Management of Subterranean Ecosystems in Extreme Environments
John Walker, 1928 Cave Photo
Early Nevada Caving
The Great Basin

The 2025 NCKMS team will be heavily recruiting talks and presentations related to the underserved field of speleoarchaeology.

Duck decoy artefact

Duck decoy, Middle Desert Archaic Tradition - Found in Lovelock Cave; Churchill County, Nevada. National Museum of the American Indian.

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Archaeologists have found evidence of early man using caves and shelters across the entire state of Nevada. In the 1930s, the Southwest Museum conducted excavations in Gypsum Cave (Clark Co.) and found that there was human habitation in the cave that dates to around 3000 BC. This would appear to be the earliest recorded cave visitation in the state.

Gnome Lake Cave (Elko Co.) was likely the first cave known to the early white settlers in Nevada as names with 1850 dates have been found. It has been rumored that the Donner party stopped here in 1846.

Cave Valley Cave (Lincoln Co.) is probably the most well known cave in Nevada after Lehman Cave. It was explored and surveyed by First Lieutenant George M. Wheeler during the 100th Meridian Survey of the 1860s. Wheeler Peak also bears his name. In 1869, P. W. Hamel (surveyor) and Weyes Thompson (cartographer) surveyed some 2,400 feet and produced a fine map. This may well be the first cave survey in the west. The cave is known for its viscous mud, red clay that was once mined for use in cosmetics.

Video compliments of University of Nevada, Reno

Obviously Lehman Cave (White Pine Co.), the beautiful tour cave in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada is the most publicized cave in the state. The cave was discovered in the spring of 1885 by Absalom S. Lehman. It was made a National Monument on January 24, 1922, and became a part of Great Basin National Park on October 27, 1983.

Although most likely known to various members of the Lake Mojave and Pinto cultures and later Shoshone Indians for several thousand years, Devil's Hole (Nye Co.) was discovered in 1930 and the discovery of pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) and deep water put the cave in the media for years. The Southern California Grotto made some of the early scuba explorations in the cave.

It's likely that Whipple Cave (Lincoln Co.) was found shortly after Cave Valley Cave, but the first recorded visit was made in 1885 by local rancher Mike Riodan. Upon hearing of the cave in 1924, and due to the beautiful entrance drop, the large linear passage with large speleothems made the cave a candidate for commercialization. Due to the success at Lehman Cave, owner John Lytle Whipple hired a professional survey team from Ely to survey the cave in 1946. While a nice map was produced, the dream of opening the cave to the public never materialized.

Don Emerson of the Southern California Grotto led a group to Cave Valley Cave and the Lehman Cave area, thus introducing organized speleology to the rich cave area of eastern Nevada. Arthur L. Lange and other Stanford Grotto members visited the Baker Creek Caves in March 1952. It would be Lange's first visit of many.

Video compliments of US National Park Service

The real watershed moment in the history of modern speleology for Nevada occurred during the summer of 1952. The Western Speleological Institute (W.S.I.) was organized in the early 1950s through efforts of the staff at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in California. While archaeology and paleontology became the focus of the Museum in later years, speleologists Arthur L. Lange, Raymond de Saussure, and George Mowat made up most of the staff in 1952. During that summer, the three spent fifteen weeks studying caves in California and Nevada. Their three weeks at Baker Creek started Lange's deep interest in the area which lasted for many years. In 1953, the W.S.I. published "The Report of the California-Nevada Speleological Survey." While the W.S.I. ceased to exist around 1960, the authors of the California-Nevada Survey later formed Cave Research Associates.

Other than the W.S.I., members of the Salt Lake Grotto were the principal investigators of the eastern Nevada Caves in the 1950s. This effort was led by William R. Halliday in the mid-50s with several caves being surveyed and several Technical Notes written. Later in the 50s, Dale Green was the driving force behind the Salt Lake Grotto's Nevada work. Besides leading many trips to the area, he directed the Grotto's NPS contract survey of Lehman Caves.

In the 1960s, the principal groups studying Nevada caves were the Salt Lake Grotto, the Great Basin Grotto (Reno), and the UAAC Grotto (Tucson). Dale Green remained the principal force behind the Salt Lake Grotto's work in eastern Nevada. Alvin McLane was the energy of the Great Basin Grotto and they investigated and surveyed caves throughout the state. Ron Bridgemon led the work of the UAAC Grotto in eastern Nevada and steered the group to further the work of the W.S.I. at Baker Creek. The San Francisco Bay Chapter (SFBC) also made many trips, mostly led by Bruce Rogers, to the area from the 1960s to the 1980s and produced several papers and mapped caves. Rogers then compiled the 1975 Frogtown NSS Convention Guidebook that included many of the Eastern Nevada caves.

It is not possible to discuss Nevada caving history in the 1960s without mentioning Keith A. Trexler. Trexler was the Chief Park Naturalist at Lehman Caves National Monument from 1964 through 1966. He hired cavers as summer guides so that he would have caving partners. He encouraged speleologists to visit the region and conduct research. He assisted in the mapping of several caves with members of the UAAC and Great Basin Grottos. Trexler researched and wrote the definitive history of Lehman Cave and even found Absalom Lehman's signature within the cave. Unfortunately, Keith was killed in an aircraft accident in Alaska shortly thereafter, thus ending an extremely promising caving career.

It's interesting to note that, with the exception of the Salt Lake Grotto and the SFBC, none of the NSS Grottos that worked from the 1950s and into the 1960s still exist.


  • Bridgemon, Rondal R. "Baker Creek Cave System, White Pine Co., Nevada" (Final Report on Grotto Project), Arizona Caver, Vol. 4, No. 1, Summer 1967. UAAC Grotto, Tucson, Arizona, pp. 1-10.
  • Harrington, Mark Raymond. "Gypsum Cave, Nevada," Southwest Museum Paper No. 8. April 1933. Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, California, 197 pp.
  • Lange, de Saussure, and Mowat. Report of the California- Nevada Speleological Survey. Western Speleological Institute Technical Note No. 2, 1953. Santa Barbara, California, 198 pp.
  • McLane, Alvin. "History of Cave Valley Cave, Lincoln Co., Nevada from 1858 to 1968," Journal of Spelean History. Vol. 2, No. 4, 1969. The American Spelean History Association, pp. 70-83.
1953 California-Nevada Map



Partly Cloudy Partly cloudy, with a low around 55. South wind around 5 mph.


Scattered Showers And Thunderstorms Scattered showers and thunderstorms between 11am and 5pm, then isolated showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 91. West southwest wind 0 to 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

Monday Night

Isolated Showers And Thunderstorms then Partly Cloudy Isolated showers and thunderstorms before 11pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 55. East wind 0 to 5 mph.

Cave Lake State Park

Cave Lake State Park

Located just south of Ely, Nevada, Cave Lake State Park offers outstanding recreational opportunities. It features a 32-acre reservoir and provides excellent trout fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, camping and picnicking.

The 4,500-acre park is at an elevation of 7,300 feet in the Schell Creek Range adjacent to the Humboldt National Forest. Its name is derived from the several caves in the surrounding limestone.

Symposium Merchandise

h2go Essen Vacuum Food Container

It's a double-wall, stainless steel, 17 oz capacity thermos from h2go®. This thing is more rugged than your cave pack! We've been trying to beat up the manufacturer's sample, but it keeps winning. Hot things stayed hot, cold things stayed cold... and ours will have cool cave art printed on it.


JUNE 29, 2023
NCKMS Steering Committee Chooses Ely, Nevada as Host City for 2025 Symposium
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Advance registration for the 2025 symposium is expected to open in mid-2024. We will send an email to past attendees when that system comes online.

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