Carlsbad Field Office celebrates Cave Week

Story by Ellen Trautner, Outdoor Recreation Planner/Caves. Photos by Ellen Trautner; Paul Murphy, Natural Resource Specialist; and Bryce Franklin, Natural Resource Specialist.

From June 6th-12th, the BLM Carlsbad Field Office (CFO) joined the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate Cave Week. Cave and karst resources were highlighted on the agencies’ social media pages throughout the week. In addition, CFO field staff joined the BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner/Cave Specialist, Ellen Trautner, on caving trips varying in difficulty and length to gain an appreciation for the underground resources of the area. 

The first trip was of moderate difficulty through a gypsum cave called Parks Ranch. It’s the best-known cave in the CFO resource area and popular with local and visiting cavers. With over four miles of surveyed passage, Parks Ranch is the longest gypsum cave on public land in the United States. It also happens to be very hydrologically significant, and CFO staff were able to experience for themselves the role karst plays in the water cycle. Parks Ranch does not require a permit to enter. Anyone visiting the cave is encouraged to check the skies and weather forecast before entering, as it is subject to flash floods.

Carlsbad Field Office Staff cool off in the gypsum passages of Parks Ranch Cave.
Carlsbad Field Office Staff cool off in the gypsum passages of Parks Ranch Cave. (Photo by Ellen Trautner)

The second trip was to Lost Cave, a small limestone cave with an interesting history. There are replicas inside of the famous Lascaux Cave paintings. It was also the site of an isolation study in 1989 when a woman spent four months in the cave to study the effects isolation and no sunlight would have on the human body.

Trip participants enjoyed descending the small entrance via a ladder to the large breakdown filled room below. They admired the paintings and saw the site of the isolation study. A few crawled into another room and saw roots hanging down from the ceiling of the cave!

 CFO staff Michael Barrett entering Lost Cave.
Michael Barrett entering Lost Cave. (Photo by Paul Murphy)
CFO staff in Lost Cave.
Carlsbad Field Office staff in Lost Cave. (Photo by Paul Murphy)

Lost Cave is kept locked and requires a permit to enter. It is co-managed with the local caving club called the Pecos Valley Grotto. Interested parties should contact the grotto for access. 

The last trip of the week was a strenuous journey to Wind-Hicks Cave. A few brave CFO staff donned their helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and gloves for a trip that involved lots of squeezing and scrambling, as well as enjoying some bigger vistas. 

Wind-Hicks is a popular limestone recreation cave and requires a free permit, obtained from CFO, to enter. There is a lot to explore, yet only one small entrance. As the cave air attempts to equalize with the surface, cavers frequently feel strong wind gusts at the entrance which contributed to one of the cave’s names, Wind Cave. 

After squeezing through the entrance, the trip members embarked on a memorable journey through multiple levels of the cave, eventually descending 180 feet to get to a scenic area named “The River of Blood.” The red coloring in the flowstone is a result of iron being present in the calcite. 

CFO staff in a big room of Wind-Hicks Cave.
Carlsbad Field Office staff in a big room of Wind-Hicks Cave. (Photo by Bryce Franklin)
CFO staff member Bryce Franklin admires flowstone in Wind-Hicks.
Staff member Bryce Franklin admires flowstone in Wind-Hicks. (Photo by Ellen Trautner)

After spending several hours underground, the cavers climbed their way back to the surface to enjoy fresh air and sunlight.  These cave trips increased appreciation for the resources under our feet in the Carlsbad area. Staff from various disciplines, including specialists from Natural Resources, Realty, Engineering, Adjudication, Solids, Wildlife, and GIS all participated.