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Lechuguilla Cave Reports

A collection of various trip reports from Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad National Park, New Mexico. These national park service notes should provide a glimpse into the history of Lechuguilla Cave and it's exploration. Some are from morning reports others are from Canyons and cave newsletters.

Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico) - Lechuguilla Cave Exploration

December 22, 1993 - Several exploration groups recently made major new discoveries in the North Rift, Needle Park Maize and Outback sections of the cave. The find in the Outback area extends the surveyed areas of the cave to within approximately 600 feet of the NPS/BLM boundary, and several leads trending north were left unsurveyed. The exact length of the cave has not yet been calculated, but it should top the 70 mile mark. Several new discoveries of large rooms were also made on this expedition. The most notable of these was off of Needle Park Maize, where explorers found a large room containing calcite chandeliers similar to those of the famous Chandelier Ballroom. Several pristine pools were also discovered which contain the subaqueous helictite, the speleothem unique to Lechuguilla Cave. The discovery of leads to the north placing the cave near BLM land were particularly important because of gas leases proposed in the area north of the park and the recent enactment of the Lechuguilla Cave Protection Act. [Jason Richards, Cave Specialist; Tim Stubbs, ACR; CACA]

Carlsbad Cavern (New Mexico) - Lechuguilla Cave EIS Signed

February 2, 1994 - On January 31st, the New Mexico state director for the Bureau of Land Management signed a record of decision for the Dark Canyon environmental impact statement (EIS) which sets a new standard for protection of cave resources by BLM. The EIS was prepared by BLM to assist them in deciding how to manage oil and gas leases adjacent to the park near known passageways of Lechuguilla Cave. The Service cooperated in the preparation of the document. The EIS establishes a cave protection zone; drilling for oil and gas in this zone will not be permitted. Outside of the zone, special precautionary measures for oil and gas activities will be required. These precautionary measures will also be used by BLM in other karst areas to protect cave resources. [Joe Sovick, SWRO]


2003 exploration and survey in Lechuguilla Cave focused onfixing bad loops and resurveying surveys that had sketches notup to Carlsbad Caverns Survey Standards. Along with thefixing of past surveys, much new survey was accomplishedwith the discovery of a half-mile of new passages on the western edge of the cave called The Promised Land. New discoveries were also made in other areas of the cave. As ofJanuary 2003 Lechuguilla survey was 109.23 miles long. By December the survey had grown to 111.92 miles in length.Over 2.8 miles of resurvey was performed and 2.7 miles ofnew survey was done. The number of loop closures that exceeded 2 standard deviations was reduced from 312 or 17.2% to 267 or 14.2%. The overall standard deviation of the cave improved from 1.376 to1.264. All survey and resurveys done in Lechuguilla Cave are required to have an inventory done in conjunction with survey and resurvey. A total of nine survey and exploration permits were granted for 2003.

The first trip into Lechuguilla Cave for 2003 was a survey, exploration and inventory expedition to the Far East section. Peter Jones and Dan Legnini were the leaders of this January11-17 expedition. Trip participants were: Dave Jones, Rich Sundquist, Kent Taylor and Charley Savvas. Most of their time was spent in resurveying to fix survey loops with badclosures. A few climbs were done that led to small sections ofpassage. A return was made to the optimistically named“Other Side” passage discovered in October, 2002.Unfortunately it proved not to be the other side and led to onlya couple hundred feet of unexplored cave.

January 22-24 was a trip to sample for total coliform and fecal coliform at Deep Secrets, Lake Louise and Red Lake. Whilewaiting for the samples to incubate, some survey was done inthe King Solomon’s Mine area of The Chandelier Graveyard. 433.5 feet was surveyed in some breezy passages that becametoo tight to follow. A few hundred feet of resurvey was doneand several small but breezy leads were noted. Park Hydrologist Paul Burger, Cave Technician Stan Allison, Jewel Cave National Monument (JECA) Cave Specialist Mike Wilesand JECA Assistant Cave Specialist Rene Ohms all participated in the trip.

Hazel Barton led Amy Bern, Paul Burger, John Cassidy, TamaCassidy, Lee Florea, Jennifer Foote, Peter Haberland and PatSeiser on a trip to the Western Borehole from May 25-30. Work focused on resurvey and survey in the Chandelier Graveyard which Hazel put to good use by updating her very detailed map of this area. A total of 1,748 feet of new cave was surveyed and 3,082 feet of resurvey was accomplished.

Art Fortini led Cathy Borer, Ron Miller and Daniel Chailouxon a survey trip to the Nativity Chamber area from June 28 through July 6. This trip was made to an area that was originally discovered in 1999. At the time of discovery, Art Fortini, Cathy Borer and Daniel Chailoux made the decision that the Nativity Chamber was too delicate to explore withoutfirst consulting with the Cave Resource Office. Just before arriving in the Nativity Chamber is a room called Christmas inAugust which has grimy corrosion residue necessitating a fullchange of clothing before entering the pristine flowstone area of the Nativity Chamber. Beyond the Nativity Chamber it is necessary to perform two more clothing changes to get to the current end of exploration as one transitions from “clean” to “dirty” areas. A total of 2,616 feet was surveyed in severalpassages. One passage, named the Congo pushes the knownedge of Lechuguilla Cave 850 feet further west. The area beyond the Nativity Chamber is called The Promised Land. On the second to last day Cathy Borer fell and injured her elbow in the Western Borehole. Suspecting a possible broken bone, an EMT on the trip splinted her elbow and a self-rescuewas affected. Since the group had been expecting to make another return trip to the Promised Land, some photographicequipment was left in the cave when the accident occurred. Stan Allison, Ron Miller and Daniel Chailloux returned to the Promised Land to retrieve the photographic equipment andsurveyed 400 feet of cave in a 26 hour caving trip. For moreinformation on the Nativity Chamber and Promised Land see Canyons & Caves NO. 30, Fall 2003.

The first of two Lechuguilla Exploration And ResearchNetwork (LEARN) trips was August 16-24. Ron Miller ledBob Biddix, Chuck Cummings, Paul Fowler, Steve Maynard,Patrick Roberson, Rich Sundquist, Peter Tschannen, Doug Warner, Bruce White, Dean Wiseman and Mike Zawada. Twoteams performed climbs and did resurvey in the SouthernBranch. One team performed survey and resurvey in the Western Branch. 400 feet of new cave was surveyed in theParis Texas area which had been discovered in 2002. Oneteam worked in the Far East performing survey and resurvey.This team attempted to locate some rustcicles that werediscovered in 1991 near Lake of the White Roses, but neversurveyed. Although they did not find the rustcicles, they did survey 500 feet of new cave in an area above Lake of theWhite Roses. A total of 2,537 feet of new survey was accomplished with 4,413 feet of resurvey.

Joe Sumbera led a trip to resketch the Underground Atlanta area from September 15-19. Terry Burgan, Jon Cradit and Jack Johnson participated in the trip which produced a verydetailed sketch of Underground Atlanta.

The October 25-November 1st LEARN expedition was plagued by last minute cancellations. Fortunately, VivianLoftin managed to lead a successful expedition in spite of these problems. Participants were Jean Krejca, Carl Reuter, Simeon Warner, Peter Bosted, Ron Bourret, Bill Frantz andRandy Brown. One team worked in the South and another in the Far East. The South team spent quite a bit of time doing resurvey, but also surveyed 400 feet of virgin cave in the Lechy’s Lair area. The East team spent most of their time working in the La Morada area which is very complex and haselusive airflow. A total of 1,207.6 feet was surveyed with an additional 2,537 feet of resurvey.

John Lyles and Peter Bosted co-lead an expedition to the Western Borehole from November 8-15. Mark Andrich, AndyArmstrong, Jenny and Garry Whitby Robin Barber, DanielChailloux, Paul Fowler, Brian Kendrick and John Stephenson participated. Work focused on the Paris, Texas area located underneath the Western Borehole near Huapache Highway. One particular passage had numerous deposits of Tyuyamunitewhich is a yellow crystalline deposit that is slightly radioactive prompting the name Transuranic Highway. This passage led toa room 40 feet wide, 100 feet long and 10-15 feet high filledwith raft cones. Continuing the naming theme, the groupdubbed this room Nuculer Winter, poking fun at the grammar of a certain well-known Texan. A trip was made to theZanzibar area so that Robin Barber could field proof the excellent map she produced of this area. A total of 4,218 feetof new survey was accomplished on this expedition along with 2,711 feet of resurvey.
Garry Petrie led a trip to the Southwest Branch December 12-17. Work focused on resurvey in the Voids to assist Gary in drawing a quad map of the area. Group participants were: Edd Keudell, Mark Lassiter, Kris Green, Bill Putnam, Paul Fowler and Steve Maynard.

Steve Reames coordinated six day trips to work in the North Rift area to continue work on the quad map Steve is drawing for this area. Participants were: Robin Barber, Paul Burger, Amy Bern, Carl Bern, Tom Dotter, Jeff Goben, Stuart Marlett, Bruce Albright, Barbara Smith and Skip Withrow. A total of880 feet of mainly resurvey was accomplished in these trips.

The following survey, inventory and exploration trips wereapproved for Lechuguilla Cave in 2004: Hazel Barton 6-person trip to continue work on the Chandelier Graveyard quad. Art Fortini/Ron Miller 8-person trip to explore beyond the Nativity Chamber and other tasks in the West. John Lyles/Peter Bosted 12-person trip to do quad work inFar West. Simeon Warner 4-person trip to work on the La Morada quadin the Far East. LEARN 6-person trip to work on blunders and quad tasks inthe South. LEARN 4-person trip to pursue climbing leads. Aaron Addison/Peter Jones 6 day trips to perform quad map work in the Rift. Steve Reames 6 day trips to perform quad map work in theNorth Rift. Exploration and survey expedition proposals for 2005 are dueby December 31, 2004. Permitted expeditions will beannounced February 1st, 2005.

Here is a .pdf version of the 2004 Lechuguilla cave Summary. By December 2004 the survey of Lechuguilla Cave had grown to over 114 miles of surveyed passage.


On January 8, 2005, the Wind Cave survey (114.19 miles) passed Lechuguilla Cave (114.08 miles) to become the third longest surveyed cave in the US and the fifth longest cave in the World. Although there was a survey trip into Lechuguilla on the 9th, that trip only brought the Lechuguilla survey up to 114.17 miles, 105 feet short of passing Wind Cave. This event has brought a fair amount of national attention to Wind Cave, both in the news media and in caving circles. Currently, there is very little survey being done in any of the large foreign caves (Optimisticeskaja in Ukraine or Holloch in Switzerland). If the current trend continues, within a few years, the four or five longest caves in the world will all be found in the US.


Related Links & Resources:
Lechuguilla Photo Map - Click on Circle to see photo of area
Park Service Cave Page


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