When lava flows on the earth's surface from an active volcano, the top of the flow begins to cool and solidify as it encounters air. As it hardens, it forms a lava shell. Meanwhile, molten lava flows inside that shell until the eruption stops. Then, like water coming through a hose when you twist the faucet off, the molten lava continues flowing downhill, leaving behind the shell it has formed. Now you have a lava tube.
The Kuna Cave, about six miles southwest of Kuna, is a lava tube. Part of the roof collapsed at some point, leaving a hole in the desert floor into which unsuspecting jackrabbits could plunge. At least a couple of people have also fallen into that hole.
History doesn't record who discovered the cave. The owner of one of those skeletons has my vote. However, we know that Claude W. Gibson and his young friends made one of the earliest explorations of the cave in 1890. The group knew roughly where to look, so their claim isn't one of discovery. They trudged through the desert in a ragged line for about an hour before someone let out a yell.
The group gathered around the yeller and looked down into a three-by-four-foot hole. A shaft of sunlight fell on sand somewhere between 32 and 50 feet below, depending on who was doing the measuring.
Gibson's group came up with one of the better ways to get bodies into the cave. They rolled a wagon to the edge, propped up a wheel, wrapped a rope around the axle, and made it into a windlass. By turning the wheel slowly, they lowered each member of their party down into the cave. The last guy on top was a good rope climber, so he just monkeyed his way down. Sometime later, it occurred to them that someone could come along, steal their wagon, and leave them to ponder the sky through that hole three or four stories above.
They discovered the skeleton of someone who had spent their last days doing just that. Someone decided the man had been an Indian, though they found no artifact to prove that. It looked like he had piled up a tower of rocks trying to get up to that one-way opening.
Around the turn of the century, locals often took carriages to the Kuna cave on a Sunday afternoon for a picnic. Those who dared drop into the hole did so by ropes, a wire ladder, or, eventually, a wooden ladder left in place.
In May 1911, the cave got some extra attention when United States Surveyor General D. A. Utter and a posse of prominent engineers decided to explore the cave. General Utter spent a lot of time in Idaho. He started a vineyard in the King Hill area while still employed as the Surveyor General.
Utter described the cave to the Idaho Statesman: "The most beautiful formation in the cave is an arched hallway, as finely and smoothly constructed as though human hands had been at work there, and which runs forward about 250 feet. It is 20 feet high and about 30 feet wide. The flooring of the archway is covered with a fine coating of sand and is as level as one could wish."
The General got stuck trying to pass through an 18-inch opening and required much pulling and grunting on the part of his fellow explorers to get him out. A skinnier member of the party wormed his way through and crawled about 300 yards before sand blocked his way.
General Utter speculated that the cave ran some six miles, all the way to the Snake River. He thought this because a strong, wet breeze inside the cave kept blowing out candles.
The 1911 party also discovered a skeleton. This one lay on a high ledge as if the person had tried their best to scale the walls of the dome. They decided this skeleton belonged to a white man, again with scant evidence.
Surveyor General Utter, a man who sometimes strayed into hyperbole, called the cave "one of the noted wonders of the country" and thought the government should make it into a resort once improvements were made to the entrance.
That idea died in the cave along with the anonymous men whose skeletons were found there. However, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the site today, has plans to put a grating over the entrance and provide a safer ladder into the cave in the near future. They also hope to build a parking lot and reduce the number of roads—six—that lead to the cave, providing a single, improved road.
Back in 1890, one of the first things Gibson's group did was scratch their names on the rock walls. Unfortunately, those wishing for immortality of a sort in recent years have favored spray paint to make their messages, leaving little in the Kuna Cave untarnished.