Background Information - Up To The Minute

Southeastern New Mexico's Endless Cave is intensively managed for lots of different uses, including recreational caving, wildlife habitat, and scientific studies. It is one of the most popular recreational caves managed by BLM.

To help reduce negative impacts on Endless Cave's fragile resources, visitation by humans is limited to one trip per week, with a maximum of six people on each trip. (The cave has been gated against trespassers since 1979.) Possible impacts of human use include such blights as muddy footprints and boot marks on the flowstone, broken speleothems, destructive graffiti, and litter left inside the cave.

Cave Gates


BLM gates cave entrances to protect the fragile resources inside. Endless Cave, for example, has been gated since 1979. Note that the grillwork in this gate contains big enough spaces to allow animals, such as bats, to come and go freely.

 

Jim enlists the aid of volunteers to help conduct various restoration projects in Endless Cave and other caves. These projects involve tasks such as washing off boot prints, repairing broken speleothems, scrubbing off graffiti, picking up litter, and flagging trails.

Graffitti Cleanup
A volunteer scrubs graffiti in McKittrick Cave, near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Graffiti is unsightly and difficult to remove.
Changes in the cave are tracked over time through use of photomonitoring techniques. This is an ongoing project in which photos are taken of damaged and/or "high-traffic" areas of the cave twice each year. Photos taken at various times can then be compared to see if cave restoration measures are keeping up with the impacts of visitor use.

During the summer, female bats use a side passage of Endless Cave as a maternity roost to bear and raise their young. Experts believe that the bats migrate south in the fall to spend the winter in Mexico. Endless Cave has a significant population of bats, which are highly sensitive to disturbances; in fact, too much interference will cause bats to leave a particular cave and seek other homes. It is therefore very important to conduct bat population counts to ensure that the bat colonies are maintaining their numbers. Jim and other specialists count the bats each summer as the animals fly out of the cave at night to hunt. Generally, Jim's team has employed all-purpose hand counters, which are simple gadgets: just click the counter once for each bat that flies out of the cave. Last year, though, Jim tried a different type of bat-counting equipment: an infrared counter. Beams of infrared (long-wave) light are projected across the mouth of the cave. Each bat that flies out is counted electronically as it breaks through the beams.

 

It is difficult to manage a cave if you don't have a map to follow in locating various resources and areas of potential use conflicts. Cave maps are also needed to pinpoint places that need restoration, as well as delicate areas that should be avoided by humans. Jim is currently conducting a cave survey project in Endless Cave; volunteers are using compasses, tapes, and inclinometers to measure and map the cave. So far, they have mapped over 5,000 feet of the cave, a very time-consuming and labor intensive job. Once the survey has been completed, data will be drawn out in a line plot, and then walls and other details will be added.

Caves are also important places for other areas of scientific study, such as mineralogy, microbiology, and paleontology. Some of the most recent mineralogical studies in Endless Cave and other caves in the Guadalupe Mountains have led researchers to new estimates of the age of the caves in this region. Ongoing projects in cave microbiology are uncovering remarkable new microbes that are showing promise in cancer cure research; other microbes may be useful as antibiotics.

Texture of Endless cave
The texture of this Endless Cave flowstone gives the impression that its surfaces are flowing.

The well-preserved bones of long-extinct animals are providing a history of the different creatures that have lived in this region of New Mexico. These animals include ancient bison, camels, antelopes, and bear, as well as smaller species, such as certain types of shrews, voles, and rabbits. Evidence left by these smaller animals yields clues to the varieties of vegetation that once grew in the area, and what the paleoclimate must have been like.