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Caves & Caverns
Forests and pine trees cover the area. The Chevé system carries water from the mountaintops near Papalo to discharge them, 12 miles (19 kilometres) north, into the Santo Domingo. For eight years, the Chevé Project has been exploring and mapping the subterranean area of the draining system.
The highest segment of the Chevé system consists of the Chevé Cave, the main cavern in the System, and a number of smaller caverns (Osto de Puente Natural, Viento Fro, Cuates, and Escondida) which connect to the main cavern. The Chevé Cave consists of 14 miles (23.5 kilometres) of explored passages that end in a massive passage blocked by gigantic rocks and underwater pipes. The area surrounding these entrances is called Superior Karst. (Each time we mention Karst, we refer to a geographic term describing different topography shaped by water over or in limestone)
Waterfalls in the highest entrance travel a distance of over 4.3 miles (7 kilometres), 4,468 feet (1,362 metres) vertically until arriving to an underwater passage. The following 9.3 miles (15 kilometres) of the aquatic route are unknown. Finally, water reappears in the lower component of the System, Cueva del Mano and socre. To the canyon of the Santo Domingo River. Cueva del Mano is composed of a network of labyrinthine passages that end in rocks cover with calcite or upstream underwater passages. The area above the unexplored part of the System is called intermediate Karst and Cueva del Mano is located in the resurgence region.
In 1990, by pouring dye into the current, the hydrologic connection between the Chevé Cave and the Resurgence was confirmed to have a vertical extension of 8,284 feet (2,525 metres) and a North to South flow of 11.8 miles (19 kilometres). Although the water flows from one entrance to the other, it does not guarantee a passage system capable of holding a human being; there is a high probability of one existing. The Chevé Project is committed to find and document a route from the Chevé Cave to the Resurgence.
Bill Farr and Carol Vesely were the first explorers to visit Chevé Cave. In December 1986, while following a lead given by Peter Sprouse, they found a valley, 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometres) by 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres) in length near Concepcion Papalo. They studied the Southern entrance of the valley and found several small caves before locating the most imposing entrance (19 by 98 feet (6x30 metres)), just further up they discovered another long and narrow entrance.
The Chevé System’ main entrance is located at the foot of a Llano del Chevé cliff (Chevé Plain). This plain is an ideal camping site. A brook flows through the plain and the entrance chamber. Slightly above the entrance line, the cave opens into an entrance chamber 200 feet (70 metres) wide by 98 feet (30 metres) high by 656 feet (200 metres) long. Baskets, torches, human, and animal bones as well as remnants of ceremonial articles were found demonstrating that this chamber had been discovered at least 700 years ago. The floor is composed of gigantic rocks of various shapes and has an average 30-degree declivity.
Downstream from the entrance chamber there is a long canyon that leads to the "Cuarto de las Canastas" (the Basket Room), named thus because of vestiges of various woven tapestries. This is the last point where it is possible to see sunlight. The passage continues westward to the "Cuarto del Elefante Negro" (the Black Elephant Room). This chamber is full of dark and slippery stones that make navigation difficult. Wall markings and discovery of artefacts indicate that this chamber, 20 or 30 minutes from the entrance in total darkness, was used for religious ceremonies. The main current flows from the centre of the "Cuarto del Elefante Negro" through a number of damp ledges to a triple cascade 39 feet (12 metres) high. A lateral passage, well decorated, because of its formations called "Taller de Santa Claus" (Santa Claus Workshop).
Continuing by the wind instead of by water, a narrow passage in the Basket Chamber leads to "Cañon Fresco" (Fresh Canyon) named thus because of the breeze (usually 45ºF (7ºC)) that blows the length of the rear of the passage. The first ledge drops 23 feet (7 metres) toward a small and dry chamber. A route through a passage blocked with huge rocks leads to a second 20-foot (6 metres) drop; followed by a third ledge close to 20 feet (6 metres) that drops into a shallow lake. "Cañon Fresco" (Fresh Canyon) continues toward another fall called "Doble Vado" (Double Ford). The first exploratory trip ended at this point.
It is said that in the depths of the grottoes are two enormous lagoons and rupestrian paintings. It is also said that "Chevé" is associated with shamanism. Frequently, offerings to the earth are found there.
• Concepción Pápalo: Is located 86 miles (138 kilometres) North of the City of Oaxaca via highway 190 to the Isthmus. Take the highway 131 detour at Telixtlahuaca. When you reach Cuicatlán, follow the Concepción Pápalo detour located at 14 miles (23 kilometres). Approximate travel time: [3:00]
To reach the Chevé Grotto from Concepcion Papalo, one must take a dirt road to Tlalixtac. One must take the detour to Santa Maria Papalo and in 9 to 12 miles (15 to 20 kilometres) we find a gap where we turn left (there is no road sign). We follow the gap down for approximately 2 miles (3 kilometres), and from there, we walk another mile (1.5 kilometres). We arrive at a basin of sorts surrounded by pine and oak trees and rocky walls. On one of those walls we can appreciate a valley with grazing cattle where speleologists usually make camp. We recommend hiring a guide (with a truck) in Concepcion Papalo.