NPS PHOTO maci macpherson
The Wonder, Power, and Mystery of Caves
Just what is a cave? A cave is a naturally occurring underground cavity. There are many different types of caves, including solution caves, tectonic caves, boulder caves, sea caves, and lava tubes. Tectonic caves tend to be relatively small and can form in almost any type of rock that has been highly fractured. Lava tubes are the fastest forming type of cave. They form as a flow of lava is running down an inclined surface. The surface of the lava flow cools from contact with the air, and hardens to rock, while the inside keeps flowing. When the inside drains out, the result is a black tube of rock. Some caves may have ice in them seasonally, or year round. Depending on the shape of a cave and its entrance, caves can trap cold air and contain permanent ice. Lava tubes can often be cold air traps. Solution caves, such as Lehman Caves, can have a great variety of formations and passage patterns.
Lehman Caves as a Geologic Puzzle
Lehman Caves present an interesting geologic puzzle. The geologists believe that they have figured out many of the mysteries of the cave, but there are many more unanswered questions. There is a bacteria in the cave that could be studied, along with potential bacterial causes of moonmilk, colorations, and condensation corrosion. A paleontological dig could turn up some very interesting results and could help determine if and when there might have been another entrance to the cave. The Gypsum Annex is an interesting part of the cave because it is so incredibly different from the main cave. Why? It might be possible to learn more about past climatic conditions by studying the speleothems. Many opportunties for discovery and learning still exist in Lehman Caves. The mysteries continue, and the answers to these questions will only lead us to more questions.