There is much hidden beneath the surface of New Mexico's lands -- an exciting world of wonder, waiting for exploration. Caves are fascinating features of our landscape, and as much as one-third of New Mexico geology is cave and karst lands. Most of these areas are composed of soluble rocks, such as limestone or gypsum. A karst terrain can contain surface streams, sinking streams, sinkholes, springs, and caves. Groundwater recharge in these areas is extremely rapid and is highly subject to contaminants and pollutants entering our groundwater supplies. Some of our caves are not in karst lands but are in lava flows. These caves are known as lava tubes.
Cave and karst lands provide specialized habitats and environments. Animal species living in caves have special adaptations that help them survive in total darkness. Caves can contain sensitive and fragile resources, including geologic features, speleothems (cave formations), biological communities (from bats to specialized micro-organisms), paleontological resources, and cultural resources. Caves also provide opportunities for recreation, education, and scientific research. Many BLM caves are open for public recreation and for scientific research. Some caves require a free permit or registration.
Every entry into a cave, by any person, creates disturbance. The cumulative impact of even slight changes and disturbances, even innocent ones, can lead to dramatic alterations of the cave environment, or to people’s enjoyment. It is important to remember this as you enter and enjoy caves. Your actions while caving will be one of the greatest determining factors in the condition of cave resources and enjoyment of the caves by future generations. It's everyone's responsibility to respect cave environments. A boot scuff mark on rocks is one example of the types of signs of human usage. Boot marks are very difficult, if not impossible, to remove; and, thus, the use of non-marking boots is strongly encouraged. It is also important not to track mud through the cave. Periodic cleaning of hands and boot soles can contribute greatly to the wild caving experience for everyone else that follows.
Many caves are used by bats. There are 27 bat species that live in New Mexico. Several of these species are extremely sensitive to the presence of humans. To reduce stress and mortality levels in bats, please do not disturb them. To accomplish this, reduce the amount of time near bats, do not shine lights directly on them, and do not make any sudden movements or loud noises.
Besides bats and cavers, other creatures inhabit caves. Often neglected or overlooked, cave invertebrates are often more sensitive than many other cave adapted species. There are over 130 species of invertebrates found in caves on BLM caves in New Mexico. Please watch out for them and leave them undisturbed.
These caves are being managed to perpetuate the cave and its associated values, and to provide for educational and recreational and scientific uses now, as well as in the future. You can affect not only the cave environment, but also future management decisions. People can impact caves far faster than nature can repair them, or create new ones — please cave softly and Leave No Trace.
Tips on Cave Conservation & Ethics
- Plan ahead, be prepared, and know what to expect from the cave you are visiting.
- Choose appropriate clothing, equipment, and safety gear.
- Move carefully through the cave to avoid damaging cave features.
- Stay on established trails.
- Pack it in, Pack it out -- including all human waste. Take out everything you take in, and leave nothing in the cave.
- Leave what you find; never remove natural or historic features from a cave. These resources are protected under the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988.
- Respect wildlife, and avoid disturbing or killing cave wildlife, including bats, cave crickets and all other living things in the cave.
- Respect other visitors -- while in the cave area, stay quiet and keep a clean camp.
- Entering any cave involves inherent risks. Ensure your trip is enjoyable and safe by following these safety rules:
- Always watch for rattlesnakes;
- Leave word with someone stating what cave you will be visiting and an approximate return time;
- Take three dependable and independent sources of light;
- Wear sturdy shoes that protect the ankle and have non-leather, non-skid, non-marking soles;
- Bring gloves and kneepads if necessary;
- Wear a helmet to protect against low ceilings and falling rocks, and use of a chinstrap to prevent losing your helmet and light;
- Mount your main source of light on your helmet to free your hands for climbing;
- Travel in groups of three or more for safety;
- Stay within your abilities and experience level to avoid injuring yourself and to avoid damaging the cave;
- Avoid drowning by not not enter gypsum caves or other storm drain types of caves if there is a threat of rain; and
- Bring you own ascending and descending devices and be experienced in their use, for caves requiring rope work.