What is a cave? In the Park, a cave is defined as a natural opening in rock, accessible by a human, which is at least 30 feet long and has a dark zone. Great Basin National Park contains 40 known caves, filled with unusual cave life and unique features.
Caves are Treasure Troves of InformationCaves are amazing places. Protected from the sun and elements, they can preserve what is in them for thousands and even millions of years. Geologic processes occur in caves that still puzzle scientists. Endemic creatures that live nowhere else in the world are frequent in caves. Cave climate usually has stable temperatures and high humidity, but park staff are finding it changing in some caves. In fact, management of cave resources has become more important as we learn about these special ecosystems.
Cave LifeOver the past 15 years, over 10 species new to science have been found in caves at Great Basin National Park. In addition, many species of bats use park caves. Our biggest invertebrate predator is the Great Basin Pseudoscorpion, a cool false scorpion first found in Lehman Caves and now known from additional caves, including some high elevation ones. Find out more about these amazing creatures that have adapted to the dark on the Cave Life page.
Cave GeologyThe understanding of cave geology has changed rapidly over the last few years due to researchers who have seen the cave with fresh eyes and ideas. We are currently working on updating our Cave Geology website pages.
For an excellent, in-depth discussion on how Lehman Caves originated, see this report by cave geologists Harvey DuChene and Louise Hose.
Formation of Lehman Caves
Cave PaleontologyPaleontology is the study of fossils (evidence of past life). Caves turn out to be a great place to preserve that evidence of past life. Although much of the rock in the park is metamorphic, with heat and pressure erasing fossils in the rock, many bones, teeth, and other evidence have been found in park caves.
In 2013, a park paleontologist found an exciting discovery: bones from a small rabbit (Aztlanolagus agilis) that lived in the Pleistocene period (about 11,700 to 2.6 million years ago) in a park cave. (see Bell 2013 in The Midden summer issue).
Nearby woodrat middens have revealed tens of thousands of years of information on the plants and animals in the area.
You can find more information about cave paleontology on this NPS website.
Cave ArcheologyCaves preserve a variety of archeological resources such as rock art, historical signatures, and more. Within Great Basin National Park, you can easily see pictographs on the outside of Upper Pictograph Cave.
Cave HistoryLehman Caves is the longest running show cave in the state of Nevada, with tours starting in 1885. You can read more about the rediscovery by Absalom Lehman in 1885, how Lehman Caves became a national monument in 1922, and other Lehman Caves history.
Cave ManagementEach person who enters a cave inadvertently leaves behind a little bit of clothing lint, hair, and skin cells. With over 30,000 people going into Lehman Caves this year, this adds up. Each year, the Park holds a lint and restoration camp to help clean the cave.
Park staff also manage the wild caves in the Park. You can see some science being done in this Model Cave video.
Last updated: June 9, 2020