An illustration of a cave entrance and a pastel sky. The NPS arrowhead is in the center of the image


Three Sources of Light

Underneath the rugged mountain surface of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico lies an incomparable realm of gigantic subterranean chambers and fantastic cave formations. Join park rangers for in-depth conversations that illuminate the diverse natural and cultural resources of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The podcast is produced by the Interpretation Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Interviews include National Park Service employees, volunteers, and partners.


Twisted Sisters


[Introduction Music]

JAMES GUNN: Good day folks. This is James Gunn, Park Guide here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and I am bringing you the next episode of the Three Sources of Light podcast. Given that we are in the International Year of Caves and Karst, we wanted to highlight some of the amazing ways that you can experience caves and karst. There is perhaps no better or more exciting way than to talk about cave exploration. To do that I have brought in Kelli Housley, one of my fellow co-workers here at the park and a member of an all-woman exploration team who discovered the second deepest part of the cave. Kelli, before we launch into that story, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself.

KELLI HOUSLEY: Thank you, so yes, my name is Kelli Housley. I have worked at Carlsbad Caverns National Park since 2016. I have been with the National Park Service for a number of years prior to that. My background is in history, I majored in history in college, so I am a bit of a fan of history.

JG: For everyone back home, that is an understatement. Kelli is being humble because she is the history guru here at the park. If you have a question about the history of this place, you ask Kelli.

KH: Thank you. I've worked all across the country. I've worked at seven different national parks and prior to coming here I had not really done a lot of caving. I visited a lot of cave parks; Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Carlsbad Caverns before I worked here but I'd never done any of the wild cave tours. I had just kind of gone with park rangers, park guides, to visit some of the more wide open rooms. I'd always had this strange fascination with these wild cave tours. I was always curious how I would react when I was confronted with the tight spaces and the crawls and the challenges of that.

JG: So, is that what made you decide to come work at Carlsbad Caverns National Park?

KH: Partly yes, permanent jobs in the National Park Service are a little hard to come by and this was my first permanent position so that was part of it. But I was very fascinated with the underground world and wanted to get a chance to test my own limits, but also get a chance to explore somewhere new.

JG: How quickly once you got here did you start fulfilling that?

KH: When you start as a Park Guide at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, on your second day you have to do one of the crawling tours, either Spider Cave or Hall of the White Giant. Both of those tours start off with belly crawls and tight spaces. I was a little nervous initially, wondering if I would be claustrophobic going in there, but I learned pretty quickly that I was comfortable crawling through those tight spaces which was good because I was able to continue my career for over four and a half years now here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

JG: Very nice, and you didn't have any problem with those first squeezes? Which is going to be a good thing for you listening at home as you will see in just a little bit. So, you got hired here in 2016 and this exploration took place in the spring of 2018. What were you doing in between those two times? Were you trying to groom yourself for doing cave exploration? What was going on?

KH: I wasn't necessarily aiming to do cave exploration, but I was trying to improve my own caving skills. I was exploring other places, learning more about wild caving and going into places that are a little harder to get to. I also learned single rope technique, or SRT, in 2016 to get me access to some of the vertical caves or areas of Carlsbad Cavern that are not accessible just by crawling, or climbing, or scrambling. SRT is a caving technique. Instead of in climbing when you've got a wall against you, often in caving you don't have anything around you, so you are completely relying on the rope itself to get you into and out of the cave. So, when you are ascending you have two ascending devices that will go up on the rope and not come down. You can put your full weight on them, and they will not come down. When you're descending, you've got a descending device that feeds the rope through so you can descend down that rope safely. I use the frogging technique. There are a few different techniques for caving vertically, but basically you sit in the harness and the chest ascender will take all of your weight and then you move your hand ascender up the rope with the foot loop that is attached. You stand up in that, which moves your chest ascender up and you just kind of rinse and repeat. So, you're sitting and standing as you ascend the rope. I was starting to explore more wild caves going to some of our back-country caves, going to some of the areas of Carlsbad Cavern that were only accessible with vertical caving skills. Of all five of us on the team, there was Ellen, Toni, Katie, and Leah, in addition to myself. We all had different skill levels. Some like Ellen and Toni had been caving for years, had done cave surveying, were very knowledgeable about the different aspects of caving, and had done caving in multiple different caves and areas of the country. There were others like Katie and Leah who had yet to learn SRT.

JG: How did you get selected for this?

KH: Because I'm small.

JG: To give you an idea of what Kelli means by that… she is all of five foot nothing and weighs about 110 pounds.

KH: Thanks. So, basically in the spring of 2018 there were some cave surveyors that had been mapping an area of the Mystery Room. This area, or this this room, did go pretty far down into the cave and had the potential to go possibly to the new deepest section of the cave. So, it had the potential to go down pretty far. These cave surveyors were essentially sizing up all of the women on staff. They were asking us, you know if we could sketch, and I can't draw anything so I would just say no. I know Katie responded with, “well yes I can draw” not knowing that they were asking about cave surveying. And some of them would just look at us and say, “you'd fit.” We didn't know at the time but there was a pinch, or a lead, in the Mystery Room that lead down even deeper that none of those cave surveyors could fit through. We came up with the idea. There were four of us that went on a road trip, myself, Toni, Katie, and Leah all went on a road trip in April and we came up with this idea that if we all got trained in single rope technique, if we weren't already, and we learned how to cave survey, all of us plus Ellen would be able to hopefully find the deepest part of the cave with a team of all women which we thought was a really cool idea and it could even make the guys jealous on staff.

JG: Okay, so you've gotten your experience, you've been trained on the various things you need, and now you all are getting ready to go start the exploration. What was that like? What is it like to go into a section of cave not knowing where you're going to wind up?

KH: Well it was very exciting. Just to get to the survey station where we were going to start it took us about an hour, just to go through the Mystery Room and scramble down boulders and everything, just to access that point when we got there the first day. The first survey trip was myself, Katie, Toni, and Ellen. Usually a cave survey team is three or four people, so we weren't always going on every single trip. When we got there, we found out the pinch that they wanted us to go through. Since the cave surveyors couldn't fit through it, they kind of did what was called a splay shot. They went from one survey station and just kind of figured out how far it was using a laser to figure out the distance, but they hadn't actually picked a survey point or anything like that. So, our first section was to survey this crawlway. We spent quite a lot of time doing so. That crawlway has a 90 degree turn in it. We were able to do the first part, Katie was kind of going, she was the first one, what we call point, and because that crawlway also went downhill, she wasn't able to get from the middle of the crawlway straight out into the room. So, she had to do another point down on the floor of that pinch, that crawlway. That was a little awkward. I learned very quickly you need to be very good at cave yoga when you are surveying. The first point that I was surveying with her, I was basically sitting there in a crunch for quite some time waiting for her to give me the information and make sure our data lined up. Then when we were down at the base of that pinch trying to get out into the room, I was essentially reading the equipment upside down because it was on the floor. I couldn't really look very easily so I was twisted in a very awkward position trying to read all our equipment.

JG: I find this very interesting, because when I think of cave exploration I think of, you know, going through something, finding a tiny little crack and figuring out just how you can get your body through it. But it sounds like you guys were surveying as you went, is this typical?

KH: Usually you want to be surveying as you're going, as you're exploring. Now the point person, the one that's in front, will sometimes be thinking several steps in advance, you want to try to minimize your survey stations. Sometimes that person will be heading out a little way just trying to scout for the next maybe two or three survey stations, just to have a plan. There are a number of reasons why you want to try to survey as you go. A really good reason is just cave conservation. You don't really want to impact the cave any more than you need to, if you're surveying as you're going you minimize the number of trips that you have to take to get through an area. You're already trying to follow the footsteps of everyone going through before you, you are trying to again minimize any potential damage to the cave. Another reason, imagine you are crawling down a tunnel and you get past a pinch and you see that it really doesn't go anywhere. There's nothing exciting past that point and it ends after about 30 feet (9 meters). It's a lot less enticing to survey that, when you could possibly find, as our goal was to find, the deepest part of the cave. It would be very easy to just leave that off the map. This way you've got as much of the cave as possible, trying to be as thorough as possible without leaving any potential unexplored areas on the map itself.

JG: I think that would be what would hold me up as far as doing a cave survey goes. I'm not the type that likes to sit and slowly inch my way forward. I like to go.

KH: Yeah, it's a very slow process.

JG: Okay, so you are surveying this passage and, you were telling me earlier, that you all got to name some new rooms. So how does that come about? How does one get to name a cave room?

KH: So that first day we were sitting there, I think we might have been taking a break or something, but I was asking Ellen how new names come about because we were basically calling this the Mystery Room survey. But to me, because we had that really tight opening, I wasn't sure what constituted a new room. So, I asked her, and she said well usually if they don't share the same ceiling it's a different room. I said, “Isn't this technically a new room then? Isn't this separate from the Mystery Room?” She thought for a second and said, “Well yeah actually this would be different.” We started naming some of these spaces. There were a lot of bat mummies and bat bones in this room and we were reminded of the Egyptian tombs, like the pyramids, so Toni suggested tomb of something… Because there were so many bats down there, and we had this story among our friend group that bats can also be known as sky bears, because why not, it became Tomb of the Sky Bears. That was what we named that space. That same day, that first survey trip, as we were exiting, I jokingly called the pinch the Twisted Sister Tunnel because it had that 90 degree turn in it and that's actually how we got our name.

JG: It sounds pretty tedious, doing this cave survey stuff, but I imagine there has to be more to it than just that. So, what else did you find as you were exploring this area?

KH: Just in the room itself we found a lot of really delicate formations. The whole room was not fully decorated or anything like that, but there were these very delicate small tiny selenite needles on the floor that we had to be careful to avoid. There were gypsum flowers on the walls, there were also selenite needles that you could see moving as you breathed. In the back part of the room there was gypsum dust all over the floor. There was aragonite needles and frostwork and just beautiful little treasures hidden in different corners of this space. The second trip into this room I was just with Toni and Ellen, and we were essentially mapping as much as we possibly could. We didn't finish by any means, so the third trip was Ellen, Toni, and Leah. They ended up going down a really slick slope. It was really muddy, but it had these beautiful white formations all around you, so you had to be careful on what you reached out to grab as you're trying not to slip and slide down this slope. They were exploring even further down, and Toni saw a hole. Since Leah was point, she says, “Oh yeah you can go through that.” Leah and Katie both when they first started here were not comfortable with those tight spaces and so Leah's first instinct was, “Are you kidding me?” She did it, she did go into that hole. She overcame that fear. She said when she went into that space it was so tight that she could only move and wiggle forward when she exhaled, whenever she inhaled, she would feel stuck. They ended up measuring this little tiny hobbit hole as she called it and we found out later that it was not the deepest point of the cave, but it was about 13 feet (4 meters) higher than the current deepest point of Carlsbad Cavern. The current deepest point is known as Lake of the Clouds. This has been known about since 1930. Again, not knowing as they were surveying, they weren't really sure if this was going to be the deepest point or not, Toni was thinking “Okay, if this is going to be the deepest, we should stick with Lake of…” Because that area, that passageway to get to this deep point, was full of mud, they came out caked with it on their shoes and on their pants, Toni came up with Lake of Muddy Misery. We like alliteration. The next trip we thought we were going to be finishing up. It was myself, Leah, Katie and Ellen again. So, we went into a pinch that was even tighter than the Twisted Sister. I was originally point and I was trying to go through, and the bottom was really grabby. It grabbed onto your shirt and you felt like you couldn't scoot forward. I learned very quickly that I feel very uncomfortable and nervous when I cannot move my head, so it took me a little while as I was slowly inching my way forward. I was also thinking that it might get tighter, so I was a little nervous and I ended up backing out just to kind of take a breather. Then Katie was sitting there and said, “well I'll try it.” This is a person that had a panic attack when she first did her crawling tour through Spider Cave on her second day. But she decided to go through. Again, it was very grabby, we ended up with a lot of holes in our clothing as we were attempting to get through there. But as we were watching her, she's going through the pinch and we see that she is gone and we were thinking, “Oh shoot now we have to survey this.” She and Leah ended up getting past this pinch and they found a room on the other side. Katie was the first one to ever enter that room, so she got naming rights. Sticking with alliteration she called it Wriggler’s Relief. I jokingly called that pinch, that tighter one, Ladies Lament because as we were all attempting to, or going through that pinch, all of us said words that I don't think are appropriate for this podcast. That was the only area that we surveyed on that trip, so we did have to go back a fifth time to kind of wrap up any of the loose ends.

JG: How do you know when you're done with a cave survey? Walking around the Big Room myself, there are always areas I'm looking at thinking there might be potential for exploration. But of course, we don't have unlimited time or unlimited resources. So, how do you know when it is time to stop?

KH: So, you're right. There are a lot of places in the cave, especially a cave that is almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) in mapped mileage like Carlsbad Cavern where you don't know if you're ever done. When it came to Tomb of the Sky Bears, we were just looking at one particular space in one particular room, so essentially anything after that Twisted Sister Tunnel. Basically, what we were looking for is any tunnel or any squeeze or any lead that we could possibly fit ourselves into. Once we exhausted that, then we would be done. The last trip that we took, trip number five, we were essentially just trying to tie up the survey. So, on a previous trip a light connection had been made at the bottom of this hill. Toni was shining her light and both Ellen and Leah could see it from above. They knew that tunnel connected to where they were. We just needed that information for the map and for the cartographer who would input this data. So, we were going back primarily for that reason just to kind of tie up the loose ends. We went through a tunnel and we did go through some spaces that had not been explored. There was a really heavily decorated tunnel that we squeezed our way into. When we were all four crowded into this space, we did notice that there was a tunnel off to the side, so there was another lead. Now this lead was vertical rather than horizontal and it was very tiny. I think was a question among all of us whether we would even fit, but what we noticed was that there were these really delicate formations part way through this tunnel and so we knew if we headed through we would be damaging those formations. They also had the potential to damage us as well, if they didn't fully break off. We had to make the decision to just end the survey with that. We did take photos of it and we were going to, you know, discuss this with the person in charge of Carlsbad Cavern, in this case the person in charge of Cave Resources, but I think we all knew that we were not going to pursue that lead.

JG: What was that conversation like? When you were having it in the cave?

KH: I think we were all curious where it might lead to. I don't think we were very certain that we could have fit in that tunnel, there was a little bit of a curve to it as well and we couldn't tell if it had even gone any further. There was a potential that it could have opened up into another room. There was also a potential that it just ended right at the bottom. When it came down to it, it was a question of, is it worth it to continue surveying. Essentially, should we break the cave to continue mapping the cave? I think that is always a hard question for any cave surveyor. You want to know what's still out there, you want to try to map as much as you possibly can, but at what cost? Earlier that day we had been surveying and one of us had accidentally knocked a formation off. It was a pretty good-sized stalactite, and it was quite upsetting to her because you know, I think she was realizing that that was thousands of years of cave growth that was just destroyed in an instant. Now that was an accident, but if we had decided to go through that tunnel it would have been very much a decision on our part to break those formations. It's never an easy question and I think all of us are still kind of curious what might remain down there but it is quite a challenging thing when you're actually on the ground trying to make that decision, should we stop or should we break these formations to continue.

JG: I know one of the questions we get pretty commonly from visitors here at the park is what about drones? Or robots? Or cameras? Or something that you could have used to explore that a little bit?

KH: Yeah. That's a good question. Just to explore that area, we obviously didn't know that lead was there, so it would have required yet another trip into Tomb of the Sky Bears. So even more human impact to these spaces. I think just to get to that lead took about an hour and a half of scrambling through really dirty and sandy passages and mud and through delicate formations, trying to carry extra, and at times expensive, equipment. It is hard to fully justify that. In addition, trying to go through and survey as you go essentially when you're sending a drone in, or a camera, or whatever you're just trying to get that peek. It's kind of what we were discussing earlier. Saying okay, if we just went into this tunnel and then found it didn't go anywhere, we're not going to add it to the map and it's kind of a similar thing with the camera as well. In addition I think that humans are a lot better at controlling our own bodies compared to when we're like piloting something, so that potential for breaking formations could still be there, again if we weren't really in control of that drone or whatever else we were flying into that space.

JG: I guess that makes me think right off the bat of you talking about the gypsum dust in the Tomb of the Sky Bears which probably would have been disturbed by a drone’s rotors flying over that area. It's always one of those fragile things that you just don't know what you're going to encounter.

KH: Yeah absolutely. There was also, you know, really delicate pieces on the ceiling as well and most of the time we didn't notice them in that room until we were almost right on top of them. Having a drone, if you're very focused on one particular direction, you could easily miss something that would be very small and delicate on the ceiling.

JG: Well it sounds like you all had some amazing trips down into the cave. What kind of lasting legacy has this left with you?

KH: I think for all of us it gave us a new sense of self, a new sense of awareness. I know I see the cave in a completely new light. I'm always walking around wondering what secrets might still be unknown, what might be hiding around the corner, what the cave might be hiding in its shadows, or what might be lurking in the shadows. It was incredibly empowering to be part of an all-woman team exploring the depths of the cave. I think we learned a lot about ourselves along the way too. We overcame quite a lot of fears, but we were also very encouraging and supportive of each other. We were all growing as we were exploring the cave and expanding our own confidence in our own self-assuredness. As we were exploring and getting an opportunity to see such a special place. That has developed into lifelong friendships. We're all across the country right now, but we still communicate regularly. We video chat, we have traveled across the country to visit each other. Leah in particular wants everyone to know that we have twisted sister friendship bracelets as well. A few Christmases ago Katie got us all these beautiful bracelets to remind us of our time.

JG: Yeah, I've seen you wearing that, I've always wondered what the back story was to it.

KH: Yeah, I wear it regularly. Sometimes I even wear it while caving.

JG: I think your story highlights one of the things that has always struck me about caves. When you are going into a cave, whether it be exploring some unknown passage for the first time or even just walking around the Big Room here at the park, you're experiencing a new world. Through experiencing and exploring these new worlds, inevitably you wind up learning a little bit about yourself. Understanding more about you. To me, I think that's one of the coolest things about caves. As we bring this full circle and tie it back into this International Year of Caves and Karst, that is one of the things that this is celebrating. It's not just about what caves do for us and it's not just about how cool they are. It is about the opportunities for self-exploration that caves really provide like just about no other place on earth. Thank you very much Kelli for joining me today. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us and hopefully some of you out there will hear it and be inspired to join your local grotto and go out and do some exploring on your own. Maybe just to challenge yourself a little bit to see how far you can push yourself, especially when you've got the support of friends around you.

[Conclusion Music]

GABE MONTEMAYOR: Hello listeners. Thank you for listening to Three Sources of Light. This podcast is produced by the Interpretation and Education Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Episodes are researched, developed, and hosted by Park Guides Anthony Mazzucco and James Gunn. Today you also heard the voice of Kelli Housley. All audio engineering, music, and sound effects are made in house by Park Guide Gabe Montemayor. This episode was recorded in April of 2021. For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park please visit our National Park Service website at Thanks for listening.

Caves are one of the few locations on Earth where expeditions can still reveal previously unexplored places. The resulting maps are proof of existence, and help geologists and park rangers learn more about these unique subterranean environments. In 2018, five female park rangers discovered the second deepest room inside Carlsbad Cavern. Listen to one member of that crew talk about her experiences, emotions, and work that was accomplished along the way.

Parks For The People


[Introduction Music]

ANTHONY MAZZUCCO: Hello everyone! Thank you for taking some time out of your day to listen to another episode of the Three Sources of Light Podcast. My name is Anthony Mazzucco and I am a Park Guide here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. As we continue to celebrate the International Year of Caves and Karst, I thought it would be interesting to spend some time talking about how visitors from all around the world are able to experience this park, and many others. The cave itself stretches our imagination and scientific understanding, but the human made infrastructure at these places make them accessible outdoor classrooms. And here to join me for this conversation is my friend and co-worker Brian Cole. Welcome to our makeshift studio.

BRIAN COLE: Well hello. My Name is Brian Cole. I am from Rochester, New York and I have been living here in Carlsbad, New Mexico for over a year now.

AM: So, we were both part of the same hiring group here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I remember being impressed by the list of parks you’ve previously been a ranger at. You’ve accumulated a very diverse resume!

BC: I have worked at 10 different parks, starting at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio doing some volunteering work. Then went to Canyonlands National Park in Utah followed by Arches National Park in Utah as well. Then I went to a state park, at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in North Dakota. I’ve worked at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Kings Canyon National Park in California, Sequoia National Park in California, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, and last year in February I started here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

AM: I do have to ask before we continue, any of these parks have any sort of cave related to them? Maybe something you visited while you got to work there?

BC: Ah yes, definitely. Sequoia National Park has Crystal Cave and then Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has sea caves. You actually go out in a kayak and explore caves by the water.

AM: This just shows here in the International Year of Caves and Karst that these landscapes and formations can be found all over the National Park Service system. Much like how you have traversed many landscapes over the years, thousands of individuals across the nation interact with a public works projects on public land every single day. Whether than be hiking trails, roads within the park, restroom facilities, the visitor center, the list goes on and on… The Civilian Conservation Corps is easily the most recognizable of the major 20th Century public works eras we are going to discuss today. So, let’s begin in the 1930s. Brian could you briefly explain the historical context of the Civilian Conservation Corps? Maybe outline some of the goals of this program?

BC: During the year 1933 the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, fifteen million people in the United States out of work. And the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, was a program that the president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt put together to get Americans back to work and also to help the environment. There were a lot of different goals that the CCC had. Such as structural improvements, so building bridges fire lookout towers, service buildings. Transportation improvement. Creating roads, trails, airport landing fields. Controlling erosion through check dams, terracing, vegetative covering. Controlling floods through irrigation, drainage, dam, and ditching. Forestry. Planting trees, shrubs, collecting seeds. Protecting forests through fire prevention, fire suppression, and firefighting. Landscape and recreation work. Building camps.

AM: Why was this work important? What are some of the notable nationwide accomplishments from the CCC?

BC: Over 125,000 miles (201,168 kilometers) of roads that were built with over 46,000 bridges that were constructed. Over 3,000 lookout fire towers were built. 318,000 dams built for erosion control. And 8 million hours of fighting fires in the forest. Over 3 billion trees planted. And we also have some very important brand-new parks that were created. We had our first National Historical Park, Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, the first National Historic Site, Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Massachusetts, our first National Seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore where I indeed worked, and then our first National Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

AM: I find this last point really interesting. Some of the larger national parks, places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, even Carlsbad Caverns National Park, they are really iconic places. But there are over 420, I believe 423 is the last count as of February of 2021, different site in the National Park Service system. All with different name designations. So, these historic parks, seashores, parkways, you are going to interact with the flat-hats and the arrowhead in a lot of different places. The Civilian Conservation Corps is going to impact state and local parks as well. Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns National Park may also be interested in checking out Bottomless Lakes State Park, located 90 miles north of Carlsbad near the town of Roswell, New Mexico. When it opened to the public in 1933, Bottomless Lakes became the very first state park in New Mexico and workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps were responsible for its construction.

BC: I am glad you brought that up. Under the CCC not only were 42 National Parks created, but 711 state parks created. This was really the first program, and only program that I know of, where we had both state parks and national parks that were created. Bottomless Lake State Park is a really cool park. It has eight different lakes that range in depth from 17 (5 meters) to 90 feet (27 meters). It’s pretty interesting because the lakes are not very long, but they are extremely deep. Some activities that you can do in the park include swimming in Lea Lake, hiking on a nice wetland trail, there is a trail that connects seven of the lakes, and opportunities for mountain biking. The lakes themselves are sinkholes, created the same way that the caves at Carlsbad Caverns were created, with sulfuric acid dissolving the limestone. The difference here is the caves collapsed, or caved in, leaving behind these massive holes in the ground that filled in with both rain and ground water.

AM: It sounds to me like you have just described a karst landscape! Listeners to the very first episode of Three Sources of Light may recognize terms such as limestone and sinkhole. Bottomless Lakes State Park is a great place to recreate in the sunshine and escape the 100-degree summer heat by going for a swim, its geology is directly related to Carlsbad Caverns National Park which is a really neat connection in addition to this work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Per the park superintendent records that rangers here often browse for research, the Civilian Conservation Corps camp that ended up working here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park came here directly from Roswell. Many workers presumably were stationed at both Bottomless Lakes State Park and later also at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. When they arrived here in 1938, what sort of projects were accomplished?

BC: Nationwide they were active from April 4th, 1933 to June 30th, 1942. In our park the work was done towards the end of the program, from August 1st, 1938 to May 22nd, 1942. They were here a little over three years. At Carlsbad Caverns they accomplished many different things. Employee and maintenance buildings were built. They put in a parking lot. They did minor cave trail work. Trails were already established before they were here, but they did some minor things like putting down sand in to prepare future trail work. They poured concrete flooring in the underground lunchroom. Many fought fires and responded to search and rescue missions. The CCC men rebuilt the Walnut Canyon Road after a flood eliminated it. There is another unit of the park called Rattlesnake Springs which is just below the mountain escarpment. This is where the CCC lived. When they were stationed there, they built a ranger residence that is still in use today. They constructed the road, put up fences and created a water diversion ditch for irrigation. Rattlesnake Springs is an oasis in the desert. It’s filled with cottonwood trees and a beautiful pool of water. It’s a great day use area to hangout and watch the wildlife and it is a vital rest stop for migratory birds. A steady source of water for desert dwellers. Our park contains 357 species of birds and that’s thanks to Rattlesnake Springs.

AM: Brian, I know you are a photographer of sorts and often go down to Rattlesnake Springs. What birds have you seen?

BC: Every time I go there, I end up seeing a new species of bird. Every time I at least see turkeys. So that is kind of the guaranteed bird. But there are all different kinds of birds, you know, different waterfowl, just new birds that I’ve never seen before that I am adding to my list.

AM: I also want to point out that this area is a great place to not only see birds, but if we are lucky enough also porcupines.

BC: That is right.

AM: I know we’ve both had success seeing them up in the trees in the early springtime before the leaves grow back in the cottonwood trees. That is always a fun treat. Going down to Rattlesnake Springs can be a very different and rewarding experience than just walking around the Big Room of Carlsbad Cavern. These are all projects and contributions that visitors to the park today use and frequently ask questions about, so the Civilian Conservation Corps has certainly left a lasting impact on Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But let’s jump ahead a few decades. As much recognition as the CCC gets, Mission 66 is often overlooked. So, I’ll ask you a very similar question. What is Mission 66? And how did it help shape the visitor experience here at this park?

BC: Following WWII, visitation to public lands skyrocketed. In fact, National Park Service visitation rose from 3.5 million visitors in 1931 to 30 million by 1948. An eight and a half percent increase. Many remote parks now became accessible through highways and automobiles. Americans also had more spending money and more leisure time. With this influx of people, something needed to be done for the parks. The NPS would be turning 50 soon, so the idea was to make a ten-year program staring in 1956. The goal was to finish in time for the 50th anniversary of the park service on August 25th, 1966. The government spent $1 billion dollars, or $9 billion dollars in today’s money adjusting for inflation, on Mission 66. Nationwide, we added over 2,000 miles (3,218 kilometers) of new and rebuilt roads. Over 49,000 parking spaces. 936 miles (1,506 kilometers) of trails rebuilt and added. 575 new campgrounds, over 17,000 new campsites built. 743 picnic areas.

AM: Lunch is very important. Got to make sure we get those picnic sites in.

BC: With Mission 66, we also have a modernization of buildings. Many parks received water, sewer and electricity for the first time. Over 1,000 park housing structures, 50 boat marinas were added. 584 new restrooms and 82 new campfire circles and amphitheaters that were built. Here at Carlsbad Caverns we have the Bat Flight Amphitheater that was created which allows visitors to comfortably watch Brazilian free-tailed bats fly out of the cave each summer evening.

AM: Yeah, that amphitheater is very important. There are a few historic photos of the bat flight programs prior to that amphitheater. A lot of visitors jammed into the desert trying to find a comfortable spot to sit. The amphitheater makes that way more convenient, and safer for the resource. Now we are very thankful for that amphitheater.

BC: Definitely. Yeah, it allowed the visitors to not be stepping on the plants. Now that they are all in one area, they are able to see the bats easier. 52 new national parks that were created including our first National Scenic River, Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri. And the first National Recreation Area, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah. One of the biggest features of Mission 66 was the creation of the visitor center. There were 114 different visitor centers built, including our own here at Carlsbad Caverns. Our visitor center was built and opened to the public in 1957. It was one of the earlier projects accomplished. The goal of the visitor center was attempting to combine different functions of an entire park village into a single building for a one stop service unit. This was done to minimize the impact on the environment and make it easier for the visitor. Our visitor center is a combination of a place to eat, a place to shop, a place to look at museum exhibits, a place to enter the cave, and a place for employees and supervisors to have their office.

AM: Would you say that this celebration of the National Park Service and modernization of its visitor facilities mirrored the way Americans used and viewed their public lands in the mid-20th Century? BC: It was, and still is a balancing act. It is our job to protect and to preserve park resources. And yet in order to build buildings and put in structures, you do impact the environment. The goal was to do as little harm as possible, while still allowing for increased visitation.

AM: Also, very convenient places to get your passport stamp.

BC: That is right.

AM: So out of these two national spending programs, brand new visitor center complexes, and an expanded agency with new parks. What are the chances there is a third public works initiative to talk about?

BC: There sure is. Yeah, immediately after Mission 66 ended, Parkscape USA began. AM: Parkscape USA. To me that sounds more like the name for an outdoor amusement park. I’m intrigued. Please share more of your research and knowledge on that.

BC: There were many projects and buildings from Mission 66 that were either in the middle of construction, or some were not completed. New planned projects from Mission 66 had not even been started needed to be worked on. Many parks needed to deal with increasing visitation as well. 1956, the start of Mission 66, annual visitation was 61.6 million people. By the end of Mission 66 in 1966 the total annual visitation had reached 133 million people. So, with more than doubled visitation, and the fact that not every project was completed under Mission 66, Parkscape USA was created. Now there were four main parts to that. Parkscape is basically named for the landscape, the seascape, the riverscape, and the cityscape. Those are the different parkscapes. The goal was to end March 1st, 1972. That end date was picked because that was when Yellowstone National Park would to turn 100. The goal of Parkscape USA was to complete the park system by 1972. This included protecting as many areas of national significance as possible. Parkscape USA did many things including: pushing to develop cooperative programs with other organizations and agencies, utilizing the national park concept to improve life within American cities, communicating the values of park conservation so that citizens would better appreciate their heritage, and learn to be in harmony with our environment by developing an international assistance program by extending assistance to others, and exploring mutually helpful programs with other nations. Parkscape USA also focused on creating more urban parks and instilling conservation values. Under Parkscape USA the National Preservation Act of 1966 was created, this gives a sweeping protection of historic sites including buildings, structures, and archeological sites.

AM: One of the previous parks that I personally worked at before coming here to Carlsbad Caverns was Gateway National Recreation Area which is in New York City. They have a bunch of different sites spread out amongst Queens, Brooklyn, on Staten Island. It was created in 1972 and now that I am kind of reading in-between the lines and know a little more about Parkscape USA, it definitely fits into that initiative of bringing the parks closer to the people in urban centers. It is not a cave, but visitors and listeners to this podcast may be interested to know that the only wildlife refuge managed by the National Park Service does exist right in the middle of New York City, at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Jamaica Bay. But analyzing this list of work done here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in this Parkscape USA era, it does reflect that shift towards conservation. You have at that time developed trails inside the cave are resurfaced, the elevator shaft was sealed with revolving doors to maybe prevent the cave pools from drying out and help maintain that humidity level, and a trained cave rescue team was formed. It was during this period that our park also gained a neighbor?

BC: We did. We gained Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It was created in 1966 and would open to the public in 1972. This park is just 45 minutes away from Carlsbad Caverns. A great place to go hiking. It features Guadalupe Peak, the highest natural peak in Texas. McKittrick Canyon a beautiful trail to hike and see the fall colors. Guadalupe Mountains helps to protect more of the Chihuahuan Desert, a very unique desert.

AM: I am continuously reminded whenever I go hiking down at Guadalupe Mountains how diverse this desert is. I am so used to the shrubs and the barren landscape of the canyons here at Carlsbad Caverns and you go just a little bit down the road, gain a little bit of elevation, and all of a sudden you are in a pine forest in the Guadalupe Mountains. So, a really really rewarding park. It pairs well. You get the best of the Chihuhuan Desert on the surface with the hiking trails, and also down inside of the cave. But I would like to wrap up this conversation by talking briefly about the restrooms inside of Carlsbad Cavern, which may produce a chuckle and it is very good to know that there are indeed restrooms inside of the cave. Having a facility underground inside of a massive cavern is a luxury that I personally do not take for granted. The water supply for Carlsbad Caverns National Park is piped to the top of the escarpment from Rattlesnake Springs, which we just mentioned a little while ago. That infrastructure was first installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. But funding from Mission 66 two decades later allowed for a 1-million-gallon water storage tank to be built here in the desert, and under Parkscape USA, a new sewage treatment system was constructed on the site. Something interesting to think about next time you flush underground. All three public works initiatives we’ve chatted about wrapped into one project. On that note, I do want to say thank you for your time, and research, and enthusiasm. It has been a pleasure talking about bringing the parks to the people.

BC: Yeah. It has been great sharing a little history with you and thanks for having me on the podcast.

[Conclusion Music]

GABE MONTEMAYOR: Hello listeners. Thank you for listening to Three Sources of Light. This podcast is produced by the Interpretation and Education Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Episodes are researched, developed, and hosted by Park Guides Anthony Mazzucco and James Gunn. Today you also heard the voice of Brian Cole. All audio engineering, music, and sound effects are made in house by Park Guide Gabe Montemayor. This episode was recorded in March of 2021. For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park please visit our National Park Service website at Thanks for listening.

Public works projects are necessary to support public parks. Restrooms, amphitheaters, and visitor center facilities are some examples of amenities one can expect to find at a national park in the 21st Century. This episode examines the role workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, Mission 66, and Parkscape USA had in creating this specialized infrastructure. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is known for a unique natural landscape, but its human history is as as abundant as the cave’s speleothems.

Rocky Worlds to Explore


Rocky Worlds to Explore

[Introduction Music]

ANTHONY MAZZUCCO: Hello everyone! Thank you for listening to another recording of Three Sources of Light presented by Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Park Guide Anthony Mazzucco here to introduce today’s astronomical topic of discussion. In addition to being one of over sixty-two designated National Parks in the United States, Carlsbad Caverns is also recognized on a global scale as a World Heritage Site. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes the park the park as quote, “one of the few places in the world where on-going geologic processes are most apparent and rare speleothems continue to form enabling scientists to study geological processes in a virtually undisturbed environment.” The deep solitude of our underground cave network has inspired the curiosity of both visitors and scientists alike. However, in this episode, we are going to stay well above the Earth’s surface. The exploration of rocky worlds need not always be underground. Not everyone can put in the advanced planning and preparation needed to deeply explore a cave. But everyone listening to this podcast can more than likely relate to the following topic of conversation. Have you ever found yourself standing in your own backyard, examining the night sky, transfixed while staring at the stars and the moon? In a moment, you will hear a brief dialogue I had with Park Guide Ross Studlar about the importance of the night sky, and how astronomy is naturally connected to our interpretation of caves. Afterwards, the episode will directly transition into a short story told by Ross which is an adaptation of his full moon interpretive hike. Enjoy!

[Transition Music]

AM: I am thrilled to be joined in studio by my fellow Park Guide, Ross Studlar, a member of the Astronomy Team here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

ROSS STUDLAR: Good to be here Anthony.

AM: Thanks for taking some time this afternoon to chat with our listeners about the night sky. So, let’s start with the Astronomy Team. How long have you been a member, and what role does the team play here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park?

RS: I joined the Astronomy Team in the summer of 2018. We do a variety of night sky educational programs for visitors here. We do moon hikes, and star walks, and we also do star parties. In the star parties, we use a telescope to see distant celestial objects. The star walks and moon hikes focus on what we can see with our naked eyes, or perhaps binoculars. Every night sky program we do, we use a meter to determine how dark our sky is. We have the future goal of Carlsbad Caverns National Park becoming an International Dark Sky Park. We are working step-by-step on the application for that.

AM: Could you describe for us what becoming a dark sky park would mean for Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the future?

RS: Well, it’s a designation determined by the International Dark Sky Association. That association began in 2001 in response to how light pollution can light up the night sky and obscure our views of the stars. Luckily, of all the forms of pollution that humans make, light pollution is the easiest type to control. Effective measures include turning off lights when they are not needed and shielding lights, so they direct their light to the ground instead of up to the sky. So, to be an International Dark Sky Park, we have to show a high level of dedication to the preservation of the night sky through having quality lighting codes and also having dark sky education and citizen support. Carlsbad Caverns is already recognized world-wide for its subterranean wonders as a UNSECO World Heritage Site. If we could become an International Dark Sky Park, then we’d also have international recognition for our night sky. There are International Dark Sky Parks in many parts of the world. South Korea has one. Hungary has one. Some other National Parks have the International Dark Sky Park designation. Those include Great Basin, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Chaco Culture. Notably, in Utah, Antelope Island State Park is an International Dark Sky Park, and that one is right by Salt Lake City.

AM: It is amazing how close dark sky parks are to urban civilizations. It shows how much effort really has been put into combating light pollution in the 21st Century.

RS: Yes, indeed. And to gain the designation of International Dark Sky Park, well even at a park like this it’s a lot of work to inventory and document all our various lights, assess how we can reduce our levels of light pollution, and yes, we are taking on-going bortle ratings of our night sky, seeing if we can get a sky dark enough to qualify. So yes, it is a work in progress.

AM: It fascinates me, growing up in the northeast, working for the National Park Service all along the east coast, I’ve never really experienced a true night sky before coming here to New Mexico and working at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Seeing the stars from the park at night, it is a breath-taking experience.

RS: I too found it astounding, the grand dark sky full of stars that one can view out here in the wild west. Especially in remote locations. But once again, it doesn’t have to be remote locations. If we take more measures to get light pollution under control, we can get some extraordinary night skies in urban environments as well.

AM: Yeah, some exciting news to look forward to in the future here at the park and within your own community. Ross, you touched on it a moment before that Carlsbad Caverns is world renowned for its underground scenery. So, I am curious, how are caves, the moon, this idea of the night sky, how are they all inherently linked?

RS: One notable link between caves and the night sky is sacred darkness. Night is the time for stories. Around a campfire or at a movie theatre, night is the time for stories. It seems intrinsic to how humans are wired. Going back to ancient times, people have attributed great significance to darkness. Darkness is where your true self comes out, or it is where you connect to a higher power. That higher power could be whatever deity you might choose to believe in, or it could be a vast universe with trillions of stars. Either way there is magic to the darkness. Now, some of us in modern times have forgotten about our deep connection to darkness and cast bright lights everywhere we go. So, caves enable us to reconnect with darkness. When I am roving the self-guided tour routes of Carlsbad Caverns, I commonly meet visitors who last visited the cave thirty years ago or seventy years ago. And they tell me about when the ranger turned off the lights and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Out of all the grand features of Carlsbad Cavern, often that is the one thing that people remember above all else. In darkness, light has great value. Whether it is a candle that lights your way, or whether that is the light from the stars or the moon.

AM: It is really cool to make those parallels between these underground chambers and the night sky above us. But expanding our horizons beyond the boundaries of just Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a night sky, that’s something available to all citizens of the world. In what ways does the night sky impact our daily lives?

RS: Biologically, we’re connected to the cycles of night and dark, the sun and the moon. People who have gone on extended caving trips, such as ten-day trips into our famed backcountry cave Lechuguilla Cave, can tell you about how their circadian rhythms changed or are disrupted when they no longer have exposure to the daily cycles of light and dark. That background significance is always present. For most of the time that there were people on Earth, there were no movies, not even any books. The night sky was the movie as big as the universe that comes out every night, told stories about the constellations. But, in addition, it was also a calendar. People knew when it was time to plant, or when it was time to go out and gather certain crops based on the stars. Extreme darkness was a more common experience in ancient times. The moon, as the most luminous thing in the night sky, had great importance. Full moon nights enabled travel, or night hunting, or other activities. Whereas a cloudy night with a new moon, it’s almost as dark as it is in the Queen’s Chamber of Carlsbad Cavern when you turn off the lights. So, although we may not be thinking as much about the night sky and may not be looking to it for information as much on a day-to-day basis in the 21st Century world, our hearts harken back, and we find inspiration from the constellations and from the old stories. I’d also mention newer technologies don’t have to disconnect us from the night sky. They can re-connect us too. There are various star gazing apps available for your phone and I have found they are very useful for helping you learn the constellations.

AM: That idea of darkness, and the light comparing against it, is prevalent in both cave science and astronomy. So, this discussion has me thinking, if cavers are required to bring three sources of light with them underground, how many sources of light does NASA require their astronauts to carry?

RS: Well NASA would have a better answer for that one Anthony. However, a space suit and a space capsule have a remarkable number of tools incorporated into them. A bit like a real-life version of Ironman’s armor and Batman’s batwing. Cavers and astronauts have in common that they both venture into territory where no one has been before. Astronauts face the special challenge of environments that are extreme cold and have extreme heat and no oxygen to breathe.

AM: Alright, and with that, now that we have digressed a little bit into mentioning Batman, I think it is a good time to shift gears. So, without further ado, I present to the audience Ranger Ross in action presenting Rocky Worlds to Explore: The Moon Above Carlsbad Caverns National Park. [Transition Music]

RS: At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we often tell stories about Jim White, a cowboy who explored Carlsbad Cavern in the early 1900’s. He frequently went alone, with only the small flickering flame of a homemade lantern to guide him through the darkness. He journeyed in deep solitude. His light revealed an elegant wilderness of towering stalagmites under a great dome ceiling. White described an unforgettable awe on his first cavern adventure.

I will share a pair of stories, one fiction and the other fact, about exploring a different rocky world. “There is no one among you, my brave colleagues, who has not seen the moon, or at least heard of it,” said Impey Barbicane, Jules Verne’s character in From the Earth to the Moon. The Moon is a prominent feature of the night sky, of this park and your backyard. Do you remember, my listeners, what you thought of the Moon when you were a young child? Did the Moon bring you fear or peace or delight? Did you ever dream of traveling to the Moon?

In the 1860s, in Paris, France, a former stockbroker named Jules Verne found unexpected success in penning adventure novels based on science. These included Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). The latter features an epic caving adventure with the Earth’s core as its destination. Next, this science fiction pioneer turned his attention to the Moon, writing the novels From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and its sequel Around the Moon (1870). Of all speculative stories about lunar voyages, Verne’s stands out as a prophetic feat of scientific imagination.

Verne’s story took place in a peaceful future. Members of the Baltimore Gun Club, devotees of shooting big guns, were frustrated that their favorite sport had lost practical application and become an anachronism. Everything changed when gun club president Impey Barbicane had an idea, that they become the “Columbuses of a new world,” by turning their firepower towards the Moon. He asserted that a cannon of sufficient magnitude can fire a projectile to the Moon, and presented supporting calculations, verified by an astronomer at Cambridge. He led a mission to construct this cannon and its spacecraft projectile. A daring trio of men, including Mr. Barbicane, volunteered to be the crew. They named their ship The Columbiad.

The Columbiad and its crew launched from Florida, in an explosion of firepower. The astronauts experienced weightlessness in space. They reached the Moon in four days. As it turned out, Barbicane’s calculations were not perfect; instead of landing on the Moon, they looped around it, pulled by its gravity. As they flew by the Moon’s surface, they collected all the data they could, including observing rocky craters. The Columbiad returned to the Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Verne envisioned all this during a time of steam engines and oil lamps. Originally written in French, Verne’s lunar adventure was translated to many other languages, and adapted to stage, film, television, radio, and comics.

The real-world quest for the Moon happened in the mid-twentieth century, during the Cold War. In preparation for the Apollo 11 lunar mission, NASA constructed a five-stage Saturn rocket. NASA chose a daring trio of astronauts for the crew. Their names were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. They named their space capsule the Columbia and their lunar lander the Eagle. They planned to take this lander to the Sea of Tranquility, an area of dark volcanic rock, which Moon watchers of past generations had mistaken for a body of water. Interestingly, the volcanic landscape of the Moon contains lava caves, which no human has yet explored.

The Columbia and its crew launched from Florida, in an explosion of firepower. The astronauts experienced weightlessness in space. They reached the Moon in four days.

On July 20, 1969, from a stable orbit 60 miles (96 kilometers) above the Moon’s surface, with Collins at the controls of the Columbia, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the Eagle. Armstrong piloted the Eagle’s descent, with guidance from Aldrin and an onboard computer. Today, even a simple digital watch has a more advanced computer. They flew past immense craters, towards a flat plain.

Armstrong said into his radio, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” He donned his spacesuit and stepped onto the Moon. He said, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the Moon for two and half hours among rocks impressively varied in size and type, under the brilliant light of the sun. They collected all the data they could, including 47 pounds (21 kilograms) of rock, and various photographs and films. Aldrin described the lunar surface as magnificent desolation.

Meanwhile, Collins orbited the Moon fourteen times in the Columbia and spent most of that time preparing for rendezvous with the Eagle. On the far side of the Moon, he had no radio contact with the Earth. He journeyed in deep solitude.

“And we have lost signal as the Apollo goes behind the Moon…”

En-route back to the Earth, with all three astronauts back onboard the Columbia, Armstrong thanked the men and women working at mission control and in research and development, who made the Moon landing possible. He also acknowledged Jules Verne, who had envisioned a lunar voyage very similar to the real one, 100 years before the fact. The Columbia returned to the Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

Seeing the Earth from space deeply affected the Apollo astronauts. They felt a sense of unity with all of humanity and a need to preserve the only habitable planet we have. Collins later said, “Oddly enough, the overriding sensation I got looking at the Earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”

Here at the National Park Service, we strive to preserve and protect America’s great natural and cultural resources unimpaired for future generations. The places in our custody range from the depths of Carlsbad Cavern to the night sky, which stretches over all parks, providing unique views of the Moon and the constellations.

Carlsbad Cavern and the Moon are both rocky worlds to explore. Both contain colossal and awe-inspiring features, sculpted by millions of years of geologic history. Both are harsh places where the explorers’ survival depends on careful planning and proper equipment. And yet both are delicate environments, where footprints from 50 years ago are still visible today. Both cave explorers and lunar explorers represent not only their own curiosity but that of you and me. We all want to know what it’s like on those other worlds, in the sky and underground. When Jim White explored the cave for the first time, could he have dreamed that millions of people would follow in his footsteps through the establishment of Carlsbad Caverns National Park? In contrast, the Apollo astronauts knew that hundreds of millions of people watched them on TV. While few others have physically followed them to the Moon, their voyage brought many forms of knowledge and inspiration back to the people of Earth—that small, fragile world out there in space.

Moreover, caves and the night sky share a rare and precious feature, darkness. Light pollution from artificial lights disrupts the dark sky.

What do you like about the night sky? What stories do you think of when you observe the night sky?

Curiosity begets exploration. By preserving night skies and caves, we preserve places that inspire curiosity.

What can you do to preserve the night sky?

[Conclusion Music]

GABE MONTEMAYOR: Hello listeners. Thank you for listening to Three Sources of Light. This podcast is produced by the Interpretation and Education Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Episodes are researched, developed, and hosted by Park Guides Anthony Mazzucco and James Gunn. Today you also heard the voice of Ross Studlar. All audio engineering, music, and sound effects are made in house by Park Guide Gabe Montemayor. This episode was recorded in August 2020. For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park please visit our National Park Service website at Thanks for listening.

The National Park Service strives to preserve and protect America’s great natural and cultural resources unimpaired for future generations. The places in our custody range from the depths of Carlsbad Cavern to the night sky, which stretches over all parks. Carlsbad Cavern and the Moon are both rocky worlds to explore. Both contain colossal and awe-inspiring features. And both are delicate environments where footprints from 50 years ago are still visible today.

The Feared and Famous Bats of Carlsbad Caverns


The Feared and Famous Bats of Carlsbad Caverns

JAMES GUNN: Good day folks, this is the Three Sources of Light podcast from Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I am James Gunn, joined today by Michael Naumann, one of my fellow Park Guides and a co-worker here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and he's going to talk to us today about bats. But before we get into that, Michael why don't you introduce yourself to us a little bit.

MICHAEL NAUMANN: Thanks for inviting me to participate James. I have a confession to make. I love working for the National Park Service. I love being outdoors, and more importantly I love educating those that want to learn, and I’ve done this since 2016. Over the years I’ve worked at many parks from parks out east to parks west, I’ve traveled throughout the country and as fate would have it, I would come back to a park that I had visited before. I visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park over a decade ago with my dad.

JG: Very nice. I didn't know you'd been here that long ago, what do you remember from that trip?

MN: Well I remember a lot of things, but in regards to the park itself, I remember the Big Room, I remember the elevator, I remember being cold stepping out without a jacket, I remember going on a King's Palace tour and just wondering how Jim White managed to get into the King's Palace area and of course the solid blackness that I experienced on the tour when they turned out the lights.

JG: Did you experience the bats while you were here?

MN: Afraid not. My dad and I by that time were back in our campground at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

JG: Oh, I see, so you abandoned us before the main event.

MN: I didn't anticipate even stopping here when I planned this vacation. I had grand aspirations. We had about a week and a half, two tops. We'd go all the way to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons. But the one thing I didn't plan for was just how big Texas was. I mean I’m a Texan, I love Texas, maybe it's subjective but Texas is the greatest state in the union. I just didn't fathom how long it would take to drive through Texas, half the day max just not the full day.

JG: I think that's a pretty familiar story for any park ranger who has worked in the service for any length of time, the big grand trip that we maybe miscalculate a little bit of time on. Well then Michael if you didn't get to see the bats when you first came here as a visitor what was your first experience with bats at Carlsbad?

MN: My first experience with the bats was as the bat flight rove. When we give the program there's the person who is actually giving the program and then there's the person who's in back. Who is answering questions any visitors might have, giving the rules to those who come late, and ensuring the visitors are following the rules. When the bats come out, I have a front row seat to see them. The amphitheater is strategically placed to be right near the entrance and so when they come out, they come out in big numbers. And it was amazing for me because they're not that big. From wingtip to wingtip they're only 11 inches (28 centimeters) and they weigh 13 grams. And yet because they're so small this cave can fit a large number of bats in it, around half a million in a good year.

JG: While you were watching this big giant cloud of bats fly out what was it that you were thinking about?

MN: I was thinking about what I’d have to say for my program. I was remembering all the facts that I knew about our bats. About how much they ate, around a ton and a half each night, but facts alone don't make a program and it's not very interesting. So, I had to think about the bats and when I began to think about our bats I began to think about Halloween, because, well bats are an intrinsic part of Halloween. When you think of Halloween, we have ghosts, we have vampires, we have bats, and there's a bit of mystery, there's a bit of fear and that's what I sort of got hung up on, fear. Why do we fear the bats?

JG: So now I find this really interesting Michael because when you go to a typical park ranger program about an animal you hear things about how incredible the animal is. Look at how big the elk's rack is, look how amazing the badger in the park is. But you're taking this from a completely different perspective. So why is it that you chose fear as your approach to bats?

MN: It all goes down the rabbit hole that I descended. When I first started thinking of bats, I thought of Halloween, I thought of the mystery the fear and why bats are feared. I immediately looked to vampires and vampire bats. The famed, or infamous depending on your perspective, vampire bats of Central and South America. No vampire bats at Carlsbad Caverns, not to worry. The vampire bat of Central and South America is the only bat species actually called a vampire bat in the common tongue. In any other species the term vampire comes up in its scientific name, its Latin name, but the vampire bats of Central and South America are called vampire bats. So, thinking about vampire bats immediately made me think of the world's most famous and infamous vampire, Dracula. Dracula was the creation of Bram Stoker, who in 1897 published the world's first horror novel Dracula. Bram Stoker got the idea from his novel from Vlad the Impaler. Vlad the Impaler ruled Transylvania. That region, which is in present-day Romania, has a cultural belief in strigoi. Strigoi are undead vampires, but how would you know a strigoi? Well follow the chaos. There would be belief that you might be haunted by strigoi if one of two things happened. First, after an individual has died, a rapid succession of more individuals dies from the same family. Or after an individual has died, another person in the family becomes terribly ill. But that isn't confirmation, just suspicion. Confirmation comes when the villagers disinter the individual who they believe is a strigoi and look for signs of life like blood around the mouth. Because knowledge of decomposition wasn't so advanced, so seeing this individual with blood around their mouth would be all the confirmation they need that this was indeed a strigoi. They had very clear procedures on how to deal with Strigoi. They carve out the heart from the chest cavity, burn it to ashes, take the ashes, dump them in water and make sure the ashes are completely dissolved, and then they have the individuals or individual who is being plagued by strigoi drink the water. That is how a strigoi is dealt with.

JG: So, this is all very interesting Michael but what does any of it have to do with bats?

MN: It has to do with globalization. First contact with the New World came in 1492 with Christopher Columbus. As the Spanish and Portuguese explorers delved deeper into Central and South America, they encountered the vampire bat. Having never before seen a bat species that subsisted on blood alone, it must have terrified them. Because if there is this creature that subsists on blood alone what other creatures might exist? With the cultural diffusion you have ideas that are now coming from the New World and they are moving to the Old World, to Europe, and you begin to see ideas begin to shift. It takes time to reach. However you begin to clearly see a shift in perspective about bats. Now they represent darkness and a bit of evil. Within the Bishop’s Palace of Ville de Quimper, France there is a stained-glass window that depicts humans and demons. The demons are tempting the humans. The only sign that they are not human is that these giant bat wings attached to them. What's interesting to note, is that this palace dates back to around 1507, well after Christopher Columbus made contact with the New World. So, this is sort of the beginnings of diffusions. Then we have witchcraftery. Bats are beginning to be associated with witchcraftery as the centuries go by. A bat circles around a home. The woman inside must be a witch. We will drag her out the next morning and we will burn her as a witch.

JG: Well that seems like a little bit of a strong response. Hopefully things like this aren't still happening today.

MN: Thankfully we've left the witch burnings behind us. However, strigoi are still being found. Three gentlemen, same family, suspected that one of their deceased relatives was a strigoi. And so, they followed proper procedures, and believed that yes, this individual was a strigoi. They promptly did what you do when you have found a strigoi. The most immediate descendant of the individual who had just been desecrated reacted strongly to this, he wasn't happy.

JG: You can see that we're still doing these cultural practices of connecting bats with evil and negativity but, do they deserve this reputation? Are they these tiny little demons we should run for our lives from?

MN: Oh no James. They don't deserve the guano that we throw at them. Our bats, and the bats around the world do so much for us. What they do for us depends upon what they eat. Our bats are insect eating bats and they spread out in a 10-to-25-mile (16-to-40-kilometer) square radius around the park and they support the local farmers in the area by eating all the insects that would devastate their crops and in doing so they protect our food sources. Throughout the country, all the insect eating bats save American farmers four billion dollars a year. That is not an insignificant amount of money. That four billion dollars without those bats would have to be reinvested into pesticide use. Tequila! If you're a fan of tequila, you are a fan of bats. A key ingredient of tequila is agave. Agave plants depend upon bats for pollination and for seed dispersal. Without the bats the agave plant reproduction rate would drop to one three thousandth of a percent which as a consequence would mean tequila prices would increase. Moving to the tropical areas of the globe, in the event of a deforestation as a result of human causes or natural causes, bats are considered a keystone species. Both birds and bats reforest the land. However birds will not fly over that newly cleared land for it represents a security risk for them. They don't want to become prey, food for a bird of prey, and so they will stick to the trees that are surviving. But bats have no fear. They will go right over that newly cleared land and as a result their droppings reseed that cleared area and the forest grow again. These are just a few of the things that bats do for us. So no James, bats are not little demons.

JG: I guess in my mind this asks us one more question then. We've seen how long bats have been connected to darkness and evil. We've seen how even when we understand the benefits they give to us we don't always recognize them. Does this mean that bats are just doomed? Are they always going to be connected with darkness and evil? Or are there other views out there that we can approach them with?

MN: The same way that we connected them to darkness we can also bring them back into the light. Earlier I mentioned the transformation over time. Europeans all of a sudden see bats as Bram Stoker and Dracula. Well that is proof enough that cultural views can change. If our views changed then, they could change now. With the advent of globalization, we have more information at our fingertips than all the previous generations combined. With that wealth of information, we can draw upon the cultural views from around the globe both present and past. In ancient Babylon bats were seen as the souls of dead people. The Chinese consider bats to be symbols of long life and happiness. And the ancient Mayans saw bats as symbols of initiation and rebirth. There is nothing about those cultures that links bats to darkness and perhaps this is the biggest benefit bats can teach us. They can show us that at times we know enough to fear but not enough to dispel. Don't let fear control you, expand your knowledge dispel it.

JG: Fantastic, thank you so much Michael. Thank you very much for coming and talking to us today about bats, it is clearly a topic you have a lot of passion for.

MN: My pleasure James. Thank you for inviting me.

JG: For those of you at home, if this episode has inspired you to learn a little more about bats or maybe try and find a bat outfight program, you are always welcome here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where the bats are flying between the months of April and October. Alternatively, if that trip is not in the cards for you, take a look online. You might be surprised at just how close you can find a bat outfight to your home. Until next time, whether it be pushing leads in your own mind or exploring a karst landscape close to home, happy caving!

GABE MONTEMAYOR: Hello listeners. Thank you for listening to Three Sources of Light. This podcast is produced by the Interpretation and Education Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Episodes are researched, developed, and hosted by Park Guides Anthony Mazzucco and James Gunn. Today you also heard the voice of Michael Naumann. All audio engineering, music, and sound effects are made in house by Park Guide Gabe Montemayor. This episode was recorded in September of 2020. For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park please visit our National Park Service website at Thanks for listening.

The most famous of Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s wildlife are bats. They pollinate, eat insects, use echolocation, and fascinate visitors with evening flights out of the cavern. Despite these positive contributions, bats have long been the subject of fearful myths and folklore. Listen to learn about the relationship between Dracula and the Bat Cave of Carlsbad Cavern.

Carlsbad Cavern Underground National Register Nomination


Carlsbad Cavern Underground National Register Nomination

[Introduction Music]

ANTHONY MAZZUCCO: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Three Sources of Light, presented by Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Park Guide Anthony Mazzucco in studio with you today. Any in-person visit to a National Park Service site is typically supplemented by an interaction with a Park Ranger, whether that be through a guided tour, registering for a campsite, or just gathering information at the visitor center. However, many different divisions do exist among the National Park Service’s workforce. A lot of really important projects are completed beyond the eyes of the visiting public.

This work often extends past the official boundaries of our parks, scenic vistas, and historic sites. The National Park Service also oversees the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of United States’ historic places deemed worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect historic and archaeological resources. Chances are, out of the 95,000 properties listed in the National Register, one of them exists within your own local community.

In September of 2020, I was able to sit down with Carlsbad Caverns National Park intern Ellery Stritzinger to chat more about opportunities for internships with the National Park Service and her work towards completing a National Register nomination form for the Carlsbad Cavern underground.


[Transition Music]

AM: So, this conversation is going to be an opportunity to highlight a really amazing project that has been going on here, in the summer of 2020, at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At this point I am proud to introduce my colleague Ellery Stritzinger.


AM: Ellery, how are you today?

ES: I’m great. I am working hard. I am wrapping up the task that we will be talking about.

AM: If you do not mind giving our listeners a little insight as to what your title is, maybe how long you have been here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and then some of your previous park service experience.

ES: My name is Ellery and I’m the Cultural Resource Intern here and I’ve been in that position for nine and a bit weeks. I’ll be wrapping it up at ten weeks. It is a short-term internship. I’ve been living and working here in the park. My most recent park that I was working at was in Sitka, Alaska. I was working at Sitka National Historical Park. I was working there as a Museum Collections Intern, also in Cultural Resources. Here it is a bit more of a broader job, a broader role. I have been hired specifically to work on the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the Carlsbad Cavern Underground.

AM: If you do not mind telling the folks here exactly what the National Register nomination means?

ES: It is a form that is made by the park service and you don’t have to be within the park service to fill it out. It is open to the public and accessible online. Usually as a task that is done through your State Historic Preservation Office, SHPO. It can have a variety of uses for people, but a lot of private property owners are interested in validating the historic integrity of where they live, or a place that they work, or a place that is important to them.

There are hundreds of sites, districts, buildings, objects that are submitted to a National Register nomination each year. It is not a competitive process, but it is a research-intensive process. As a newcomer to this park and as a general newcomer to the park service it is a really great way to get to know a place or a site and it does require some investigation into primary sources. The point is to make an argument for the integrity and historical significance whether that be national, statewide, or local and make that case to your state historic preservation office.

AM: Yeah, I am really excited to see this type of work being done here at the park. As a trained historian myself, sometimes I do feel out of place talking about a giant hole in the ground, some rocks underground, I am by no means a geologist. That historic significance, those cultural stories, certainly do exist and that is something we are going to dive into a little bit in just a moment. I do want to point out to everyone, in doing a little bit of research in preparation for this conversation, just about 90,000 different sites exist within the National Register. And so, you have buildings, caves, infrastructure inside of caves, historic landmarks that exist within these iconic national parks, but sites probably exist within your own hometown. Some buildings, districts, local communities.

ES: Oh sure. Yeah, if you can make a case for it, you’ve got the time, and the inclination towards information then this could be a good way for you to spend your time.

AM: Yeah, a great way to connect these stories that are told in national parks and extend it all the way to your own local community. But I do want to ask before we dive into some of the specifics here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, what is the benefit of having something registered?

ES: What is important to know is getting a National Register nomination, well certainly does not get you any money. It doesn’t get you a plaque. That is something you have to purchase separately. It is interesting because I was actually, yeah, I was on the site yesterday and I and I was looking at a brochure that they made for it and they had testimony of people sort of in the way that you would with any kind of service of people saying that their historic nomination helped them sell their house, or helped them feel more connected to their family, or to their family’s history, or to the place that they live. There’s a dignity to having your site recognized by the National Park Service. That is cool.

AM: Our reach as employees of the National Park Service, as owners of these national sites, extend far beyond park boundaries. I think this register nomination is a great way to highlight some of that work that happens outside of the boundaries of the national parks.

ES: And for this park itself, so obviously we are not a private entity. This wasn’t my idea to do this form. I was hired to do it. I think that the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office requested it of the park. We’re also in the process of doing a Cultural Landscape Inventory for the park. So, two forms do kind of go in conjunction with each other.

AM: It is awesome that as an intern and as a temporary employee of the park, you mentioned you have only been here for nine-ish or so weeks, that you have this power and influence to help construct this document and really leave a lasting impact.

ES: I could in a sense personalize this document in a way that would make sense to me, and I was using a lot of documents from other caves or national parks that had done nominations, as well as using the Cultural Landscape Inventory for this park as models and guides. I’ve been reaching out to other staff and kind of taking a more, a direction that seemed more suited towards the significance that was relevant to what I was observing being a resident here in the park and interacting with other staff. It has become a lot more fun recently, and I have been a lot more, I guess I would say, just empowered to kind of put some personality into this, because, of course what I am writing about is people and the decisions they’ve made and the intentions behind those decisions. It has made a lot of sense to have this be a more social, and specifically collaborative, project with other staff.

AM: Yeah, in essence you are telling the story of this park. Something that I myself as an interpreter, the coworkers that you have been getting some feedback from on this project, we are interpreters. We work with the public and give these formal programs. Something that stands out to me as you walk through your answer right there, but as an intern you are able to live at the park, live inside of these historic structures, so in a lot of ways are better positioned to tell the story of the historic landscape.

ES: And that is part of what I have really enjoyed about working with the park service. That was the same with the last park I was working at. I was living in park housing. It is just immersive and all-consuming in a way that I’ve been interested in living where I work. I’ve been liking that a lot. Yeah, the housing is cool. I see the escarpment. Oh, there was a ringtail on my balcony last night. I also saw two little deer in my yard. Yeah, living in a national park is awesome.

AM: To paint a little bit of a picture for the visitors here, the buildings that interns and other staff do live or work in at the national park here at Carlsbad Caverns, they are situated a little bit up on top of a hill. So, they do have a nice overlook of the Guadalupe Mountain range, right in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert just above the natural entrance of the cave, so you do get to experience the sunsets, the dark sky, but also the wildlife. We can’t talk about the wildlife here at Carlsbad Caverns without mentioning the bats. The area that you live is a perfect spot to witness the evening bat flight that has made Carlsbad Caverns a little famous.

ES: I am tremendously close, distance wise, to the bats and that knowledge is also nice.

AM: Yeah, it is these little things that make these jobs so unique. But we’ll get back to talking more about the National Register Nomination here at Carlsbad Caverns. If I understand it correctly from our previous conversations, this form that you are writing is separated into two distinct parts?

ES: I think maybe there are nine numbers but the first three are pretty, you know, straight forward. Name, location, whether it is national, statewide, or local. There’s a narrative statement, which is an introduction to the property and an introduction to the site. The way that this works, is that you have a period of significance that you have to define. As in, the time that you are arguing that your site has the most integrity. As a general rule of thumb, across any kind of history realm, that is likely going to be before 50 years ago. So, at some point before 50 years ago, you are making the argument that something important happened that had resonance within the region. To do that, you have to say what aspects of that property or that site are, and the term that is used is contributing to that significance, and so these are called contributing features. You will walk the reader through those features of the park that are contributing to the significance of the site. Most important is to do the contributing features, but then it is also encouraged and expected that you are also going to be talking about features within the site that are non-contributing and justifying why you made that decision. AM: In doing some previous research on the park itself, preparing for programs, I understand it correctly that a similar nomination was completed just a few years ago for the structures on the surface. Does that also include the amphitheater, the bat flight amphitheater?

ES: You know that is a great question because the amphitheater is right on the edge of the Carlsbad Historic District, which is this above ground area you are mentioning, all these buildings. The Carlsbad Underground, which is what I am working on, and where those two… The fine line that has been decided by the historic district is that its border is four switchbacks in the natural entrance. Which is kind of the argument that is made, after you go four switchbacks in you go underground. The bat flight amphitheater is not in my nomination. It is in the other nomination form and four switchbacks down from that is where I start. It does ask this, there are two overlapping features that are in both nominations. Do you have any guess what those would be?

AM: I’m drawing a blank right now.

ES: Trivia.

AM: Yeah you tricked me. Classic game of stump the ranger.

ES: That is what I have come here to do. It is the natural entrance itself, because of those four switchbacks I am also talking about it. And then about four switchbacks in, it’s arguably the borderline, is that pictograph that is right in that upper right-hand corner when you look up. I know you know what I am talking about.

AM: Absolutely.

ES: That pictograph is also on the historic site nomination. Also, there is a boundary justification happening within the site and so when you are doing any kind of nomination, or historic preservation, or specifically dealing with archaeology, it’s necessary to be strict about what the boundary is that you are working with. That is a feature of the nomination form. So, the boundary starts four switchbacks, four out of thirteen in, so more in the underground in and then continues down the Main Corridor to the Big Room so it follows the whole main route of the cavern. Then also includes the lunchroom.

The trails have changed quite a bit. And there is a lot of record of that when you go through the cave and a lot of visitors will notice that there are several trails that are closed off. Some of them will resemble the modern trail that we are walking on, some of them will look a lot older. Yeah, trails have been made in the cave as early as exploration has been happening in the cave. There’s been worn areas just from accidental trails, but then intentional trails and public guided trails have really started. For the most part, since the fifties the main trail has not changed all that much. Part of the understanding of the cave’s history is knowing that people tried a lot of different stuff to get around these features and to do it safely and efficiently, and to try and get a ton of people in there. There are elevators in there. There’s been a parking lot, I don’t know if you know this, proposed in the cave. A lot of imagining and a lot of what I would say hard decisions to be made about what’s the best way to get people into the cave and do it safely. The evidence of that is all over the cave. There are few named, or known, or well-worn features that are included as their own contributing features. And then I also have a collective catch all for inactive trails that are either not named, are not used, are not talked about or known about. It’s frankly just not worth the effort to do them one-by-one because they are not individual trails, they are all overlapping each other. I do reference a place where, if you’d like more detailed information you can refer to the Cultural Landscape Inventory and the man who did that made a great map.

AM: It is important to distinguish here that National Register nominations are meant to be accessed by the general public. There are other reports, projects that have been done, that are more curtailed to some of these finer tuned details. Oftentimes when I am talking to visitors and I am trying to explain the layering of this cave I use the analogy cave lasagna.

ES: Oh cool.

AM: So, I think it would be appropriate, in terms of talking about the trails, to reference it, in this case maybe as cave spaghetti. It seems like a lot of your focus, in talking about the trail work, curtails a little bit to the visitor experience inside of the cave.

ES: The reason that humans are having strange, or positive, or challenging experiences cannot be separated from the way the cave was formed and why that makes the cave different from other caves. It is really so much just related to the rocks that are here. I would say I’ve had a growing appreciation for geology just by doing this. And I think that, just in the relevance of it, the way that I am moving this nomination is that the conservation efforts and the visitor experience, what I would genuinely describe as a sense of awe, is intrinsically related to any kind of conservation of the cave. So, because people feel something special in the cave, there’s greater conservation efforts happening for this cave and caves all over the world.

AM: That’s a really great point and I think a good transition period in our conversation here. Tracking the historic infrastructure that exists underground through nominations such as this allows park service folks to better understand the cave within the entity of itself, but also in context to other caves that exist, whether or not that is in the realm of National Park Service management or even those that are privately owned.

ES: Yeah, and I think that has probably been my biggest shift in focus from the Cultural Landscape Inventory. Something that has just become apparent living and working here is that Carlsbad Cavern, and the Carlsbad Cavern Underground, its significance cannot be accurately stated.

AM: It is completely subjective.

ES: Well you can’t talk about it without talking about other caves is the thing.

AM: Sure.

ES: That’s kind of the point of it. You cannot talk about Carlsbad Caverns without talking about other caves and its effect on it and their relationships with each other, and exchange of staff, and exchange of information. And also, specific comparisons to other caves. It has been happening since the early tours of Carlsbad, people have been thinking that it looks a little better than Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. People are thinking that it is shorter than Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. And other caves across the country have been justifying their existence or being dethroned from their status as national monument or national park because they are not as cool as Carlsbad Caverns.

It is so important with the way that it fits into the national park story and its status as… and that was in the early days too, when this was just discovered by European-Americans, that’s what people were saying. It is as cool as Grand Canyon. It was a source of context for the cave and a way to encourage people to come. All caves are unique, but maybe Carlsbad Caverns is the most beautiful, most unique. And so, I was talking to another ranger today who has worked at Oregon Caves and who has worked at a cave in Alaska, he was working at El Capitan Cave in Alaska, and he was saying I got so tired of hearing about Carlsbad Caverns. I think that has got to be across the board with any cave park. It comes up every day, people are asking how it compares to it because, yeah Carlsbad Cavern is an insane cave, and if you’ve seen it and that is your expectation of caves… That is the argument. Carlsbad Caverns’ significance is its influence on caves within the park, on research for caves, on cave recreation.

AM: I think something that is interesting, that you touched on just a moment ago, is that idea of recreational caving. We can definitely talk about that in comparison to show caves. Carlsbad Cavern, with the self-guided routes within the cave that a visitor can access, all these trails and tour routes that you are tracking, it certainly has an impact on how Carlsbad is perceived and how the caving community perceives this place.

ES: The conclusion of what I talk about is that recreational caving is an integral part of the conservation of Carlsbad Caverns, and actually that, even though recreational caving is known, and kind of rightfully known, its exclusive, private, and there is a lot of interest in exploring places that have never been seen by man, as one staff put it. The question I had, why would recreational cavers care about one of the most stomped around places in the country? Why does it still have that appeal? The answers I’ve gotten to that question have been it allows for the exposure of these caves and the awareness and education to the public allows for appreciation of other caves. It does take a caver’s enthusiasm to instill in a person that caves are precious and are important and learning about them is important. That sort of feeling that cavers are going after is something that anyone can experience, even just doing a guided tour on a trail in a lit cave that has a bathroom, and that has lunch, and has an elevator that will take you up. There is still possibility for that appreciation. The second part of that, which is the point being made, is because of Carlsbad Cavern’s size and because of where it is located and how it was formed, there is also cave to be explored. And so, it is described as pushing the cave and pushing the boundary of it. That is still happening at Carlsbad Caverns. Regular requests for studies and surveys of the cave, and that is not the case at a lot of other show caves or big national parks just because of the structures of them and a variety of reasons. There still is that spirit of exploration here that keeps cavers really interested and wanting to be involved, potentially wanting to work here, or volunteer here, or you know, survey here.

AM: Our park here at Carlsbad Caverns is really the best of both worlds where you can come with your family and comfortably enjoy a few hours underground and come back to the surface in time to have lunch or go for a hike at Guadalupe Mountains National Park down the road. A day in the life of a ranger at Carlsbad, three hours ago I was 750 feet (228 meters) underground chatting with a visitor in front of a stalagmite that was 60 feet tall (18 meters), and now here I am in our park library chatting with you, but I was talking with this visitor about the fact that we have this developed tour route and they are able to comfortably walk around with electric lighting, but just beyond that wall, or just below our feet, there could be a brand new cave that has yet to be discovered. I think a great way to highlight that contrast is that you have world renowned Carlsbad Cavern, a developed show cave, within the park boundaries we have Lechuguilla Cave. Which is also world renowned but for very different reasons. Just this year, surveyors eclipsed 150 miles (241 kilometers) of explored passageway, making it, as of September 2020, the eighth longest cave in the world. The nomination that you are working on right now is currently focused entirely on Carlsbad Cavern. Is there any plan in the future that you know of to extend that to the other 119 plus caves that exist within our park boundaries?

ES: Well no, because something that the nomination is really focusing on is that human infrastructure which is so prominent and longstanding here at Carlsbad which you don’t have intentionally in these other caves at the park. I don’t foresee, well no one foresees, mark my words, no one will ever put a trail or a bathroom into Lechuguilla Cave and because of that there will not be a historic register nomination for it. Because really what I am talking about, and what I am focusing on, are these intentional man-made spaces in a natural environment.

AM: That is a really good summary for the entirety of your work here at the park and it also reflects the mission statement of the National Park Service, to both protect and preserve these places unimpaired, which is what is going on inside of Lechuguilla Cave, but also to make them available to the public land owners of the United States, which is what we have inside the Big Room of Carlsbad Cavern.

ES: Doing this here does lead to greater conservation in other places and that matters.

AM: So, Ellery, in conclusion here, I do have two questions to pose to you. The first, being that you have only been here for nine or so weeks, I am curious as to what your first impressions and or most memorable experience here at Carlsbad Caverns has been? And the second question, you are a temporary employee of the park, so I am wondering what is next for yourself in this National Park Service journey?

ES: What has been memorable, and what has really helped me with this is that I’ve been going into caves. I’ve been doing it semi-frequently, like every few weeks, I do go into a cave and I do like it a lot. I enjoy it and it is fun and that’s been awesome. Yeah, I got to go into a few of the backcountry caves here and then this past week I got to do a couple of the tours within the cave with some of the staff. It is such a great way to move around within a place and I really like the compact rock and the crawling and the real physicality of it is really fun. So that’s been awesome.

AM: The closer you get to the Earth, the slower you have to move through it. You definitely feel way more connected to your surroundings.

ES: Three parts on the wall, on something at all times. That’s the rule.

AM: Sure is. As is three sources of light, the namesake of this podcast.

ES: Oh, is that what it is called?

AM: It sure is, yup!

ES: Aw that is sweet. Oh, and what is next for me? I don’t know. I mean I do like working for the park service. I mean I am really interested in having a job that is outdoors and really kind of movement oriented. I am interested in working in historic preservation somewhat and doing masonry or carpentry and do like a short term or a season with that in the park service because the park service has good opportunities to get experience in those things.

AM: Well I can certainly appreciate that. Ellery, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you on Three Sources of Light today.

ES: Thank you for inviting me. I feel really appreciated.

AM: Thank you for your time, I know you have a lot to work on this week finishing up the nomination. But from Sitka, Alaska to Carlsbad, New Mexico to wherever it is that your future journey takes you, I hope the listeners here can hear in your voice your passion and enthusiasm for this nomination and help putting Carlsbad Caverns maybe a little bit more on the map.

ES: Alright, well thanks!

[Conclusion Music]

GABE MONTEMAYOR: Hello listeners. Thank you for listening to Three Sources of Light. This podcast is produced by the Interpretation and Education Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Episodes are researched, developed, and hosted by Park Guides Anthony Mazzucco and James Gunn. Today you also heard the voice of Ellery Stritzinger. All audio engineering, music, and sound effects are made in house by Park Guide Gabe Montemayor. This episode was recorded in September of 2020. For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park please visit our National Park Service website at Thanks for listening.

The National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources. At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, these resources exist both above and below the surface. For more information about the National Register of Historic Places please visit

International Year of Caves and Karst


International Year of Caves and Karst

JAMES GUNN: Good day folks. This is James Gunn.

ANTHONY MAZZUCCO: And I am Anthony Mazzucco.

JG: Park guides here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. And we are bringing you the inaugural episode of the Three Sources of Light Podcast.

AM: Hey James, my notebook says we have a reason to celebrate.

JG: Do we?

AM: By the time the listeners hear this episode, it’ll officially be the International Year of Caves and Karst.

JG: Well that sounds like a whole lot of words I don’t know the meaning of.

AM: Well it’s funny that you say that. Fortunately, we have our colleague Dan Pawlak here to explain exactly what all those words mean.

JG: It sounds like we have an exciting episode coming up.

AM: What better way to launch this new podcast series. So sit back.

JG: Relax.

AM: And find out how you can experience the International Year of Caves and Karst.

JG: Whether that be from a cave park like Carlsbad Caverns.

AM: Or your own backyard.

[Transition Music]

AM: It is my absolute pleasure to introduce the very first guest on the Three Sources of Light podcast, my colleague Park Guide Dan Pawlak.


AM: Great to have you in studio here today to be talking about the International Year of Caves and Karst. Before we dive into that discussion a little bit, I think it would be beneficial to talk about your own background in caves and with the National Park Service.

DP: So, I’m Dan Pawlak. I became permanent here at Carlsbad Caverns. This is the fourth cave that I’ve worked at with the Federal Government. I started as an intern in college at Oregon Caves National Monument. I eventually became a seasonal there and worked there for two years. Before that though, I was also at El Capitan Cave which is in Southeast Alaska with the United States Forest Service. In between Oregon Caves and here I worked at the Grand Canyon, but sandwiched in-between all of that for different seasons was Mammoth Cave National Park. So, I’ve worked and lived across the country just with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service and seen a good cross-section of what is underneath the Earth, overall.

AM: Completely different experience than I have with caves. Carlsbad Caverns, as the listeners will quickly learn as we start to release more episodes of the Three Sources of Light podcast, this is the very first cave park that I have worked at. You have a very very different experience with them. So, I am curious as to what your first impressions of Carlsbad Caverns were, or if you’ve had any experience before you became an employee here and how that kind of compares to some of the other parks you’ve worked at. [Dan laughing]

DP: Oh, this is a loaded question. As actually you and James can attest that I am probably the guy on staff that has kind of been on the cave crusade. That all caves are completely different and unique. There is no one best cave. And that kind of plays into my first impression of Carlsbad Caverns. So, what I’m getting at is when I used to work at other caves everyone before a tour would start like, “Have you been to Carlsbad? You should go to Carlsbad. Is this going to be like Carlsbad?” And I got to the point where I don’t want to talk about Carlsbad. We are going to talk about Mammoth Cave, we’re talking about El Cap today, we are talking about Oregon Caves. So, I was fed up with Carlsbad. But then I came down here as a visitor, and I walked down the Natural Entrance, and I was like, “Oh I get it. I fully understand what people have been talking about for years”. And the immense size of the passageways, coupled with formations that will make trees look small, and the diversity of the formations that are here, and the quantity. It really is a standout place and it is a completely unique experience.

JG: Alright Dan, so this is going to be released in the International Year of Caves and Karst but what the heck do those words mean?

DP: [laughing] International Year of Caves and Karst is a big program. What those words actually mean is drawing attention to caves and karst as whole for the entire year of 2021 on an international scale. And if you are unfamiliar with what karst is, everyone knows what caves are, holes in the ground that people go inside of. They could be large, they could be small, they could go for a long way, there is typically a dark zone. However, there is no really standard definition. But people are familiar with the idea of caves as a whole. But karst, that is k-a-r-s-t, is a type of landscape that is typically underlain by limestone. Which then typically has like sinkholes and other features that form gigantic stone cliffs that are pockmarked all over the place, and water is able to move through it very efficiently. So, there is a lot of hydrology involved with this as well. Karst is important because karst landscapes are where caves form.

JG: So, when you use that term karst landscape, what are some of the classic examples that people might know of as being karst landscapes.

DP: The two biggies that come to mind are us here at Carlsbad, we’ve got huge limestone cliffs with holes all over the place, a lot of limestone breakdown out in the canyons. A good example for a counterpart to that, where we have a nice desert here, you can go to a completely different environment which is Mammoth Cave National Park, and they’ve got the sinkhole plain. There is a lot of limestone underneath the surface there, which is dissolved away and creates sinkholes all over the place. One of the best examples of this that people might be familiar with is years ago there was national news about the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green being on top of a sinkhole and swallowed up eight priceless corvettes in one of their showrooms. [laughing] It was really sad to watch in the car world but really fun to watch for cavers. But that whole landscape is full of holes into the Earth either in the form of sinkhole or cave entrances, but they don’t have the huge limestone cliffs that the Chihuhuan Desert has which is where Carlsbad is located.

AM: I’m going to go ahead and take a shot in the dark here and guess that some of those insurance policies on those corvettes maybe didn’t cover sinkholes or cave related incidents?

DP: Umm I can’t remember what that was, but only one of the cars, maybe two, was actually restored. We are talking like one-off corvettes, like the millionth corvette off the line. I like cars and it hurt. [laughing]

AM: So now that we have corvettes, at least in Kentucky, being a symbol of some of the caves that may exist there, I’m just curious on these two words, you have caves and karst, and now that we have a little bit of a definition about what each one of those terms means to the caving community, I’m just wondering if there’s any clear international status of clear cut definition for what can be considered a cave and or a karst feature?

DP: For a karst feature, it gets a little bit different for caves, but for a karst feature, sinkholes are thrown in there. A cave is a karst feature as well. So, you have karst, which is the overlying word, but underneath that in definitions of what is a feature of it is going to be caves as well. Sinkholes are thrown into that. Swallets, what we actually have out here in the basin in front of the park itself where all the oil drilling is going on in the gypsum flats. There are holes that just lead down into the subterranean where water is funneled into. So, a swallet could be the size of a fist or it could be like 10 feet (3 meters) across, a major depression where Earth has been moved underneath. So those are the types of features that we are seeing. For us we see remnants of sponge-work almost up on the surface, where the limestone is pockmarked all over the place, holes that you could stick your head inside of that don’t go anywhere. But these are features of karst that have a lot of dissolution, a lot of water moving through using carbonic acid has eroded these features away and given it that pockmarked landscape look. Over on the eastern side of the United States it is more covered up, but because there is a lot more vegetation than what we have here. So that is where you get a lot of your sinkholes, you get some limestone cliffs with holes in them from some dissolution, but not like what we see out here. And they just have smaller cave entrances, typically.

AM: So here in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico we are dealing almost entirely in limestone formations here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but at other national park sites in the State of New Mexico you can find lava tubes and ice caves as well.

DP: Yeah.

AM: So, I am just wondering how that fits into this overall feature of a karst landscape?

DP: This is where it gets a little tricky. We do have lava tubes in the State of New Mexico, classically El Malpais National Monument. You’ve got tons of lava tubes, that is what the park is known for all over. They can be considered a type of cave. Now around that area there are lava tubes with ice inside of them. That is because the air there is in a cold sink and once moisture gets in, it is cold enough to actually keep that ice year-round. And that is also seen up in Northern California at Lava Beds National Monument and you also have Craters of the Moon as well in Idaho. So, they are famous for lava tubes which are to be considered caves overall. Some do have ice inside of them, but that is also dependent on their airflow. And they are going to be celebrated in the International Year of Cave and Karst as well. So, they do fit into this. However, they actually fall into a different category. Since it’s not an underlying bedrock of limestone, it’s volcanic rock, it can’t truly be called karst. Which is getting really nitpicky. But that textbook definition basically applies to limestone for karst. So, what we have for lava tubes with ice inside of them, and what we have for ice caves, like actual caves made of ice inside glaciers, and we have talus caves which are gigantic boulders that have fallen at the base of mountains or the base of cliffs that can have passageways inside of them but not have a dark zone, they fall into the category of pseudo-karst. So, fake karst. That is how they all fit into the picture. But they are being celebrated for the international year.

JG: Okay, so let me make sure I’ve got this all straight. There is karst, which is in-general limestone, but it is the landscape formation that caves form in. You’ve got caves, which are generally something you can fit into and probably have a dark zone. A dark zone, of course, being a place where there is no natural light visible.

DP: Yes. The dark zone isn’t always needed. Per example, in Carlsbad Caverns National Park we have Goat Cave. It is like a 1,000-foot (305 meters) passageway. It is a cave, but you get to the back and there really isn’t a true dark zone even though it is still considered to be a cave. It gets very dark, but it is not completely dark. You’d still see your hand in front of your face.

JG: You also have other types of caves like lava tubes, and ice caves in a glacier, and talus slopes that would be considered caves but are pseudo-karst because it is not limestone.

DP: Correct, yes. Our typical idea of a cave is what forms inside of limestone. The public might not think of it in ways, like only caves form inside of limestone. That is not true, we have other caves. But the general idea of a cave is a limestone cave.

JG: In that case, how likely is the average person to be interacting with some kind of cave and or karst feature?

DP: Honestly, pretty darn likely. And there are many ways in which people can interact with this. But the reason I say likely is because twenty percent of the landscape across the entire world is made up of karst, and then had karst features inside of it. The biggest way in which people interact with it is going to be hydrology. It is going to be water, groundwater especially. So, for example, out in the sinkhole plain which is in Kentucky, there are great pictures, aerial photos of the sinkhole plain. The whole area just looks like the surface of a golf ball, just divets all over the place. Those are all sinkholes that are going straight down into the aquifer. So, one of the biggest ways in which people interact with this is by pulling their own drinking water. It is all being pulled from one area, and it can be easily polluted. That is the biggest thing to take into consideration. So, you have clean drinking water because everyone tries to enact good protocols for not creating spills. But, if a spill does happen, especially out in that sinkhole plain, then that pollutant could actually get into the aquifer and into the drinking water supply within days. If there is a rain it could even be hours depending on how fast that piping underneath the Earth is, that natural piping, by moving water and carbonic acid has created. I’m from Minnesota, we’ve got limestone all over the place. We’ve got water moving inside the Earth all over, and we’ve got hard water. So that means we’ve got a lot of calcite. I grew up drinking karst water.

AM: A good way to help make that a little more relatable to the listeners at home, a lot of us have experience with hard water. That same process in which you get that calcium buildup on your kitchen sink or on your shower head, seems to be very similar to the process which creates the self-decorations inside of a cave.

DP: Oh yeah, that’s it. Basically yeah. So, the same way in which a hard water buildup is on your sink, that’s basically the process in which a cave formation is created inside the Earth itself.

AM: What are some other ways, some other techniques in which the public does interact with caves or the education that does come from these cave and karst landscapes?

DP: You could easily get into bats. Carlsbad is most famous for our bats that fly out every single night during the summertime. They do migrate so they are not here right now, when we are recording this. The caves are the homes for them. This is a little more indirect, but it is the bats that roost in the caves who come out every night and then consume all the insects that harm crops or that want to bite us. A lot of people think that bats just each mosquito. No, the bats around her eat beetles and moths. Stuff that will go after our agriculture. So, on average, farmers are saved like $3.7 billion dollars or more just in the United States on pesticides, and that is all due to the availability of holes in the ground created by nature that can then host all these critters that can save us money with farmers and also at the grocery store as well. We can even go further, because there is research, even inside this park, on cancer research due to caves. We’ve got Lechuguilla Cave, which is a world-famous cave. It is 150 miles (240 kilometers) long, one of the top ten longest in the world. Visitors do not go inside of it because it is only reserved for exploration and research. The bacteria down there, the light, the organisms are showing promising results for finding cures for cancer. Hopefully in the next twenty years or so, whatever the research is going to take, people will be able to live a much better life, who have ever been diagnosed with cancer, and be cured, and have caves to thank because they’ve hosted the organisms that have evolved in such a harsh environment that we were then able to then study them and see why they’ve evolved and apply it to us.

JG: So, given all these various ways that people are interacting in cave and karst elements in some way or another, how different do you think life would be if we didn’t have these cave and karst features here?

DP: I would say very different. Very different. Caves have provided shelter. There is that classical idea of a caveman living inside of a cave. Which is completely romanticized and wrong. Evidence shows that people used caves as shelters but not as a permanent home. We would not have some of the knowledge that we have today if it was not for caves as a whole, for human society but also for intellectual knowledge as well. Caves are one gigantic time capsule. What is inside of them is pure data. You can sample soil, you can sample a formation and take all of that and analyze what the Earth has been like in the past two hundred and fifty thousand years, however old the formation is, or however far back the pollen will go that is inside of the soil itself. Which then gives us an idea of how humans lived in this particular location and how things will actually happen in the future climate wise. Because, Earth is just one gigantic thermometer that repeats itself over and over. It is not only helping to shape the past, but caves can allow us to shape the future, or look at the future as well, to see what is actually coming up. When is the next ice age going to happen? Because that type of data is stored inside of caves and we can figure out well are we on the right track or are we not on the right track? How many years off is this? What is going to happen? What will this landscape look like in another fifty thousand years? That is the type of data that caves can give us. It has made us who we are today, and it is helping us to look into the future as well.

JG: Are these the type of things that the International Year of Caves and Karst is trying to celebrate?

DP: International Year of Caves and Karst is taking this and more. What we have talked about with looking at hydrology, looking at bats, looking at the cure for cancer potentially, looking at the studies that are just being done as a whole, and studying weird life as well. We are talking eyeless crawdads, shrimp, and fish. That is just strange things that live down inside of the Earth. There are all sorts of things like that. That is what is being highlighted by the international year. The International Year of Caves and Karst is highlighting that, but they are using people’s curiosity, trying to provoke interest into see what is out there and teaching what is out there. What can you learn? How do we impact it? And how can you explore it? It is all nestled into the theme of the International Year of Caves and Karst, which is learn, explore, protect. You learn about it. You want to explore it. And you want to protect it. The more you see it, the more you are involved with it, the more protection that will go into it. A lot of this is directed at the younger generations. The payoffs aren’t going to be seen in 2022 necessarily. The payoffs of the international year on a global scale are going to be seen like thirty years down the road when people our age listen to this podcast or that listen to whatever is happening this year and get inspired by everything being done. All the work that is being put into exploring caves, relaying that information. They think that is pretty cool too. I can get into this and help protect places, maybe on a local level, maybe on a national level, maybe on an international level.

JG: Well I am going to back us up a little bit here because, as our listeners will figure out very quickly, I love a difficult question that maybe does not have an answer. So, let’s go back to this idea…

DP: Oh, I’m excited.

JG: … of exploring versus protection. One of the things we talk about here in Carlsbad all the time is don’t touch the cave, it’s going to break, it is going to damage it, your oils will be left behind. This has to also apply to cavers going into caves in other places.

DP: Yeah.

JG: How do you balance these two goals?

DP: Okay, this is a big question. If we use any major cave park in the United States, that could be Carlsbad, that could be Wind Cave, that could be Jewel Cave, that could be Mammoth Cave National Park. We’ll throw in even El Malpais, Craters of the Moon, Lava Beds, Timpanogos, and Great Basin has Lehman Caves. They all have one or two particular caves that they focus visitors inside of. And with the lava tubes visitors have a little bit more access to go exploring these areas. But, how much do you show off with people? How much do you show off on a computer? That is kind of the biggest question because you have to have people at the park in-person enjoying a cave, they are becoming aware of what else is out there and why the other caves inside those parks that I listed off are not accessible overall. Maybe they are accessible to other cavers doing research and things like that. But they are not accessible to the public. And that hard line is drawn because if we grant access to everything, then there is that great possibility that it’s not going to be preserved, it is not going to be conserved. For example, all these major show caves in the National Park Service, they focus visitors in one particular location to show them what is going on. It’s the sacrifice. Because you have to put in lights, you have to put in a trail, for us it is an elevator here. We’ve put in a phone system as well so we can communicate to the surface. There are all these different things that go into showing off an environment but putting a trail in harms a cave. That is not necessarily going towards preservation. If we truly want to preserve something, we would just not even go inside of it and not look at it. But every time we take a step there is a little bit of degradation that is happening. So, it is this balancing system of how much to show the public but then how much do we not show. For us Carlsbad Cavern proper is taking the brunt of the impact. Now if we flip that to cavers, cavers have the ability to go into other places the general person does not. Reason being, they know what they are doing in order to get into these places, do it in a safe way. However, they are trying to minimize the impact overall. And there is a classic question that can get directly into this that rangers love to ask at cave parks. If you are an explorer and you find a beautiful passageway, say it goes on for 500 feet (152 meters), you explore all the little fragments off to the side, they are dead ends. But you get to the end of that main passageway and you see that it gets down to an opening that you could actually crawl through, but there are aragonite needles, there are soda straws, there are cave pearls blocking the way in this passageway. So, you physically would have to break through them in order to actually explore further. What do you do? Do you stop your exploration, or do you continue and break those formations? That’s kind of what it is when visiting these places, that preservation aspect to it. Do we continue to develop more trails, or do we keep it the same way? And do we have enough of it already to show off that we can get the point across to say, yeah this is what is out here and if we just run wild then things can disappear.

JG: I’m curious, have you ever run into a situation where you had to make a choice like that in all of your caving experience?

DP: I have seen fresh soil, never been touched. I have been around places that are extremely delicate. I’ve known that maybe people have gone in there like once ahead of me, but I was not willing to take that risk in order to go into that location. If I was on an expedition, I might push the boundaries a little bit more within reason. But if I think in my mind that this looks a little too fragile, I’ll probably go with my gut instinct on it and back off a little bit. I’ve accidently put my hand in fresh soil before. So, I know my hand exists as a handprint in Mammoth Cave National Park. Like oh I better back up here. And so, until another person goes up there and maybe does the same mistake my hand is in virgin soil and I didn’t mean to put it there and I kind of feel bad about it.

AM: Well rangers are always trying to leave their lasting impact on a park.

DP: Yeah, I did.

AM: The three of us sitting here as employees of the National Park Service, we are just one small piece of the puzzle that is the International Year of Caves and Karst. I was hoping you could explain a little bit more about the Union of Speleology, whose initiative this is and how the National Park Service fits into their mission.

DP: The Union of Speleology is a collection of countries all around the world that are invested in caves and karst overall. This is the organization to talk to on an international level about what is out there in the world. They are major proponents for protecting caves and karst and there are over 100 countries that are participating in the international year because of the International Union of Speleology. They are the ones heading this all up and kicking it off in the international year. The park service fits into this in the way that we are in a way the poster child for caves. Some of the most well-known caves are within the National Park Service. World renowned even. Not to push aside any of the private show caves across the United States run by families, run by an individual. They’re important as well. But we fit into this because we have that platform. We have that ability that we can show off what is inside the Earth. Discover what is under your national park is the theme for the International Year of Cave and Karst inside the National Park Service. That’s what we are using to talk about what is under the Earth in the NPS system. We have the prominent locations, and we have a large platform to talk about them. That is what we are using in order to promote this International Year of Caves and Karst overall.

JG: Kind of tagging on that, something that I was thinking about is, I was able to work at the Grand Canyon just like you a little while ago. It is what, the third or fourth largest amount of cave passage lengthwise in the National Park Service?

DP: I cannot confirm that stat, but it has always been touted as possibly the greatest amount of unexplored cave systems, individual caves, in the world because of the red-wall limestone in the middle of the canyon itself. It is so vast and extensive, and you have big hole in the middle of it called the Grand Canyon that there’s many different openings into all these caves. It is just that they are almost impossible to get to. So, you can see a hole, not be able to get to it, and that is a lot of the case for the Grand Canyon. And from what has been mapped out there already is rather extensive and surprising. But to know how many different holes there are inside the Grand Canyon itself, that makes it one of the top mileages that would add up over time and possibly just annihilate other places in the world for what is under the Earth in distance.

AM: The bashful elephant surrounding the entire world right now is the COVID-19 pandemic. As the National Park Service, the park rangers, park rangers all around the world are trying to expand their audience, trying to expand the programs and education towards these cave and karst features, the shutdowns that are happening across the world right now are certainly impacting the events and celebrations that would have been planned for the International Year of Caves and Karst making these physical caves inaccessible at the moment. So, I just wondering what the National Park Service or some of the other events, or even here at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, what these organizations are doing to celebrate while also doing it in a safe and responsible manner.

DP: I want to give you kudos at first though because you used the phrase bashful elephant. That is a formation inside of Carlsbad Cavern, so I like that a lot. But COVID. It’s been difficult. I’m also on the planning team for the entire National Park Service (NPS) planning out what the NPS is going to be doing for the International Year of Caves and Karst and it’s been difficult. It’s been very difficult trying to figure out appropriate ways that people still have the ability to experience what is under their national park without being there. It’s making it very hard and on an international level, celebrations are going to be pushed back. There was even talk in one of our last meetings of possibly expanding into 2022 for a lot of this, just so there is the potential that there could be in-person events around the world that people can go to. We’ve been open here which has been nice. But it does make it tough because not everybody can visit this place due to COVID. How do we celebrate and reach the greatest amount of people? Well, it’s actually not in-person. To reach the greatest amount of people it’s that digital age that we are now in which is going to be the greatest thing, the greatest ally for us today. People are starting to fall back on the digital aspect and in our last meeting we had about 43 people on the call across the entire United States, not only in the National Park Service, but also from the private show caves across the United States as well. We are getting them involved, jumping on our bandwagon for the international year and we emphasize that hope for the best plan for the worst. Because, we can build a program that can be done in person, but when it comes to the day that it is supposed to be executed it would not happen because COVID is here, depending on what the state of the world is. So, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts, Twitter, YouTube, all those different platforms are going to be some of the greatest ways in which people can experience these places. All the national parks have their own feed on the social media platforms, they have YouTube channels. You are going to want to follow parks that are participating. Because, for example, St. Louis Arch is most likely will not be participating in the International Year of Caves and Karst. They might, they might not. Don’t know. They might give a shout-out, something like that. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be difficult overall. Here at Carlsbad we’ve come up with ideas that we could do in person but if necessary, we could record it and then upload it so the world can experience Carlsbad in a different way. What we are looking at here is doing more podcasts, maybe reaching out to local radio stations in the area to tell what is going on with the international year and get locals to start to celebrate in the surrounding area as well. Possibly doing videos of sections of cave, or photographing sections of cave, that have not been seen by the public, at least in the recent years and showing that off in a digital library of some kind. We emphasize that to all the other parks that were on our last webinar, our last meeting, to think like that as well. And the whole world is going to have to do that. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, but the worst is not too bad because that digital outreach can go to the entire world.

AM: Could you maybe point our listeners in the direction of some other resources, maybe some non-National Park Service resources or organizations that are also going to be participating and creating content for the International Year of Caves and Karst?

DP: Yeah, so one of the big websites that people can go to is That is the website run by the UIS, the International Union of Speleology. So, you can get an idea of what is going for the international year like that. There’s also the National Speleological Society (NSS). They are going to be doing celebrations as well, we are going to be working with them, partnering with them. Their website is So those are going to be two major websites in which people can actually go to.

JG: If people wanted to be starting to understand about caves and karst in their own particular areas how would they go about doing that?

DP: One of the best ways is to actually go on which is the NSS run website, National Speleological Society. This society is the largest caving organization in the United States. A lot of different countries have their overarching caving organizations and the NSS is ours. What it will actually allow for is people to go on there, they can search for their local grotto. A grotto is a caving club. No matter where you are in the country there’s going to be a caving club relatively close to you. And it is actually fairly easy to join right now because everyone is actually having zoom meetings. There might be a few grottos which are in-person but spaced pretty far apart. But everyone is on the digital platforms of zoom, whatever streaming service they are using, and you can look up the information for the cabinet members. You can look up the president’s name, you can look up the vice president’s, secretary, treasurer, get their emails, get in contact with them and say hey I’m interested in caves, this is my experience, this is the gear that I have. And, it could be none for both of those, but you are interested in adventuring into caves in a safe and efficient manner. Look it up, get in contact with your local grotto. Cavers are very welcoming. They’ll get you in that first meeting, they’ll pick your brain a little bit about who you are, where you are going, what you are doing, and they’ll get you on-board and get you caving. You can start to see some of the craziest stuff in the world.

AM: I definitely want to emphasize that last point. The caving community being so welcoming to new recruits. As I mentioned in the beginning of this podcast, Carlsbad Cavern was the very first cave I had ever stepped foot in. First day of work here, walking down the Main Corridor and the Big Room, first time underground. And since then because of the connections I’ve been able to make as an employee, but also through the local grotto, and becoming a more established member of the caving community, I have been invited to go on different caving trips in a safe and responsible manner given the summer of 2020. I’ve gotten the chance to see some really really incredible sites. We are celebrating the International Year of Cave and Karst, so these grottos and clubs are going to exist on all continents I’d imagine.

DP: Totally. Yeah, there are caving clubs all across the world. I’ve been looking to contact caving clubs for my own project, which is Cave Week, which started in 2018. It has gotten a great response. It’s part of the celebration for the international year here and I’m just exploring every single continent on the internet, looking where caving clubs are, and I stumbled across the only caving club in Kenya. And I’m hoping to hear back from them because I want to learn more about their caving club. From their photos it looks like they’ve got some pretty cool places they get to go explore all the time. You get to go to different places across the world, and in your own backyard too.

AM: Yeah, and these opportunities, they’re not just limited to one’s professional career or limited in ages as well. I believe there is news that for the International Year of Cave and Karst and for the upcoming Cave Week there is going to be a brand-new Junior Ranger booklet produced by the National Park Service?

DP: It is new version of the Junior Cave Scientist booklet. So, this Junior Cave Scientist booklet came out a few years ago. It was a solid book when it first came to light. But just like everything it ages, photos need to be updated, information needs to be updated as well. So for the 2021 year, there’s going to be the new Junior Cave Scientist booklet that can be printed off off-line, but you can go to your National Park Service site that is close to you, or email, or even just send them a letter. Ask, hey do you have the Junior Cave Scientist booklet. At participating locations because, once again, St. Louis Arch does not have caves so they would not have the Junior Cave Scientist booklet. So, you’d want to contact the sites that are going to have the booklet most likely.

AM: Some really exciting news to look forward to. Especially given the long-term goals of the International Year of Caves and Karst of promote and encourage that youthful stewardship. Also, you can find similar programs at your state and local parks as well.

DP: Completely. There are always programs across the United States at various levels that kids can get involved with. It is great to see the younger generation get energized about caves overall. That fresh blood is definitely needed and that is what the international year is all about. It is reaching everybody but hopefully that younger generation will be the focus and the ones that carry the torch in another thirty years or so that help protect caves and help expand the knowledge of caves and karst as a whole.

JG: So, we’ve been kind of dancing around this question a little bit, but what does a successful International Year of Caves and Karst look like to you?

DP: If we take COVID out of the equation, would be a greater visitation to the sites that have caves and have karst. So those National Park Service sites, those forest service sites, those private show caves across the United States and across the world, there would be more interest in what is happening in the underground in-person. Otherwise, it’s putting out all the information that we can to promote the underground world and see the reactions we can get only and maybe we get phone calls. Whatever way the public is responding, and just seeing all of that and knowing that we put everything out there and it is reaching a greater community than what it actually once did. Caves have been forgotten about. Karst is forgotten about. This is one of the most underappreciated types of resources there is out there. And just knowing that it has become an international year, that’s almost reward enough. But putting out that information, it makes it a whole lot better and that is the greatest goal.

JG: Okay, so we have all this great information, we know how caves and karst is important to us, we know what the International Year of Caves and Karst is trying to shoot for, how can our listeners, today, participate in this? And how can they today work towards those goals you were talking about?

DP: Today, how they can participate is if we are open, come visit us, if possible, in a safe manner. Plan a trip. See it. But also check out the websites, checkout social media, contact the park itself to see what is actually happening. Contact the International Union of Speleology and see how you can attend maybe a virtual unveiling of the year itself. Start looking and you will find any way in which you would want to interact.

AM: I’d even propose that if you’ve enjoyed listening to this conversation, bookmarking Carlsbad Caverns National Park and the Three Sources of Light podcast. Dan as we wrap up our conversation here, is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners?

DP: I guess since I have this type of platform here, I’ll do my plug that I do on a daily basis with visitors. You may have a favorite cave, but all caves bring something to the table. All caves are going to be different. You can compare and contrast all day, but each cave is unique in its own matter. So, everyone always asks, is this the best cave in the world? Is Carlsbad the best cave in the world? And I say no. They drop their jaws, eyes get wide, I can even see them in the dark down there, just the whites of people’s eyes, gasping. But the best cave is your favorite cave. But also appreciate what other caves have to offer. That’s the biggest thing. Why is this place special? Why are you visiting it today? What’s the reason it is a National Park Service site? What is the reason it is a state park site? What makes this place special?

JG: You heard the man. Go out there, learn something. Caves are an amazing thing to get into. It is something I’d always known about before I got my job here. But something that, no pun intended, I am always surprised at the depth of every time I start digging into it. So, go out there and see what you can find, because you might be really surprised at just how much access you have to caves and how much interaction you have with caves on a daily basis.

[Conclusion Music]

GABE MONTEMAYOR: Hello listeners. Thank you for listening to Three Sources of Light. This podcast is produced by the Interpretation and Education Division at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Episodes are researched, developed, and hosted by Park Guides Anthony Mazzucco and James Gunn. Today you also heard the voice of Dan Pawlak. All audio engineering, music, and sound effects are made in house by Park Guide Gabe Montemayor. This episode was recorded in November of 2020. For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park please visit our official National Park Service website at Thanks for listening.

International years celebrate and inform the world about important topics! The International Year of Caves and Karst is organized by the International Union of Speleology, a worldwide organization of explorers, scientists, managers, and educators. Carlsbad Caverns National Park has partnered with the Union of Speleology to celebrate what exists beneath your national park. We invite you to learn from this podcast about how caves and karst contribute to the lives of billions of people globally.

Three Sources of Light Trailer


Three Sources of Light Trailer

[Introductory music and birds chirping which fades into the background and continues to play as the podcast host begins to speak.]

ANTHONY MAZZUCCO: Greetings everyone! Welcome to “Three Sources of Light”, a new podcast produced by Carlsbad Caverns National Park. My name is Anthony Mazzucco and I am Park Guide for the National Park Service here in New Mexico. The Interpretation Division at Carlsbad Caverns has been diligently working to highlight what makes our park unique and share those stories with you online. Future podcasts released through this channel will be a mix of interpretive storytelling, group discussions, and interviews with National Park Service staff, volunteers, and partner organizations. My colleagues are eager to share their knowledge and shed some light on a variety of topics, including Carlsbad Caverns’ elaborate cave system, biodiversity within the Chihuahuan Desert, cultural stories about explorers of decades past, the astronomy of a dark sky, and recreational opportunities for your next in-person visit. Our first full-length episode will be released on February 7th, 2021! For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park, please visit our website Until next time, from 750 feet (228 meters) below the surface, signing off air. [Conclusion Music]

Introducing our latest podcast project, Three Sources of Light! The first full length episode will be released on Sunday, February 7th, 2021.