Two Letters Re: Using Natural Caves on Private Property

Greetings Jim, Memsahib, and Readers,
I wanted to mention a couple things regarding caves for shelter or storage. Many years ago, in my youth, I became interested in Spelunking (Caving) and was lucky enough to explore caves in Tennessee with seasoned Spelunkers with fifteen years experience. Depending on your climate you will not only get a ‘wet season’ where you have to deal with a lot of dampness but you may actually face the cave being almost totally under water. We found this out the hard way when on one trip the cave we were going to explore a lower chamber we found was totally submerged from the previous week’s rains. We did manage to explore a upper chamber that was well above the water line. Even though the cave we explored was well hidden, as the one Linda H mentioned, others had used the entrance chamber because of discarded beer cans and trash left behind. And, yes, we packed out other’s trash. Once we left the entrance chamber signs of others having frequented the other chambers faded away. But if you are curious about a cave, you can bet someone else has been curious also. After our trek of nearly six hours into the mountain we thought we found the end of the chamber’s run. As all humans like to put their mark wherever they go I found a name, that was not very legible, and a date of 1784 carved (heavily scratched) into the rock. After looking around we located another chamber through a very small opening that had remnants of an old hemp rope leading through what would have been the ceiling of the extended chamber below us. Yep, we were reluctant to go farther or look to closely into the chamber just in case we found the remains of the person who explored before us.

To safely utilize a cave you have to have a very good knowledge of yearly rainfall patterns, and it is best to have a compilation of several years to give you a baseline of rainfall, and have a good knowledge of the variations of the water table in the area. Using a cave for shelter or storage in its natural state is one way to utilize a cave. However if the size of the chamber is large enough you may want to expend a bit more energy and expense if you intend to pass on the property to family later on. The perfect example of the best utilization of a cave for long term shelter and or storage is the old NORAD Cheyenne Mountain [Command and Control] Complex. Within the natural cavern is built a shelter system with all the comforts of home, and a few I wish I had. Of course our tax dollars built it and to go to those lengths would be problematic at best. But the basic concept of a shelter within a cave is not a far stretch and would provide a lot of comfort and protection for the occupants provided the cave is deemed habitable for the long term after compiling the climatic data. You would have to weigh such construction against not only costs but also to factors such as:

1. Would enlarging the entrance to accommodate construction materials, tooling, and manpower (even immediate family only) compromise the location?
2. Would the cave/constructed shelter be susceptible to flooding during prolonged rainy seasons?
3. Would the cave provide a source of water, or is there a close source of water that could provide the needed water or water storage for the shelter?
4. What type of power could be provided? The cave we explored could potentially provide hydropower if properly set up.
5. What are the range of temperatures through the seasons, and would prevailing winds impact the cave’s temperature ranges; especially during winter months? You would have to consider ways of mitigating winter winds whipping through the cave.
6. Will the cave need a ventilation system to make sure that you don’t have a buildup of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide when occupied full time?
7. Does the cave, consistently or periodically, capture and retain any gases such as methane or other harmful gases that can be emitted from deeper in the earth from the geologic formation? And it would be a good idea to know the basic geology of the area so you know the stability of the cave. A cave in even with a constructed shelter within the cave could still pose a serious danger. And you may want to reinforce the cave ceiling just in case the geology slightly active (small tremors).
8. Is there an alternate or secondary entrance that could be utilized as an emergency exit or could it prove to be an access point for others to enter during a crisis.
9. If there is no other entrance or exit point, is it possible to construct one as an emergency exit? I would be reluctant to have a single entrance and exit point. If you have to dig an emergency exit you will need some very specialized equipment and skills to prevent a cave in, or suddenly finding yourself flooding the cave by hitting an underground spring or other high volume water source. It would be too easy for an adversary to simply block a single entrance and either starve you out or to fire on your position and use the rock walls to ricochet around until they hit someone, or to build a fire at the entrance to smoke you out. And a worse scenario would be for an adversary to cave in the entrance and seal you in until you died of suffocation.
10. Could the shelter or the cave provide any method of hydroponic gardening? If your shelter is the cave proper you will have to have access to an area where you can garden if you intend to occupy the shelter over a protracted period of time as the result of a nuke exchange or protracted pandemic.

These are just a few questions that come to mind and there are others that must be answered depending on how you want to utilize the cave. If you want to really kick your ‘creative engine’ into overdrive and see how mankind has utilized natural and man made underground structures then watch the History Channel program “Cities of the Underworld”. It is absolutely amazing how people through the centuries utilized natural underground formations, and expanded them or built and utilized underground spaces. Mankind has covered over entire cities over the centuries as new construction has been built over old. Some of these underground areas have been done as far back as the Celtics of Ireland and Scotland as well as through the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well as the modern eras. There is one common thread, of different iterations but a singular concept, which runs through all of the construction techniques from the beginning; whether utilizing natural features or new construction over old cities. And this thread is utilized today. But I’ll leave that to you to discover for yourself. – The Rabid One


Hi Jim,
The best way I know of to camouflage stuff (entrances, equipment, traps, etc.) with respect to its environment is to paint it with spray-on adhesive, the same kind that automotive upholsterers use, then simply take dry dirt and sprinkle it all over the painted areas (some moving parts, etc. you would of course want to mask-off, just like regular painting).

This provides an excellent base coat, even for things attached to trees, buildings, etc.

I still think the best book on the subject is the US Army “Camouflage” field manual (FM 5-20) from 1969: Regards, – Jerry E.