The Caves of Canutillo
And the Headless Walker in White
Text and Pictures ©2008 by John and Susy Pint, Updated 2013
“Why are you going all the way to Ahuijullo when we have plenty of caves right here?” asked Doña Marta, owner of the only store in the four-house town of Canutillo.
She was talking to Guadalajara caver Mario Guerrero, who, a few months later, invited all the members of Zotz to investigate the area.
On August 29, 2008, Sergi Gómez, Victor Hugo Zaragoza and Patri Huelva drove off to Canutillo and Mario, Chris Lloyd and I headed in the same direction the following morning. Canutillo is located 53kms due East of Colima and Mario Guerrero first drove through it on his way to Jalisco’s impressive Puente de Dios (God’s Bridge), a grandiose limestone cave with a small river running through it.
Chris Lloyd, however, found that much of the area around Canutillo is granite and we didn’t take the cave claim too seriously. However, Sergi Gómez of Barcelona had been deprived of cave access for weeks since his arrival in Mexico and we figured we could quench his speleothirst by offering him a trip to Canutillo, even if it has nothing more than iguana holes.
The Saturday crew got off to a slow start due to someone showing up late (Don’t worry, we won’t mention any names, Mario!) and then insisting on immediately stopping to buy breakfast—and old Mexican and Arab custom which impedes the progress of speleology on two continents. To make up for lost time, Chris roared along the muddy, cliff-hanging road to Canutillo at Mach II speeds and we arrived only 18 minutes after the appointed time to meet Sergi’s group.
“Oh, those Spaniards?” said Doña Marta. “They were here early in the morning and then went off to explore a cave.”
Well, we waited an hour and then proceeded to look for them. Murphy’s Law
immediately took effect and while we hunted for Sergi here, he was hunting for
us there. Finally we found each other and drove to Rancho Del Real where Sergi
had located two cave entrances about 50 meters apart.
As we walked along, we spotted large limestone rocks just above us and even a big block of cut limestone maybe left over from some quarrying project.
Note karsty rocks on hillside above
LEFT: Victor ready to crawl into the cave.
RIGHT: John takes a healthy slug of "Histostop" before entering the cave. Research on histoplasmosis, investigated by none other than Luis Rojas himself, documents experiments showing that imbibing vodka prevents Histoplama capsulatum spores from growing in your lungs. These experiments were done in Russia (of course!) but why would we want to doubt them?
The first surprise was that this cave was nicely decorated with flowstone right
from the beginning. A less pleasant surprise came when we found ourselves on the
upper end of a long, natural slide covered with thick reddish mud. Exactly at
this point we head the voices of Sergi and Patri who had come in via the other
entrance. “We’re perfectly clean” they said, “There’s no mud at all on our
These words were of very little consolation as each of us acquired a gooey coating of mud trying to negotiate the slide. Naturally, this turned out to be the sort of mud which permanently dies your clothes, clogs up your flashlight and wreaks havoc on your camera.
In the course of following various side passages to their very ends, we came upon yet more deposits of this clayey mud, so that the Catalans, like the rest of us, ended up with red fannies.
LEFT: Mario with flowstone...obviously this spot is before the mud slide.
RIGHT: Victor in one of many short, muddy, upper passages.
We also found bats at the ends of some passages and plenty of smelly vampire
The cave has flowstone everywhere as well as stalagmites, draperies, a few helictites and even a very nice shield. It also had hundreds of stalactites once upon a time, but all of them were broken off and carried away by the cave’s many previous visitors.
.Although the two entrances are so close, the survey shows there are 184 meters
of passages in between.
LEFT: "Lemme outa here" shouts Mario.
RIGHT: Chris at Entrance Number Two.
This special ZOTZ Photomontage shows you how our skilled surveyors make such precise measurements.
After such a propitious beginning of our weekend, we hiked back down to the ranch house and asked the property owner, Juan Herrera, if we could camp somewhere nearby. He then showed us a convenient meadow next to a small stream and even brought us a load of firewood.
Royal road to the campground
RIGHT: Campsite Del Real,
complete with fire and--amazingly--no mosquitoes.
Soon we were sitting around the fire in the dark, enjoying a clear sky filled with stars. Although it was late August, the temperature was cool and pleasant due to the 1800-meter altitude. “It gets really cold here in winter,” said Señor Herrera, “with plenty of frost.”
Naturally, sitting around the campfire, the conversation turned to things that go Bump in the Night.
“We have a ghost here,” said Señor Herrera. “It’s tall, dressed all in white and has no head. I’ve seen it several times and I’m not the only one. A group of miners came here to do an assessment and slept in a trailer parked over there, just above where you are camping. Well, every night this trailer would start to shake uncontrollably, apparently for no reason at all. The men figured somebody was behind this, so one of them decided to sleep underneath the trailer so he could catch the culprit in the act. In the middle of the night, the shaking started. The “watchman” woke up and found no one else under the trailer but himself. He crawled out just in time to see the headless ghost go down the road and through the gate. He ran after it and found the gate—this one right here—locked. That ghost went right through it!”
In spite of this story, we had a pleasant night except for a short shower (just enough to soak our tents).
The next morning we all followed Sergi to another cave he had supposedly
located. “Actually, it’s in a garbage dump,” announced Sergi but that didn’t
slow us down and off we went. However, I noticed Patri unusually eager to stay
with the cars and found out why when we arrived at the “cave” site, which turned
out to be all garbage and no cave…well, there was a little crack good for a
leprechaun. Our best find at that site was a mysteriously beautiful flower:
CAVE, SERGI? WHERE?
Sergi and Victor then spent a lot of energy exploring the hillside above the dump with Chris directing operation by walkie-talkie. Finally we gave up. Sergi’s party then headed back to Guadalajara while Chris’s carful drove off to investigate a curious local spot known as Puerto Del Aire.
First we stopped at the store in Canutillo to buy beer. As it was Sunday, there
were lots of folks sitting around in front of the store, obviously the most
popular socializing site in the entire Sierra Lalo.
Mario described our exploits to Doña Marta...
| ... and
immediately several onlookers spoke up. “That cave you saw is nothing! You
should see La Cueva de las Marcas. It’s really big and full of rock
art and then there’s La Cueva de la Escuadra and don’t forget El Pozo del Aire,
with wind blowing out of it strong enough to lift a sombrero high into the air.”
And on they went, claiming there were plenty of caves in the nearby hills, but, unfortunately, most of them were just about inaccessible during the rainy season and would we please come back when the roads dry out.
The view from Canutillo
After hearing all this great news, we drove 14 kms uphill toward Puerto Del Aire, where we planned to eat lunch. The road was awful, with deep, muddy sections. We had to cross several streams and dodge rock fall on the steep road. In the rainy season you really need four-wheel drive for this. Curiously, it began to get darker and darker as we gained altitude.
When we reached the very top of the mountain, at 2,286 meters, we could hardly believe our eyes. We seemed to have changed seasons in a matter of minutes. It was August-in-Sunny-Mexico down below and Patagonia-in-the-Dead-of-Winter up at the top.
And it was cold! A powerful wind was howling so loud we had to shout to one
another. My friend Mario had a cigarette in his hand one minute and the next
second it was gone. Clothes on a line were flapping wildly like flags. We
could barely walk in a straight line.
There was a little shop up there and we wondered
how the family running it could stand this weather. It was, after all, still
summer, yet the shop owner was wearing a heavy Anorak. “What must this be like
in winter?” we mused as we jumped back into the truck and abandoned all thought
of eating lunch at this “tourist attraction.”
We have COLD beer all year round ...and we don't even need a fridge)."
CAVER OF THE YEAR CONTEST
LEFT: SORRY, MARIO. YOU LOOK TOO CLEAN!
RIGHT: SORRY, JOHN, YOUR HELMET IS CROOKED.
AND THE WINNER IS:
COOL CAVER OF THE YEAR: VICTOR HUGO ZARAGOZA
Zotz: What's your secret, Victor?
Victor: Speleo-smoothies. Blend one banana with a heaping tablespoon of bat guano and a cup of stalactite drip. Yummmmy!
Patri: Stalactite drip? I love it--but it tastes better inside the cave!