It’s 1898 in the Chihuahuan Desert. A 15-year-old Jim White is looking for stray cattle while working with a fence mending crew. He sees a plume of bats rising from the mountains and goes to check it out. They’d come from an opening in the ground. Jim described it as “darkness so absolutely black it seemed a solid.”
He returned a few days later with just some rope, wire, and a hatchet. He used wood from nearby brush to fashion rungs of a ladder and bound them with wire. He tossed the makeshift ladder down into the hole and began exploring what would later be deemed Carlsbad Caverns.
That’s right, Carlsbad Caverns was discovered by a curious 15-year-old! He explored the first two tunnels by himself before even telling people about it. Of course, they didn’t even believe him when he made the announcement. An engraving of his name and date were found about 100 years later confirming that he was the original pioneer. But for a while it was just Jim, kicking rocks into holes to estimate how deep they were.
Although Jim’s tools were as simple as they come, he was able to figure out a lot, paving the way for other explorers. His original findings may seem small compared to the other rooms within the cave that have been discovered since his first descent. But it’s no question that Jim made a huge impact.
Like caves, we don’t always see the whole picture at first. Sometimes we toss the rock off the edge expecting to hear it hit the bottom. But sometimes it’s like the Bottomless Pit in Carlsbad and we can’t see or hear the end. It may only be 140 feet deep, covered in soft soil, muffling the sound of falling rocks. But from the surface it seems bigger and badder than it really is.
Sometimes, tossing a shitty ladder in is the only way to make progress. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. If you take on a challenge one rung at a time, there’s no telling what progress you can make. It may not be as sexy as discovering the Big Room, but those first steps are just as phenomenal.
What first steps can you be taking to find your Carlsbad Caverns?