Crystal Cave constitutes one of Sequoia and Kings Canyon's most
outstanding natural features, and is also one of the most popular
visitor destinations within the two parks. The cave is generally
visited by more than 45,000 people each summer season. For the past
16 years the commercial tour operation at Crystal Cave has been
managed and staffed by the Sequoia Natural History Association, (SNHA)
a non-profit cooperating association operating under a memorandum of
understanding with the Park Service. The SNHA also operates a "Wild
Tour" that provides park visitors with an off-trail, "caving"
experience in sections of the cave that have not been developed for
Crystal Cave contains an impressive array of significant resources.
The cave with 2.95 miles of surveyed length, is the second longest in
Sequoia and Kings Canyon and is the fourth longest cave in
California. The block of marble in which the cave has formed is only
600 feet thick, 150 feet wide and 120 feet tall. The three miles of
passages in this small area have formed in a dense anastomotic maze
pattern characteristic of a sinking stream hydrology. The cave
features an active stream, which is a piracy of Yucca Creek through
the marble ridge containing the cave to Cascade Creek. A number of
"lakes" where deep ground water pools are exposed are also known in
the cave. These imply that cave development is continuing at depth,
below the level of the current water table. Other primary features
include the largest cave room in the parks, Marble Hall, which is 150
feet long, 60 feet wide and 60 feet tall. Many other rooms have also
formed in the cave, including the Dome Room, Phosphorescent Room, and
Slickensides Room. Other primary features include many pendants and
shelves of bedrock. These unusual forms imply that massive
inundations of sediment filled or nearly filled some cave passages
throughout Crystal's history. Sediment filling passages allows
aggressive water to cut laterally across sediment deposits or down
between sediments and the cave's walls.
The cave is also very rich in secondary deposits. These include many
standard forms including thousands of stalactites, curtains, soda
straws and stalagmites, and large areas of flowstone and rimstone.
These deposits occur throughout the cave. Crystal also contains many
much more rare calcite features including more than 90 shields.
Shields are found in less than 60 caves in the United States. Other
rare forms include both vermiform and beaded helictites and folia.
Folia is a particularly rare speleothem that is associated with
resurging ground water and the rapid release of carbon dioxide. There
appear to be four deeply weathered deposits of folia in Crystal. The
cave also contains an extensive collection of raft cones, formed when
dripping water disturbs thin deposits of calcite formed on the
surface of a pool. An apparent unique version of raft cones has
formed in the Organ Balcony section of Crystal. Here the raft pieces
are large and often lie at perpendicular angles to each other.
Non-calcite secondary deposits also occur in many areas of Crystal
Cave. Aragonite crystals are known from several locations including
the Dome Room. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) crusts and blisters have
grown on the surface of several outcrops of schist in the cave.
Pyrite and quartz crystals and rosettes occur in Marble Hall and near
the Phosphorescent Room, respectively. Their presence implies that
the marble bedrock has undergone periods of hydrothermal activity.
The pyrite may be the source of the sulfate in the cave's gypsum.
Crystal Cave contains a unique of assemblage of cave-adapted animals.
At least six species of bats (Myotis lucifugus, Eptesicus fuscus,
Myotis californicus, Corynorhinus townsendii, Pipistrellus hesperus,
and Tadarida brasiliensus) have been seen in the cave. The species
Corynorhinus towsensdii includes two sub-species that are listed as
threatened, though this listing does not include bats in Sequoia and
Kings Canyon. Other vertebrates that use the cave include ring-tailed
cats (Bassariscus astutus), the Ensantina Salamander ( Ensantina
escholtzi), and numerous rodents including the brush mouse (Permyscus
boylii), the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and the dusky-footed
woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes). The cave also houses many invertebrate
animals including several endemic troglobitic species. Non-endemic
species include a Pimoa sp. spider believed to be a twilight-zone
dweller, Hypochilus, petrunkevitch, also an entrance dweller,
Ceratinops inflata, and Nesticus silvestrii, the Sierran cave spider.
Spider species that may be endemics or at least new species include a
Bathyphantes, a Tetragnatha, an Agelenidae, a Titiotus, and
Liocranoides individuals. The cave has two troglobitc isopod species.
One is aquatic and the other terrestrial. Both are rarely seen and
have been observed in only a few locations in the cave. The cave is
home to two species of troglophilic Collembolans (springtails)
Tomocerus pogonognathellus and Tomocerus californicus. Other likely
troglobitic endemics include a millipede, a centipede, and a mite.
Troglophilic endemics include Tropidischia cave crickets.
Crystal Cave's extensive resource base, the commercial use of the
cave for both walking and wild tours, and use by recreational cavers,
preclude a simple plan for complete management of the cave. The
following plan attempts to delineate appropriate areas for all of the
above-mentioned activities and still allow adequate areas for
resource protection and preservation.
About This Plan
This plan addresses only management classifications for specific
geographic areas of Crystal Cave. This plan has no bearing on
agreements between the Park Service and SNHA concerning the
commercial operation of Crystal Cave and the associated
infrastructure that supports this operation. This plan also has no
bearing on employee and visitor health and safety issues, including
search and rescue functions and radon monitoring. Cave Research and
Cave Restoration within Crystal Cave will adhere to the general Park
standards outlined in the Park Cave Management Plan.
This plan is organized as a map-based delineation of the known
passages within Crystal Cave. Maps illustrating the completed plan
will be provided to approved Crystal Cave Trustees, and employees of
the SNHA. Areas of Crystal Cave are divided into six different
management schemes. 1) Tours are authorized to occur on the paved
cave trail (Management Classification 1a). 2) Visitor wild tours,
employee wild tours, SNHA employee caving trips, and visitor caving
trips (led by park approved Trustees) may visit the specific sections
of the cave set aside for wild tours (Management Classification 2b).
3) SNHA employee and visitor caving trips may visit a few sections of
the cave (Helictite Passage and Cathedral Balconies) only once per
year due to the presence of fragile resources. 4) Some areas adjacent
to the tour route may be visited by SNHA employee and visitor caving
trips only when tours are not present. 5) Other sections of the cave
have no special restrictions and may be visited by SNHA employee and
visitor caving trips at any time. 6) A number of areas of the cave
are closed to all recreational caving due to the presence of
significant fragile resources (Management Classification 5).
In cave notification of the restrictions created by this plan will be
made using flagging tape to mark closed areas and as signs informing
cavers and SNHA employees of closed and restricted areas. The signs
and flagging boundaries will be maintained by the Cave Specialist.
Restrictions Based Upon Visitation Type
Walking Tours: (Under Management Classification 1a) The normal
Crystal Cave walking tours provide thousands of visitors with the
rare opportunity to visit a natural cave environment. Tour ticket
sales, tour leading and interpretation, and rules enforcement are all
managed by employees of the SNHA. Tours are currently managed so that
one begins every half and hour during the busy season and tours last
50 minutes. Currently 11 tours per day are offered to the public
during the summer. Tours will be no larger than 70 people. At least
one trained guide from the SNHA staff will be on all tours. Visitors
may not bring rigid objects such as walking sticks, frame packs or
tripods into the cave. Visitors are required to stay on the paved
cave trail at all times while on a tour. There is no smoking, eating
or drinking while on walking tours inside the cave. Visitors will
refrain from touching the cave's walls and features. The one
exception to this is the "Touching Rock" stalagmite adjacent to the
bathrooms in the cave's historic entrance. Additional and different
tours that meet the above requirements will not be in conflict with
this plan. Areas along the cave trail are generally closed to protect
delicate features within the view-shed of visitor tours. Obviously
light maintenance will require occasional entrance into these areas.
However, employees entering these areas must be very careful to
protect delicate features.
Wild Tours: (Under Management Classification 2b) The SNHA Wild Tours
have generally been offered three times per week. Maximum tour size
is six people with two trained SNHA guides per tour. In order to
minimize impact on the Wild Tour route, a maximum of 60 Wild Tours
per year will be given. Wild Tours are strictly limited to certain
areas of the cave. This includes the Hedlund Complex and adjacent
passages in the Catacombs; the route from the Dome Room to the Shield
Room, passages beneath Marble Hall, and the route from Marble Hall to
the Hub Room, the Well and to Solstice Lake. See the accompanying
maps for a complete view of passages available for these tours.
Employees and visitors visiting the cave will encounter biological
monitoring plots. In order for these plots to succeed as tools in the
long term monitoring of the cave's ecological health, they must not
Employee Wild Tours: (Under Management Classification 2b) Employee
Wild Tours must also follow the defined wild tour routes. No more
than 15 Employee Wild Tours per year should be offered to minimize
impact on the cave. No more than six people may be on an employee
wild tour with a single guide and no more than eight people may
accompany two guides on an Employee Wild Tour. Employees visiting the
cave will encounter biological monitoring plots. In order for these
plots to succeed as tools in the long term monitoring of the cave's
ecological health, they must not be disturbed.
SNHA Employee Caving: (Under Management Classification 2a) Employees
of the SNHA need access to the off trail sections of Crystal Cave for
Wild Tour training and to familiarize themselves with the cave and
its features. First year employees at Crystal Cave may not lead wild
caving trips, however they may participate in trips led by more
senior Crystal Cave staff. Second and subsequent year employees may
lead a maximum of three trips per year to off-trail and off-wild tour
route sections of the cave (sections with no special restrictions).
Employee Wild Tours and participation in a caving trip does not count
towards one's limit of three led trips per year. Employee caving
trips may not enter closed areas of the cave, and a permit must be
filled out for each of these trips that enters Crystal Cave. A few
areas of the cave are available for trips only once per year, per
employee eligible to lead trips. Employees visiting the cave will
encounter biological monitoring plots. In order for these plots to
succeed as tools in the long term monitoring of the cave's ecological
health, they must not be disturbed.
Visitor Caving: (Under Management Classification 2a) Recreational
Caving trips to Crystal Cave may enter the cave once every two weeks.
All trips will be led by Park approved Trustees or trip leaders and
require a permit. A description of how to become a Trustee is
included in the Cave Management Plan. A total of ten Trustees may be
designated at one time. A weekend meeting and Trustee training will
be held generally in the spring, before tours begin at the cave.
Trustees are responsible for the actions of cavers on their trips.
Trustees should carefully choose the people they allow on their trips
into the cave. Trustees must avoid all light fixtures and wires used
to support the commercial tours, and also must coordinate their trips
with the SNHA Crystal Cave staff. Trips on weekends or weekdays are
generally not possible during the summer months, but cavers may visit
the cave on weekday evenings during the summer, on weekend evenings
during the May and September and before the cave opens and after it
closes each year. Due to heavy snow, winter trips to the cave are not
possible. In general, Trustees should contact the Cave Specialists
office two weeks prior to a proposed trip date. A few areas of the
cave are available for a trip only once per year per Trustee. Cavers
visiting the cave will encounter biological monitoring plots. In
order for these plots to succeed as tools in the long term monitoring
of the cave's ecological health, they must not be disturbed.
Closed and Restricted Passages and Justifications
AREA, MAP SHEET, REASON
1. Bear Den Cave, North, Paleontology, pristine nature
2. Lake Room, North, Cultural remains
3. Tomorrowland, North, Pristine nature
4. Passage below Marble Hall, North, Pristine nature
5. Flagging below Marble Hall, North, Delicate, pristine nature
6. Flagging at Solstice Lake, North, Undisturbed sediments
7. Passage near Hub Room, North, Microbe colonies
8. Organ Balcony, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy
9. Calcite Staircase, Upper and Middle, Delicate
10. Cathedral Balconies, Upper and Middle, Delicate, pristine nature
11. Shield Room area, Upper and Middle, Delicate
12. Pool Room, Upper and Middle, Delicate
13. Delicate Passage, Upper and Middle, Delicate, pristine nature
14. Raft-cone Passage, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy
Passage between Marble
Hall and Slickensides, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy
16. Oberhansley's Entrance, Upper and Middle, Bats and invertebrates
17. Near Oberhansley's, Upper and Middle, Delicate, pristine nature
18. Broom Room, Upper and Middle, Unique mineralogy
Flagging and closures in the
Phosphorescent Room, Upper and Middle, Delicate
Flagging and closures
in the Millipede Room, Upper and Middle, Invertebrates
Flagging and closure
in the Swank Room, Upper and Middle, Delicate
22. Flagging in Ensantina, Upper and Middle, Delicate
Entrance Passage to Little Tour route Visitor view-shed, lighting
Cathedral and Dome Room system, microbe colonies
24. Whitewash Canyon, Tour route, Invertebrates
25. Helictite Passage, Tour route, Unique mineralogy, delicate
26. Sugar Cookie Passage, Tour route, Delicate, restoration
27. Sugar Cookie Parallel, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature
28. Hidden Passage, Tour route, Bats, invertebrates
29. Lower Catacombs, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature
30. Red Belly Entrance, Tour route, Invertebrates
31. Below Fat Man's, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature
32. Small area in Marble Hall, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature
33. Ceiling area in Fault Room, Tour route, Delicate, pristine nature
34. Fault Room, Tour route, Rockfall danger