Lehman Caves National Monument
The U.S. Forest Service administered Lehman Caves National Monument, but demonstrated little presence at the cave, allowing private operators to do as they pleased. Clarence Rhodes, a former restaurant owner and chauffer to Nevada's governer, was made the official custodian of the caves, and was allowed to keep guide fees for his pay. The approved tour fees were one person, one dollar; children under twelve, free; groups of twelve or more, five dollars. Truly bargain rates for tours that often lasted three hours or more!
Improvements began in and around the cave, with stairways replacing rope ladders, floor excavations providing more headroom, sleeping tents being placed in Lehman's orchard, and roads to the cave entrance being improved.
The Rhodes were ever alert to increase business, so they began developing one of the rooms of the cave as a meeting place for large groups. Weddings were performed in the cave. Musical selections were played on the stalactites and stalagmites. Dances, picnics, and pageants were held on the grounds, and pack trips were offered to Wheeler Peak. In 1928 the Rhodes constructed 15 new cabins (one remains near the Lehman Caves Visitor Center today, known as the Rhodes Cabin) and a log lodge that provided regular Saturday evening "concerts" for guests and locals.
The Rhodes tenure at the cave lasted until around 1930, when Mr. and Mrs. Elroy Cue moved in to manage the area. Shortly afterward the Rhodes property was purchased by the county, and donated to the federal government.
The National Park Service Arrives
During the next decade, several cleanup, rehabilitation, and repair projects were conducted in the cave and on the surface by New Deal agencies such as the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Civil Work Administration. Lehman Caves was littered with debris, tin cans, lumber, and broken formations, all evidence of the heavy impact early visitors had on the cave. The Wishing Well was a small room filled with trinkets left by visitors who believed that if they left an item and made a wish, it would come true. One pool alone yielded 700 objects, including coins, a garter, and an American flag.
Big Changes in the Cave
Candles were the standard lighting for many years in Lehman Caves. The Rhodes introduced carbide lanterns in the early 1920s. While bringing electricity into the cave had been considered since the 1920s, it wasn't until 1939 that funds were made available. The first electrically lit cave tours began in April 1941. The complicated system was difficult to maintain, though, and had frequent failures. It wasn't until 1949, when new reliable generators were installed, that continuous cave lighting was assured.
Science and Culture
As knowledge of the cave increased, so did its popularity. Sir Edmund Hillary, of Mt. Everest fame, toured the cave with his family in 1962 as part of a U.S. Forest Service sponsored tour of the area. In 1959 Lehman Caves made its first television debut as the background for a one-minute Viceroy cigarette ad filmed by MGM studios. Portions of a movie originally titled The Wizard of Mars, a science fiction horror take on the popular Wizard of Oz, were filmed inside the cave in 1965. The flick, was later renamed Horrors of the Red Planet.
At Lehman Caves National Monument over $500,000 was spent on improvements. Additional employee housing, a visitor center (the current Lehman Caves Visitor Center), power plant, utility building, several thousand feet of new road, a 25 unit picnic area, and new utilities systems were constructed. Trails inside the cave were refurbished, and one third more cave was added to the regular tour.
Staffing increased during Mission 66 from three permanent and two seasonal employees, to five permanents and eight seasonals. During this time a new Spelunker Tour was offered for the first time. By 1966, visitation to Lehman Caves National Monument increased to 31,000 visitors.
The 70s and Early 80s in Lehman Caves
During the mid 1970s the National Park Service began development of a "Statement of Management" for each unit of the system. The first such statement for Lehman Caves National Monument clarified that the purpose of the monument was:
The monument was divided into management zones (natural, historic, and development), with the majority of land zoned as natural. Under these zones, the Gypsum Annex and the Lost River section of the cave were closed to protect fragile areas and historic resources. In 1983 the Talus Room section of the cave was closed to the pubic after a two-cubic-foot rock fell from the ceiling. This room, still considered unstable, remains closed today.
Lehman Caves National Monument Is Abolished
Last updated: February 28, 2015