Jim grew up in Texas, exploring caves and the back country with his adventurous family. Those early experiences and his love of the natural underground world have been the guiding forces in both his education and career. He earned his bachelor's degree in Park and Recreation Management from Texas A & M University in 1973, and then returned to school in 1979 for graduate work in Cave and Karst Studies at Western Kentucky University.
In addition to original exploration and survey work, Jim has participated in a wide variety of research projects on cave and karst systems, including dye-tracing of cave systems, geology and geomorphology, mineralogy, paleontology, and bat population studies. He has been deeply involved in cave search and rescue, serves as a New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue Field Coordinator, and is a licensed Emergency Medical Technician.
In fact, in November 1991, Jim received BLM's Caren Padilla Memorial Safety Award for serving as the operations chief during an intense, four day rescue in New Mexico's Lechuguilla Cave. Emily Davis Mobley, an expert caver who broke her leg when she was two miles into the cave, was safely retrieved by Jim and a 70-person rescue team. As of 1991, this was reportedly the most extensive and deepest-in cave rescue effort in U.S. history. In August 1993, Jim also became the first BLM employee to receive the National Outdoor Leadership School's Stewardship Award.
Much of Jim's career with the Bureau of Land Management has dealt with BLM's Cave Management Program. He helped BLM to develop cave management manuals for BLM specialists and also contributed to the development and implementation of a law to protect caves: the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act.
Jim's creative side has also been called upon in the course of his career with BLM. In the summer of 1997, for example, he helped to design, build, and staff a simulated cave for BLM's exhibit at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. The cave featured a resin "bat nursery," cave formations, simulated graffiti, dripping water, cool breezes, and information plaques along its three winding corridors.
Jim has represented BLM on numerous foreign assignments, as well. In March 1988, Jim travelled to China as a member of the first U.S. Research team sent to that country, which boasts more karst land and caves than all the rest of the world combined. Jim's work has also taken him to Spain, Hungary, Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria, France, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.
In 1991, Jim discovered the skeleton of a giant short-faced bear in a New Mexico cave, having come across its bones piled at the base of a 200-foot drop-off. The huge bear, a fierce predator that's now extinct, lived some time between 11,000 and 30,000 years ago. Jim's discovery marked the first time a complete skeleton of this species had ever been found in the Southwest.
Jim's expertise has also been recognized in literature and film. In Nevada Barr's current bestseller, Blind Descent, the author has modeled one of the novel's main characters after Jim. Even the character's fictional house is identical to Jim's own real-life home! In addition, Jim has participated in several films involving caves. Currently, he is being considered for the feature role in an IMAX (super wide-screen) movie about Lechuguilla Cave (Carlsbad Caverns National Park).
And when he's not working, Jim--never far from his love of the underground world--enjoys recreational caving with his wife and son in the Guadalupe Mountains near their Carlsbad, New Mexico, home. As Jim says, "You can't know, unless you go!"