Worley and Hail Mary Caves

The Worley Cave survey began in 2002 but was put on hiatus while the notes spent years in the wilderness as Ranger Joe moved around the Southeast. In 2009 we got the notes and started poking into the cave’s smaller leads. They led us to discoveries of a waterfall, an upper level, monorail worms, and some very small places. Last June Dave Duguid, Rob Harris, and Duke Dooley moved some mud and dripping water to find a new section of the cave within sight of the entrance.

On May 14 Dave Duguid, Tanya McLaughlin and I went to Worley Cave, but I set the new section back as our last objective for the day. Dave and I began by completing more of the fill-in sketching that I need done to fill in the map of the monstrous Entrance Room. Next I shoved Dave and Tanya into some breakdown to see if they could make light connections. While I finished my sketching, Dave and his hoe headed for the Sandwich Passage, with Tanya following behind.

Dave hesitated…and then he stopped…face to face with a live raccoon. Dave had cornered the raccoon in a 12-inch high passage just before the raccoon got to a 6-foot drop. Apparently the hoe wasn’t intimidating enough to make the raccoon jump, so Dave backed out and called those leads beyond the Sandwich dead for the day.

At that point the survey crew turned to the new section of the cave. Survey into the new section was a little tricky, but the fourth station had us back in standing passage. Dave and Tanya set stations while I sketched, and we turned right at the first junction. Long straight shots of thirty and forty feet awaited us, but the passage heights dropped us back into crawling at times. There were sure signs of raccoon usage in this part of the cave, and monorail worms abounded. Dave’s hands got so messy that he dumped his food from the bag into his mouth; at least that was the story he shared when he complained about finding his nuts in his boots.

There is still more survey to be done in the new section of Worley Cave as well as some other leads. We exited the cave and encountered the owner’s brother back at the car. He shared an interest in what we had been finding and also shared information about the other caves in the neighborhood. In a search for scrap metal, the cars and appliances have now been removed from Roadside Dump, a former cave entrance very close to the area we had surveyed that day. Maybe we’ll connect on a future trip.

On Sunday Tanya led Dave and me to the holes above Copenhavers Cave. Dave discovered that Hail Mary Cave dead-ended after just fifty feet, and we found no other going leads in the hillside.

Dave and I drove up to Crystal Springs Natural Area, the new Wytheville park, in search of possible other caves where the limestone meets the sandstone. Instead we found thick blooming rhododendra before the drive home.