NM Dept. Logo New Mexico Bureau of Mines & Mineral Resources Bulletin 117
Geology of Carlsbad Cavern and other caves in the Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico and Texas


This paper is intended for a variety of readers. It is meant for the geologist who wants to understand caves in the Guadalupe Mountains from a regional perspective; for the speleologist who wants to understand how these caves differ from other caves; for the caver who wants to better appreciate what he or she is seeing in Guadalupe caves; and for the visitor to Carlsbad Cavern as an interpretive guide to its geology and mineralogy. Such a multipurpose intent has its problems. Only the experienced speleologist has the background to understand all parts of this paper. Geologists will not necessarily be familiar with the specifics of cave geology or with the speleological terms. Cavers will recognize much of the speleological jargon, but will not necessarily realize the full geological significance of what is being discussed. Cave visitors may be interested in learning only about certain aspects of the caves, e.g. the travertine formations (speleothems) in Carlsbad Cavern.

Because of such problems, the paper has been organized so as to be helpful to all readers. It is divided into two parts, speologenesis and mineralogy. These parts are interrelated, but are presented in such a way that they can be read and understood separately. In both the speleogenesis and mineralogy sections, pictures have been included of most types of cave deposits and speleothems so that the caver can use the publication as a guide to a number of caves in the Guadalupe Mountains. For the visitor to Carlsbad Cavern, specific reference is made to a number of deposits and speleothems that can be seen along the trail.

Acknowledgments—I wish to thank Ronal Kerbo, William Dunmire, Robert Crisman, Jim Walters, Larry Henderson, Larry Villalva, Phillip Van Cleave, Donna Giannantonio, and John Roth of the National Park Service; Tom Davis, Jerry Trout, Bob Trout, and John Burke of Lincoln National Forest; and Buzz Hummel of the Bureau of Land Management for continued administrative support over the years. Sample collection was permitted by the above agencies.

Roger Anderson, George Bachman, Rane Curl, Donald Davis, Harvey DuChene, Stephen Egemeier, Derek Ford, David Love, George Moore, Robert Osburn, Arthur Palmer, Margaret Palmer, Michael Queen, John Thrailkill, and Sam Thompson III reviewed the manuscript. Other people of professional assistance were Scott Altenbach, Jim Brierley, Douglas Caldwell, Dave DesMarais, Ben Donegan, Paolo Forti, Dave Gillette, John Guilbert, Arthur Harris, David Jagnow, Klaus Keil, Douglas Kirkland, John McLean, Patrick Moore, Robert North, Marcel Rider, Steven Sares, Henry Schwarcz, Cyndi Mosch Seanor, Richard Smith, Jim Smith, Ed Speer, Steve Stokowski, Harold Thode, Calvin Welbourn, Steve Wells, and James Wright.

Cyndi Mosch Seanor and Roy Hill were particularly helpful in the field, Bob Buecher, Debbie Buecher, Tom Rohrer, and Bill Wilson in cartography and Alan Hill, Ronal Kerbo, and Cyndi Mosch Seanor in photography. John Burke, Wayne Burks, Kendrick Day, Jeep Hardinge, Dave Jagnow, Pete Lindsley, Tom Meador, Ron Miller, Arthur Palmer, Bob Trout, Jerry Trout, and Jon Vinson also contributed photographs. Derek Ford, Jim Cowart, Rainer Grun, Gerd Hennig, Victor Schmidt, George Brook, Brooks Ellwood, Luis Gonzalez, Kevin Given, Tom Bills, and Russell Harmon were responsible for doing, or helping with, the age or carbon-oxygen determinations. John Husler, Ellen Semarge, and Karl Emmanuel of the University of New Mexico Geology Department, and John Bologna of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, performed the chemical analyses. Jerry Gomez, Ken Kietzke, and Tom Servilla of the University of New Mexico Geology Department did the thin sectioning and feldspar staining. Shell Oil Company and David Jagnow donated thin sections of the chert, and Sandia Laboratory donated the use of a MicroRmeter for gamma-ray measurements. Core Laboratories (Petroleum Reservoir Engineering), Farmington, New Mexico, measured porosity and permeability of bedrock samples and Geochron Laboratories (Krueger Enterprises), Cambridge, Massachusetts, did the sulfur-isotope and fluid-inclusion analyses.

Finally, I wish to thank the Cave Research Foundation for field and cartographic support, and my husband Alan for assistance and moral support over the eighteen years of this study.

El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo National Park Service.

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Last Updated: 28-Jun-2007