Management of Subterranean Ecosystems in Extreme Environments
Big Smokey Valley, NCOT
A Few Words About Al McLane
The Great Basin
Al McLane
Al McLane

Al McLane was one of Nevada's early cave explorers and scientists. His contributions to speleology in the Great Basin have given us an invaluable knowledgebase over the decades.

Alvin Ray McLane, NSS 4292, was born in Akron, Ohio, on December 12, 1934. As he grew up in West Virginia and adjacent Kentucky, he explored caves with a passion; many of his trips were also made north into the Indiana karst areas. In 1958, Alvin moved to Reno, Nevada, and started working for Desert Research Institute (DRI) as a hydrologic and geologic technician. To the surprise of many of his co-workers, Al never did attend college, but gained an unparalleled knowledge of natural science by self study and enormous amounts of field work assisting others who worked in the Great Basin; this turned into a sort of life-long graduate school for Al. As Al once explained to me and several of his caving cohorts around a sagebrush fire somewhere in eastern Nevada, his job was to assist finding water in Nevada and to him that meant finding caves.

One of Al's first interests when he arrived in Nevada from West Virginia was in exploring and meticulously mapping every cave he could find in Eastern Nevada. He started the Great Basin Grotto of the NSS in 1965. A favorite cave in his early years was Wind Cave in South Dakota, and he made many long trips to explore and survey that maze of winding passages. Natural arches and bridges also fascinated him so he searched for them throughout Nevada and documented their locations with meticulous notes. He was also a crack mountaineer, discovering and completing some of the first climbing routes in climbing areas like the Wild Granites in the Toiyabe Range and Lava Rocks in Northwestern Nevada. He also participated in one of the first winter ascents of 19,551-foot-high Mt. Logan, the highest peak in Canada and the second highest peak in North America, only eclipsed in height by Mount Denali in Alaska.

Video compliments of KNPB - PBS Reno, Nevada

In addition to writing scores of caving articles and being the editor of Cave Lights, the Great Basin Grotto newsletter, Al wrote 'Silent Cordilleras - The Mountain Ranges of Nevada' in 1978 which for the first time identified 314 separate mountain ranges in Nevada, which is more than in any other state. He also authored or co-authored 13 important publications dealing with caves, archaeology, and the mountains of Nevada. As the culmination of nine years of research, Al published 'A bibliography of Nevada Caves' through DRI in 1974. Expanding the known Nevada caves from about 100 to more than 300, the publication was long acknowledged as being as close to a "Caves of Nevada" as there ever will be. Al made another colorful comment about Nevada caves. It is necessary, he said, to limit the length of "official" Nevada caves to those more than 30 feet long. Otherwise, counting all the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller karst cavelets, shelters, and such, Nevada would far outstrip any of the US states for total number of caves.

In addition to trekking all over Nevada, Al was very active in neighboring California, Utah, and Oregon. He was a constant companion in the early days of exploration of Kings Canyon National Park's Lilburn Cave, which now has logged more than 22 miles of twisting marble passage. Al, along with some of the most hard core 1960's and 70's cavers in the Western states, made explorations into other "fascinating" caves in Nevada, including many trips to the mountain ranges surrounding what is now Great Basin National Park. Indeed, modern explorers often find that the Old Man has beat them to some of the most obscure caves in those remote and little-visited mountains. Al would graphically describe his first trip into a miles-long cave in the Charleston Mountains near Las Vegas: After securing permission from the rancher owner, they pushed up into a chilly spring passage. Following it in a low crawlway, Al pushed a gently ascending bedding plane passage for hundreds of feet. Then the passage would abruptly extend up a series of vertical fault or joint passages to the next bedding plane passage. And so it went for thousands of feet. What Al "accidentally" forgot to mention to prospective mapping companions was that this was done in nearly foot-deep, near freezing water... and all done before wet suits became de rigueur for such trips.

In 1998 Alvin tackled the controversy about the 1844 route of John C. Fremont to Pyramid Lake, by hiking the southerly route and seeing the same landmarks as the earlier explorer. In the 1970's Alvin authored studies of the Soldier Meadows, Fly Creek, and High Rock Canyon in northern Nevada as Natural Landmarks. Each of the Nevada areas are now part of the Black Rock-High Rock National Conservation Area. Al was featured (frequently with his dog Petroglyph) in 14 episodes on the show 'Wild Nevada,' aired by Reno's KNPB television station. On one of the episodes he took viewers to petroglyph panels to explain how early Native Americans used them to track the changes of the season. In addition, after Al was a major participant in some of the earliest cave dives in California in Black Chasm, Al authored several reports for similar cave locations in California, including the 'Chasm in the Sierra Nevada Mother Lode foothills, resulting in it now being a National Natural Landmark. In addition to all this work, Al was perhaps the leading rock art recorder in Nevada, writing scores of reports on the state's rupestrian heritage.

McLane Peak
McLane Peak

On February 11, 2016, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names honored Alvin by approving the name "McLane Peak" for a previously unnamed peak in the Nightingale Mountains, 52 mi. NE of Reno overlooking Winnemucca Lake.

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Alvin, also a dedicated skier, was one of the founding members of the Friends of Mount Rose, one of the high peaks surrounding Lake Tahoe along the Nevada-California border. Everyone who drives the upper reaches of the Mount Rose Highway or skis the backcountry powder on Tamarack Peak now appreciates his efforts. In 2004, Nevada Governor Guinn recognized Alvin for his 'outstanding work as an archaeologist, historian, hydrologist, geologist, mountaineer, [and] spelunker'. The Bureau of Land Management recognized Alvin as Nevada's leading rock art recorder at a ceremony in Washington D.C. He also received an award from the Nevada Rock Art Foundation.

Al also had a typical caver sense of humor. When Al advised unsuspecting cavers that a handline was needed for some obscure Nevada cave, one quickly found that they would need full vertical gear. Al was also not shy to use his vehicles fully, literally wearing out at least three Jeeps. On several trips to eastern Nevada we've seen him unexpectedly disappear into steep arroyos at speed, disappearing into a cloud of dust and debris. Emerging from the dust cloud and after intently peering around to see if all the wheels on his Jeep were still attached, he would grin and merrily continue on his way.

Alvin passed on October 18, 2006, after a short bout with lymphoma; his brothers Louis and Dick and sister Janet preceded him. He is survived by his son, Aaron McLane, and brothers Don and Ronnie (Bonnie) McLane. Petroglyph, his faithful canine companion in later years, sadly also passed shortly after Al walked off into the Nevada sunset.



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.

Perennial Streams


There are 48 miles of perennial streams, and over 400 springs in the South Snake Range, home to Great Basin National Park. Over 75% of wildlife species are dependent upon these riparian areas for food, water, and cover at some stage of their life cycles.

Symposium Merchandise

Troglodyte Playing Cards

We have no idea what these will look like yet, but we couldn't think of hosting NCKMS in Nevada without offering some themed-out playing cards. There's a good chance the card backs will feature a cave animal of the year, but we still have some time to figure it out.


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.

Feel free to join our mailing list if you would like to receive occasional updates on our plans.

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