave, located in Nugget Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains south of Oracle, is the most heavily visited wild (undeveloped) cave in Arizona, with an estimated 15,000 visitors per year. While many cavers enjoy responsible recreational spelunking, others leave behind graffiti and trash.
Graffiti removal has been an ongoing effort by the Central Arizona Grotto (CAG) of the National Speleological Society (NSS). Two significant removal projects in eight work sessions between December, 2001 and June, 2003, and three sessions between February and June, 2010 were coordinated by Central Arizona Grotto, and the Peppersauce Cave Conservation Project (PCCP) to remove graffiti and trash.
Most recently, CAG, along with volunteers from the Arizona State University’s Outdoor Club and southern Arizona grottos removed 150 to 200 tags and 300 pounds of trash between late September and early October, 2017. One November weekend they replaced kiosk panel covers, installed the first group of 14 highly-reflective “OUT” signs, and removed another 100 graffiti tags. In February of this year 250 to 300 tags were removed, and 20 highly-reflective white arrows placed to point to the easiest exit of the cave. In June 300 tags were removed and additional reflective arrows placed.
Using a complex system of a generator, compressor, high-pressure hoses, extension cords, lighting and a communication system, volunteers use glass beads for sand blasting and bristle brushes with biodegradable solvent to remove the tags, and spread tarps to catch and collect the beads and excess solvent for removal from the cave.
CAG has entered into an agreement (which represents all the local spelunking groups) with the Forest to continue work in 2018, with the following goals:
• Clean/remove all graffiti in Peppersauce Cave and continue monitoring for new graffiti issues;
• Restore/replace signage on the trail leading to Peppersauce Cave;
• Replace reflective IN/OUT arrows in the ceiling to reduce graffiti arrow tags.
Throughout the year, CAG will work with other NSS grottos and PCCP qualified individuals cooperatively to fulfill project goals. The next scheduled restoration trip (following the August work) will be Sept. 21 through 23.
Caves are non-renewable resources, fragile and easily impacted. Every entry into a cave creates disturbances, the cumulative effects of which can dramatically alter cave environments. Coronado National Forest staff encourage visitors to the cave to practice responsible use and cave conservation ethics:
• Move carefully through a cave to avoid damaging cave features.
• Pack it in, pack it out. Anything brought into a cave and left behind is out of place. Remove everything taken into the cave, including human waste.
• Leave what you find, never remove natural or historic features from a cave.
• Respect wildlife avoid disturbing cave wildlife.
• Never tolerate intentional damage, defacing or artifact theft from caves. If you see something, report it.
For safe caving trips, Forest staff recommend you plan ahead, be prepared, and know what to expect from the cave you are visiting. Let others know of your plans, and your anticipated schedule. Choose appropriate clothing, equipment and safety gear, and pack more food and water than you plan on using.