Having lately visited my first lava tube cave near Shoshone, Idaho, a friend and I decide to investigate the close-by Kuna Cave.
My friend from work, Jess Jackson, is already waiting as Hunter and I approach the bare circle of earth from the rough access road across the Snake River Plain between Toledo Dairy and Silver Butte Holsteins south of Kuna, Idaho.
There is nothing out here but the sight of scrub grass and smell of feedlots. I expected something more — maybe an interpretive sign or dramatic entrance — but all we see is a quirky platform extending above a black hole at the center of the dirt circle.
This is our first time visiting Kuna Cave. It took a little sleuthing to figure out how to get here. We knew the fully underground cave required a descent so we are glad to see the sturdy ladder after wondering if we’d need ropes.
The floor of the cave is about fifty feet underground. It is said to run a quarter mile north and 1000 feet south of the entrance¹ but I think that’s only if you’re thin enough to belly crawl through narrow gaps. We aren’t planning to belly crawl today.
The first Boisean known to have explored the cave was Claude W. Gibson in 1890. “There were only three or four people that I have ever been able to find that knew of the location of the cave prior to our visit,” he explained. “After that it became quite generally known.”¹
After no small trouble finding the opening, he and a group of others positioned one of their wagon wheels over the hole with a rope as a kind of winch. “By turning the wheel one way or the other the enlarged hub would wind up or unwind the rope as required.” One man was lowered at a time until the last man, who slid down the rope.
Idaho Statesman, “Interesting Story of Exploration of Kuna Cave by Party in 1890” (May 18, 1911).
It was still necessary to descend by rope in 1901 (“We placed the neck-yoke of our wagon across the top and by a rope slid to the bottom of the cave”)¹ but sometime later a ladder was built and it became a regular destination for school field trips, Boy Scouts, fraternal order inductions and special occasions such as a 50th wedding anniversary.²
I try to build a little excitement for Hunter with talk of a cave monster but he’s having none of it.
The cave assumes a more obvious lava tube shape as we continue deeper. When I mention it to Hunter, he is a little concerned. “How will we get out if lava starts to flow?”
Somewhere in these dark depths, the Knights of Pythias and perhaps the Shriners¹ have performed their order’s secret rites.
Under the light of guttering candles and with a few direct shafts of flashlight illumination, Knights of the Pythias of the Boise lodge No. 60, Monday night will conduct degree work in the knight rank at Kuna cave … With the flickering lighting, fluttering bats and the queer rush of winds up the old cavern, the knights will ‘put on’ their work.²
The Shriners were invited to use the cave but I haven’t found confirmation they did
Idaho Statesman, “Hold Ceremony in Kuna Cave” (July 22, 1923); also Idaho Statesman, “Knights of Pythias” (June 24, 1921)
It seems we’ve travelled about a hundred yards but I’m willing to believe differently. It was hard to keep track of distance through the slow, stooping sections and darkness.
We think we’re at the end until Hunter discovers an opening under the rainbow. He and I crawl through to another small cavern then another crawl and another cavern. It looks like we could crawl further but the gaps are getting tighter and I’m tired of breathing dust so we return to the rainbow.
Often on these little outings I have in mind some history of the place, if I’ve been able to find it. Kuna Cave is no different. I’m struck by its early portrayals as a noble or even classy destination compared to today when it seems all but abandoned to revelers, graffiti and beer cans. In fact, it is now “suggested that visitors to Kuna Cave be discouraged until improvements can be made for safety and access”¹ and has been removed from the nearby historic byway description.²
By the same token, that ignominity has relegated the cave to a pseudo-secret about which most can only say they’ve “heard of” or “know people” who’ve gone. That makes it fun.