New Frontiers (Lechugilla Cave)
Up until 1986, Lechuguilla Cave was a dead end used in the early 1900's for guano mining. In the 1950's, cavers discovered wind from beneath what was thought to be the cave floor. This "wind" occurs when the barometric pressure outside the cave is different. The harder the "wind", the bigger the cave and Lechuguilla's wind was HARD! Finally in 1984, cavers secured National Park Service approval to dig the cave floor. In 1986, they broke through and discovered one of the great geologic wonders of the world.
Since that initial breakthrough, cavers have mapped over 145 miles of passages and descended to a depth of 1,604 feet. As of July 2019, Lechuguilla is one of the ten longest caves in the world and the second deepest limestone cave in the US. Exploration and new finds are occuring to this day.
Lechuguilla contains many new discoveries, many seen nowhere else in the world. It contains an almost unprecedented variety of new and rare cave formations. They are 20-foot gypsum chandeliers (pictured), gypsum hairs and beards, super delicate 18-foot soda straws, hydromagnesite balloons, cave pearls, and countless other wonders. Lechuguilla Cave surpassed nearby Carlsbad Cavern in size, depth, and variety of speleothems. As of yet though, no room has been discovered yet that is larger than Carlsbad’s magnificent Big Room.
Lechuguilla has yielded a treasure trove of information for scientists. Lechuguilla is so vast that scientists can study five separate geologic formations from the inside. Rare rock-eating bacteria are believed to occur in the cave giving rise to new ideas about the possibilities for life in our solar system. Other studies show that some microbes may have medicinal qualities. No one knows what other scientific discoveries may await in this unique place on our planet.
Currently, and likely forever, access to Lechuguilla is limited to approved scientists, exploration teams, and National Park Sercice Staff. The Cave lies beneath the protection of the national park wilderness area, but comes very close to adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land used for oil and gas drilling. Great care needs to be taken regarding this unique wonder.