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Fort Stanton-Snowy River May Be First National Cave Conservation Area
How Did They Find It?
What Is It?
The new discovery appears to be a segment of a much larger complex cave system. How it formed and how it relates to the local geology and hydrology has yet to be determined. Some interesting cave organisms have been observed in the new section and have been identified as new species. This new cave is generating many more questions than answers. In the years to come many new biological and geologic discoveries are anticipated. Studying this new discovery will help us better understand the formation of caves in this area and may give us some more information on groundwater hydrology of the cave region.
The bottom of Snowy River is covered with bright white coatings. Very slow moving ground water dissolved the grayish-brown limestone walls of the cave and recrystallized that limestone into a different white-colored mineral called calcite, creating a white cave formation in the bottom of the now dry cave passage. The passage has been subjected to numerous infilling of ground water saturated with calcite, which during periods of drying laid numerous coats of calcite as it evaporated or slowly drained from the cave. The cave formation lying on the bottom of Snowy River may well be the largest continuous cave formation in America.
Dr. Penny Boston, director of the cave and karst studies program at New Mexico Tech, said her studies of the passage's microbiology have revealed several species of microorganisms that were previously unknown to exist. The species live in this isolated environment by essentially eating the rocks, creating chemical byproducts in the process that could have pharmaceutical uses, she said.
Cavers Discover the Entrance to a New World Within an Old Cave
Inner Earth, the Last Frontier
In recent years, caver explorers have discovered miles of new cave within the Fort Stanton Cave in Lincoln County, New Mexico. This new discovery is the biggest new American cave discovery 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 digging and searching for new cave passage in this old historic cave. One of the explorers was an old time caver, who has been digging in the passage on and off since 1970. John McLean, a retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, was among the first group to enter the new discovery. Lloyd Swartz, Don Becker, and Andrew Grieco completed the team of four explorers. All are members of the National Speleological Society and several other New Mexico caving groups and scientific organizations. How Did They Find It?
The Bureau is working in conjunction with the caving community to develop some management direction and exploration guidelines to continue exploration in a safe and scientific manner. Surface mapping and resistivity studies are identifying underground voids giving some indication where additional cave passages lay beneath the surface and where connections underground could be made. Proposals are being developed to improve safety and reduce risk involved with exploration, as well as continuing exploration in a manner that protects cave resources as much as possible.