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Fulford Cave
by Stormy on June 23, 2007

It is the most heavily visited wild cave in Colorado, marked on most maps, and it caries with it the lore of over a hundred years of caving. Fulford Cave. Books have been written about it.

Located in the White River National Forest, Fulford is a cave rich in history and adventure. There's some dispute about the discovery of this cave. It is named indirectly after Arthur Fulford, who had the mining town of Fulford named after him. The cave happens to be just on the other side of the ridge from the town, but there’s no evidence that Arthur Fulford knew of the cave, much less ever visited it. Nolan Smith makes the first claim to finding the cave, back in 1890. Whether he was the original discoverer or not, the first official document, filed as a mining claim, came from a man by the name of Maxwell in 1892. By 1893 he had dug his way into the cave. The old rotting timbers supporting the entrance would be a fixture of the cave for many years to come. In 1893 the Rocky Mountain News printed a story about a marvelous cave filled with formations and lakes, at the time referred to as Maxwell's Cave. Three years later the Denver Republican published another story about this cave, now referring to it as Shamrock Cave and reiterating the story of the wonders within. In the beginning of the 20th century there was talk of commercializing this cave to give the general public an opportunity to witness its marvels and miracles, but at the time it was too difficult to lay a road into the valley and up to the cave and the Colorado Midland Railroad also refused to extend their route. Fulford is indeed a spectacular cave full of formations. Its rooms and corridors are large wide open passage with easy access, but it is an alpine cave. The temperature here is a frigid 40 degrees, accentuated by ice flows and formations in the front and a stream that comes from alpine snowmelt in the back. 40 degrees is often optimistic and to add to the challenges, the cave is extremely wet. It's an easy place to get cold. Fulford is also an easy place to get hurt. A number of cliffs, pits and drops are found throughout the cave and an inexperienced, careless explorer can easily fall victim to the environment. Historically many rescues have taken place in this cave. In 1952 the Colorado Grotto, a member chapter of the National Speleological Society, explored and mapped the cave. At the time the upper levels of the cave remained undiscovered and the cave was limited to 1,350 feet. By 1959 the middle level of the cave was also discovered and speleologist John Thrailkill spent weeks in the cave remapping and resurveying its passages, bringing the length of Fulford up to 2,600 feet. More discoveries were made in Fulford over the years, eventually finding a route into the upper level of the cave and extending its length to 5,306 feet, today. The cave is now managed by the U.S. Forest Service and at just over a mile long is the twelfth longest cave in Colorado. It still sees heavy visitation during the summer, when the road in, build in the early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is not packed with snow. An accidental fall and subsequent rescue in May of 1986 prompted the Forest Service, in conjunction with the Colorado Grotto, to excavate the mine entrance and replace the shaft with a corrugated culvert that would make access to the cave safer and easier. If you wish to go to Fulford, it is an easy to find cave, but be aware, it can be a dangerous cave. Make sure that if you go to this or any other cave, you do so with appropriate equipment and dressed for the environment. Each year the National Speleological Society, regional Search and Rescue organizations and local emergency services perform hundreds of cave rescues. These can be expensive events requiring dozens of responders, sometimes taking days to complete and always being detrimental to the environment of the cave. Place your personal safety first if you seek an adventure.

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