Tony Jones; Second Row: Waiter Feaster, Don Carlton,
Tony Greico, Terry Cargile; Third Row: Gralin Coffin, Steve Franks,
Ken Kamon; Not Pictured: Larry Gray
Carlsbad Caverns in Southeastern New Mexico has been one of the wonders of the cave world since the turn of the century and remains so today with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The Cave Resources Office at Carlsbad Caverns National Park (CCNP) strives to better portray the cave in its natural and untouched way. Certain volunteer groups are enlisted for this purpose to restore areas of the cave that require cleanup, trash removal, and general restoration to areas of the cave that have been changed by the human element to make the cave more accessible for the park visitors.
Over the past eight years, the Cave Research Foundation (CRF) in cooperation with the National Speleological Society (NSS) and the National Park Service (NPS) has held a week-long restoration field camp for this purpose. In June of 1992, Waiter Feaster, Bill Bentley, and I attended the CRF Field Restoration Camp. Although working extremely hard for a week, we felt that this was a very worthwhile endeavor that enabled us to give something back to nature (the cave), since it is so much a part of our lives. After that week of work, we came back to our grotto telling of the good times we had and the work we had done to help ensure that the beauty of the cave is preserved for future generations.Project Idea
Although the Permian Basin Speleological Society (PBSS) has a good group of cavers, we had no idea that any would want to do what most folks would call hard labor, in a cave that is. Walter and I discussed the idea for a couple of months and decided that permission from the NPS would have to be the first order of business. Walter contacted Dale Pate, Cave Specialist, and Jason Richards, his assistant, with the Cave Resources Office of the NPS to get their thoughts on the idea.
Granted, there had been several groups of cavers in Carlsbad doing various types of volunteer work for the NPS and the CRF during the week-long restoration camp for the past several years, but this was a first for a volunteer grotto. Dale and Jason knew that Walter, Bill, and I had a good idea of what we were asking to do because of our past involvement with other projects with the NPS, the CRF in Carlsbad, and the Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA). In working with the TCMA (a conservancy of the NSS), Walter and I had previously arranged a cleanup project for the Amazing Maze Cave. This is not withstanding the fact that Dale needed a lot of rock moved and whether he understood it or not, we were asking to do it!The Job
The job was easy to describe although it might not be easy to accomplish. It involved shoveling rock into 5-gallon buckets, then into wheelbarrows, and then pushing the wheelbarrows along the visitor' s trail (with the rock) approximately 1,000 feet (1,600 feet round trip with the wheelbarrow).
Steve Franks are Filling Buckets and Wheelbarrows. Area in Background is
From Past CRF Restoration Projects.
The restoration work to be accomplished was a continuation of the current project started two years ago by the CRF. It consisted of removing rock from a flowstone floor area immediately west of the present lunch room. The east portion of this area was the first "lunch room," and the remainder of the area is believed to be flowstone floor with a pit in the center covered with rock from three to 60 feet deep.
The question first asked by the people on any of the past restoration crews and subsequently by a great majority of the visitors as they pass the area is, "Where did all the rock come from and where are we going to put it now?" The rock is material blasted for the installation of the elevators in the 1930's. At that point in the history of the cave, restoration and conservation were not priorities. The rubble needed to be put somewhere, and the area of the pit was close and convenient, since there was plenty of cave left to see. Cave conservation is a key issue with any good caver today.Discoveries
The restoration work has uncovered some very nice flowstone and popcorn areas. While shoveling rock on the way down to the flowstone floor, several unusual items and antiquities have been found including: (1) power cables; (2) a water line; (3) meters and meters of blasting wire used for the detonation of explosives in excavating the elevator shafts; (4) old coins; (5) an old catsup or mustard bottle; (6) other pieces of glass; (7) several rock-embedded fossils; and (8) even chicken bones - yes the Cavern Supply Company was selling "chicken box lunches" even back then. All these items were turned over to the Park Service for possible inclusion in a future exhibit for the visitor's center.Goals
There were to be eleven workers on our crew for the workday on Saturday, November 21, 1992. We decided that to get the most work out of that number of people, we should concentrate on "just hauling rock" and leave the precision and more delicate work to the CRF restoration crew. The goal was to do as much work and haul as much rock as possible and make a good impression on Dale and his staff in the Cave Resources Office (not to mention the top brass in the CRF). Why, we might even get to come back and work our butts off again some other Saturday. All we had to do was to show up, pay a small fee for housing, supply our own food and beverage, and HAUL ROCK! Nuth'n wrong with that scenario, right - RIIIIIIGHT?The Big Weekend
The story begins Friday night, like any other good mystery. Waiter and I got to the CRF huts at CCNP around 11:00 p.m. Bill was already there, but that was it. No problem, it was early, and there was plenty of time for the other folks to show up. Later, only three more arrived for a total of six. Bill and I were getting a little worried, so we knew Waiter was a little more than that because he had set the work trip up and his name was on the line. But there was always in the morning, and at that, we finally called it a night.
The next morning when we awoke, we were sure or at least hoping that cavers turned workaholics would be beating a path to our hut door. Alas, there were no workaholics or even cavers, just very cold air, a little mist, and it was snowing like hell to the South toward Guadalupe Peak. It was coming North. We knew that if the bad weather persisted, the chances of getting anything close to another six people there would go down the tubes. The weather did blow in, boy did it blow and snow. There was too much wind, however, and the snow continued to the North. But the wind did blow in six more cavers. We had the required caver/rock haulers, and we were off to the caverns to start our excavation.
I do not know if any of you have ever been faced with a task that seems "bigger than life." Let me tell you, when you walk up to an area just under an acre with rock varying in thickness from three feet to an estimated 60 feet deep, it is a pretty big task. Now we knew we were not going to move it all or probably even make much of a dent, but we did know it was there, and there was a whole lot of it. The objective of course was to shovel the rock and transport it via a stout person and a wheelbarrow some 1,000 feet to an area in the back of Pickle Alley (a boneyard area at the edge of Left-hand Tunnel used in the early days of the Cavern as a trash dump). Notice that I said "shovel" rock. Have you done any of that lately? This is not dirt, not dirt and small pebbles, but ROCK. It is no small walk through the Big Room of Carlsbad. Rock does not want to go onto a shovel and that's that.Accomplishments
Well now, you know it was hard and tough. But what I have not told you is that in a spooky sort of way, I had fun, and I think that everyone else would agree. All our hard work and the fun we could muster from about nine to six tallied up to approximately 900 cubic feet or about 15 tons of rock. Each pound lovingly dumped four times from shovel to bucket to wheelbarrow to Pickle Alley, All in all it was a very good day.Off Trail Saturday Night
Saturday evening, we were treated to some pretty "hangi downi, sticki upi's" in-some off trail part of the Caverns, and although we were tired it is aways great to see some new part of CaIsbad. We Will Be Back!Author's Note
PBSS did return (Feburary 20, 1993) and haul another big bunch of rock. This time, rock was moved all the wayto the surface via the elevators to a waiting truck at the dock.- Although I was unable to make the Second trip, I am sure the guys still had some fun in spite of all the work., We can all take pride in knowing that we are making a diffrence in the work necessary to preserve this natural wonder for future generations. As of the date of this writing, another trip is scheduled this fall on November 13, 1993. The PBSS grotto has discussed the possibility of contacting the Cave Resources Office about scheduling two trips a year during the winter. At least the restoration work is out of the weather.Restoration Crew
PBSS members participating in this restoration work to date are: Chuck Anderle, Bill Bentley, Don Carlton, Terry Cargile, Gralin Coffin, Rick Day, Walter Feaster, Steve Franks, Larry Gray, Tony Grieco, Ken Kamon, Noel Pando. Tony Jones and Julia Cronk presently working for the NPS should be included for their help.