Dale Pate Receives Special Honor from the National Speleological Society

person with helmet in small cave passage
Dale Pate, NPS National Cave and Karst coordinator and NSS Luminary.

Photo by Johanna Kovarik.

Submitted by Bonny Armstrong, Inside Earth editor
for Inside Earth Newsletter, Summer 2017


Dale L. Pate is the National Cave and Karst Program Coordinator for the National Park Service and a Fellow of the National Speleological Society (NSS). On June 20, 2017, Dale was awarded the honor of being a Luminary speaker at the annual NSS Convention in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Dale’s presentation was entitled “To Turn Off the Night” and it regaled the attendees with the exploration, science, and management of caves that Dale has spearheaded for decades. The following is the introduction to Dale’s presentation, given by renowned author, Dave Hughes.

Dale grew up in the vicinity of Corpus Christi. Just after graduating from high school in 1970, he began caving with some school friends in central Texas. Moving to San Marcos to attend Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) Dale joined the SWT Student Grotto. After college, he moved to Austin to become more involved with the University of Texas Grotto and to go caving in Mexico. A milestone event in his speleological activities occurred when Dale began caving in an area west of Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico with other Austin cavers. For the next 20 years, Dale enjoyed exploring and surveying with numerous friends not only in Sistema Purificación, but also in many of the other fascinating caves of the region. Now sporting a length of nearly 95 kilometers, and a depth approaching 1,000 meters, Sistema Purificación is one of the great caves in the hemisphere.

After years of working with the Water Resources Division of the United States Geological Survey in Austin and in San Antonio, Dale became the Cave Specialist for Carlsbad Caverns National Park in 1991. In this role, he provided coordination and oversight for all of the survey, research, and inventory activities in the park’s caves. As such, he was the “front man” for NSS cavers visiting and working in Carlsbad Caverns and in Lechuguilla Cave.

Beginning in 2007, Dale began working half-time as the National Cave and Karst Program Coordinator for the entire National Park Service. In 2012, he was hired full-time into this position and moved to Colorado. His many concomitant activities include preparing inventories of karst resources in the germane park units, making recommendations for important research that should be conducted, and providing education and outreach opportunities at the national level. One highly visible result of his outreach efforts is the popular Junior Cave Scientist program. Not surprisingly, a number of youngsters that learned about the Junior Cave Scientist program at NSS Conventions have expressed an interest in pursuing an eventual career in some sort of karst studies. Because of Dale’s efforts, it is encouraging to see these bright young kids develop their passion.

An expert explorer, Dale is also an advocate of high-quality survey and inventory work in caves. He is skilled with the camera and many American cavers have been enthralled with his captivating photographs of the underground wilderness.

Dale has published more than two dozen technical reports and papers dealing with certain aspects of caves and karst, along with suggested techniques for their proper management. In addition, the artistic side of Dale’s brain is also brilliant and productive. As one example, along with his friend Ronal Kerbo, Dale wrote, assembled, and self-published an enchanting book entitled On The Desert’s Edge. This volume features poems, photos, and heartfelt essays celebrating both the land, and the subsurface wonders, of the Guadalupe Mountains. Cleverly organized according to the four seasons of the calendar year this touching publication brings a reader’s dreams of wilderness to flight.

Dale is a sought-after speaker, colleague, cave expert, and friend at speleological meetings, conventions, and symposia. His exciting tales, his engaging demeanor, and his charming sincerity make him a favorite with audiences far and wide.

Last updated: September 20, 2017