Empire Cave

Useful Information

Location: Santa Cruz near Porter College. From Santa Cruz follow Empire Grade to the campus, after the turnoff Heller Drive (campus) one more kilometer. The entrance is visible from the road to the right.
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave marble
Light: bring torch
Guided tours:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Empire Cave is also called Porter Cave, after the nearby Porter College, which is part of the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC). The entrance of the cave was once capped by a large concrete block. This massive lock was destroyed and a sizable hole blown in it. It seems there was a little war going on between cave protectionists and student cave enthusiasts equipped with explosives. Actually this cave is especially important in various inofficial rites of the university. about which not much is know to outsiders. Every fall at certain nights there is a treck of first years who explore the cave.

The cave is entered through the hole in the concrete seal, down an aluminium ladder. The rest of the cave are three or four chambers (depends on how you count) connected by sometimes narrow and low passages. The cave is muddy, and actually it is a good idea to visit it in full caving gear with overall, rubber boots, helmets and headlamps. The cave is dry most of the year, but actually it is prone to flooding. It should definietely be avoided after heavy rains, so fall is actually a rather good time for visits.

Empire Cave is is home to two endemic species of troglobionts, the Dolloff Spider and Empire Cave Pseudoscorpion. The Dolloff Spider is found in several caves around Santa Cruz. It builds a web at the cave entrance and feeds off of the fauna entering and leaving the cave. Typical prey are cave moths and harvestmen. The Empire Cave Pseudoscorpion is even more endemic as it is found only here. It lives on the cave floor.

Both species are endangered, due to the human interaction with the cave. Visitors often leave litter, which is annually cleaned up after Halloween by the San Francisco chapter of the National Speleological Society. Especially any kind of organic matter is a great danger to the cave environment as it changes the cave climate and destroys a fragile balance. One year rotting hay bales were found inside the cave, the emitted carbon dioxide is a great danger to the cave inhabitants. Even more dangerous and destructive is the carbon dioxide produced by a fire. Actually there are always idiots who try to make a fire in the first chamber. Beneath the danger to the cave this is also a good way to kill anybody inside the cave by the carbon dioxide and carbon monxide prodiced by the fire.

The campus area consists of marble which is karstified, two caves are known within the campus boundaries. More caves exist west of the campus. There are at least 50 dolines on the campus, one is located right outside the Applied Sciences Building, another one close to the East Remote Parking Lot. Other impressive karst features are numerous small springs and ponors.