Snowy River Passage / Fort Stanton Cave


A New World Within an Old Cave

Inner Earth, the Last Frontier
In 2001, cave explorers discovered miles of new cave passage within the Fort Stanton Cave in Lincoln County, New Mexico. The discovery was one of the largest and most important American cave discoveries in decades.

Who Found It?
A group of dedicated volunteer cave explorers working in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management in central New Mexico have been searching for new cave passage in this old historic cave for many years.  One of the explorers is a longtime caver who has been “pushing” leads in Fort Stanton Cave on and off since 1970. John McLean, a retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, was among the group that discovered the Snowy River passage. Lloyd Swartz, Don Becker, and Andrew Grieco completed the team of four explorers. All are members of the National Speleological Society and scientific organizations. How Did They Find It?

What's Next?
The Bureau is working in conjunction with the caving community to develop management direction and exploration guidelines for safe and scientifically-sound exploration. Surface mapping and resistivity studies are identifying underground voids that indicate where additional cave passages may be found beneath the surface and where connections underground could be made. Policies and procedures have been developed to improve safety and reduce risks involved with exploration, as well as provide guidance for future exploration that will protect cave resources as much as possible.


Transcript of Video


Snowy River Passage in Fort Stanton Cave

How Did They Find It?

What Is It?

This area of the cave is a segment of a much larger complex cave system. How it formed and how it relates to the local geology and hydrology is currently being studied. Some cave organisms in this section of the cave have been identified as new species. Studying this section of the cave will help us better understand the formation of caves in this area and may shed light on groundwater hydrology of the region.

The Snowy River formation is a bright white, crystalline deposit. Very slow moving ground water dissolved the grayish-brown limestone walls of the cave and recrystallized that limestone into a mineral called calcite, creating a continuous white cave formation along the bottom of the passage. To date, the Snowy River formation has been surveyed at five miles in length. This unique white crystalline deposit glistens like snow and may be the largest continuous calcite formation in America. 

Dr. Penny Boston, director of the cave and karst studies program at New Mexico Tech, is studying the passage's microbiology. Thus far several species of microorganisms that were previously unknown to exist have been discovered. The species live in this isolated environment by essentially eating the rocks, creating chemical byproducts in the process that could have pharmaceutical uses according to Dr. Boston.