NPS Announces Lechuguilla to open this year
In an email message sent to active Lechuguilla cavers, park Cave Specialist Dale Pate announced that the new culvert had
been completed, and that exploration would resume this year. The recipients of this yearís permits has not yet been announced, and trips have been delayed into the cave due to outstanding issues with the airlock.
NPS Preparing to Install New Gate in Lechuguilla Cave
For the last several years, Park officials have been concerned over the large air exchange at the entrance of
Lechuguilla Cave. Ever since the 1986 breakthrough, the airflow in and out of the cave has been enhanced, causing formations, pools, and flowstone to dry out with repeated exposure to the dry desert air.
In January of this year, the Park closed Lechuguilla Cave to all travel and began excavating the 14-year-old steel culvert that has served as access to the cave. Local grottos have provided volunteer
manpower to assist NPS personnel. The plan is to replace the aging entrance gate with a new airlock system that will minimize airflow through the entrance.
In mid-April assistant cave specialist
Stan Allison announced that the excavation has been completed and the culvert removed. A new all-plastic culvert and airlock chamber is scheduled to arrive in August. At that time a haul system will be set up to lower
the new culvert and welding equipment, and then to raise the old culvert and remove it from the cave. Installation of the new access system will be followed by backfilling the now-exposed entrance passage and sealing it
with a concrete and gravel mix.
Park officials acknowledge that they still have a lot of work to do, but the result will be improved protection of the fragile microclimate in Lechuguilla Cave. Many
cavers expect the repairs to continue into the fall, with exploration resuming next year.