Is 110 Pounds Overweight For A 12 Year Old Boy The Great Basin’s Lehman Cave

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The Great Basin’s Lehman Cave

“There are two types of rock in Lehman Caves,” a park ranger told the group. “Coolers and knees. Watch both when you’re in there.” She then led us through a heavy door into a long concrete tunnel. The thud of our footsteps raced and collided along the tunnel. The still air of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) cooled us as we passed through the doors that ended the airlock and finally entered the underground maze.

As the sun sets, Great Basin National Park in east-central Nevada lies in the shadow of the Snake Range’s Wheeler Peak, which at 13,063 feet (3,982 meters) is the highest point in all of Nevada. Millions of years ago, magma entered the joint between the quartzite, which makes up most of the Snake Range, and the limestone along the eastern flank of the range. The heat of the magma transformed some of the limestone into marble. This was the crucial first step in the formation of the caves.

At one time, the climate of eastern Nevada was wetter than today, and therefore the water table was higher. Rainwater, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the air to form carbonic acid—the weak acid of soda pop—soaked into the ground and dissolved the marble. As the climate dried, the water level dropped, and the seeping water surfaced in the vaulted rooms and passageways. Losing its carbon dioxide, the liquid deposited its cargo of the mineral calcite (calcium carbonate) at a snail’s pace – a centimeter per century – to form soda straws, stalactite daggers, stalagmite stumps, mysterious shields, graceful draperies and columns that resemble the ruins of ancient times. Greece. To make the difference between cave features clear, remember that the word “stalactite” has the letter “c” and this feature descends from the ceiling, and the word for another well-known feature “stalagmites” has the letter “g” and rises from the ground. So “c” is for ceiling (stalactite) and “g” is for ground (stalagmite).

In fact, the stalactites turned out to be soda straws that had become clogged. Soda straws have mineral-laden water that drips through the center and leaves behind rings of minerals that can extend long distances if undisturbed, up to 30 feet (9 meters). However, if the end becomes clogged, water can begin to drip down the outside of the straw leaving minerals on the outside of the straw that continue to grow outwards, becoming stalactites, as the former straw now begins to thicken.

To the Gothic palace

As the ranger led us past the natural cave entrance to the Gothic Palace, she paused to tell us about Absalom S. Lehman. A rancher on the eastern slopes of Wheeler Peak, Lehman discovered the cave in 1885. That year he led 800 people through its rooms and passageways; visitors had to climb down a ladder to the vertical entrance, using only candle lanterns for illumination, according to the ranger.

When our group was a little further along the trail, the ranger turned off the electric lights, leaving only the candle lantern as a source of light. As she lifted the lantern from the ground, haunting shadows moved across the somehow enlarged chamber. “Can you imagine exploring caves this way?” she asked. After the lights came back on, we continued our sixty-mile (1 km) journey through a white complex of narrow, winding passageways and vast chambers. Some corridors were like art galleries that openly displayed their sculptures. Other corridors hid their treasures in confusing folds.

The Wedding Chapel and Beyond

After the Gothic palace, with its vaulted ceiling and tall columns, we reached the spacious wedding chapel that actually served for five wedding ceremonies in the 19th century. In the adjacent music room, early guides would produce musical notes by striking the stalactites with hammers. However, this practice was discontinued after some of the stalactites were found to be disintegrating.

Up the wooden stairs, our group came upon the Tom-Tom Room, which has the most famous geological feature of the Lehman Caves – saucer-shaped slabs called shields or pallets, protruding from the walls. No one knows exactly how shields develop. They can form when water, under pressure, rushes through cracks in the walls and deposits thin layers of calcite, creating numerous pairs of coated plates that seem to defy gravity. Gradually, the water builds pillars under many of these shields. They occur in only one percent of all known limestone caves; so Lehman Caves would be special only for the abundance of shields.

Passing the Dragon’s Lair and the Queen’s Chamber, the ranger reached the lodge room at the junction of the cave trail system. She described how Clarence T. Rhodes, the cave’s first keeper after it became public property, invited members of the Knights of Pythias and Boy Scouts from nearby Ely, Nevada, to hold their meetings here. Since the Government did not have money in the state budget to pay for it. Mr Rhodes was entitled to any fees he might charge for entry and, therefore, had an interest in promoting the caves. Unfortunately for the Lodge Room, these visitors knocked down some of the ceiling formations to provide headroom, and the soot from their fires is still visible along the walls.

Through the tunnel, the ranger led us to the room with the inscriptions. A look at the sooty letters and numbers on the ceiling and walls immediately revealed to us the reason for the name. After she pointed them out, the ranger turned on his flashlight next to the tunnel we passed through to show us a low crawl space. “This is the old way to enter this room,” she explained. With only 18 inches (45 cm) of clearance, the passage earned the name Fat Man’s Misery for those early visitors who made it through. To celebrate their quest, they marked the room with their initials or the date, the earliest of which is from the 1890s.

Filling up the water awaited us in the Cypress Swamp. The diminutive gods of Mount Olympus may have enjoyed the delicate bill-covered pools, along with a few curious, calcite creatures. The largest pool was named Lake Como, by Mrs. Rhodes after the famous lake in the Italian Alps.

Ranger saved the best for last. The Grand Palace offered us a gopher’s eye view of carrot-like orange stalactites, turnip-shaped stalagmites and other root-like formations in this veritable natural rock garden. On some pillars, distorted pillars called helictites—looking as if someone had incorporated grains of wax—pointed in all directions, defying gravity.

The parachute, the symbol of the Lehman Caves, was frozen in time with its shield catching the air above hanging stalactite ropes. We continued to think heavenward when we saw the Angel’s Wing, a vertical shield surmounted by a tapering pillar, and passed the fluted pillars called the Pearly Gates. The glacier, composed of rock on which water had deposited calcite as it flowed over the sloping wall, crept in from one end of the chamber. Elsewhere, lacy crystals of aragonite, another form of calcium carbonate, decorated the wall. On the way back to the exit tunnel, we were again reminded that the skillful hand of nature decorated the Leman cave.

The Nature Trail

A nature trail begins outside the exit tunnel. Following it, you can learn more about the history of the park in the old cabin where Clarence Rhodes once lived, and get acquainted with the trees and shrubs of the park. In fact, the Snake Range gives you the opportunity to explore five different plant communities, representing changes in vegetation from Mexico to Alaska. The first community, Upper Sonora, named after Sonora, Mexico, surrounds Lehman Caves with pinyons and juniper and stretches toward Snake Valley.

Driving 12 miles (23 km) toward Wheeler Peak Campground, you can see the remaining life zones. A transition zone of ponderosa pine, white fir, and mountain mahogany begins around Lehman Creek Campground, which has the largest mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) in the world. Trembling aspens are here and on the slopes of the mountain.

On a steeper, winding road, near the Peak lookout, the Canadian life zone begins, dominated by Douglas fir and Englemann spruce. From the lookout, craggy Mount Jefferson Davis is to the left and Wheeler Peak is to the right.

In a sense, you are approaching Hudson Bay as you reach Wheeler Peak Campground at about 10,000 feet (3048 meters). Campsites are shaded by pine, Engelmann spruce and aspen. A system of trails takes you to the timber line, the highest margin of the Hudson Zone, where an interpretive trail shows you the oldest living creatures on the planet – the bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva). The oldest bristlecone, nearly 5,000 years old, grew on the slopes of Wheeler Peak before it was cut down in 1964.

The locals called it Prometheus, who gave names to individual trees including Buddha and Socrates. The story goes that a geographer studying the characteristics of the Ice Age tried to take a core sample of Prometheus to find his age. When the tool to drill the core sample broke, he resorted to cutting, with permission from the Forest Service. Only after he counted the rings did he realize that he had cut down the oldest known tree on Earth. It was later found to be 4862 years old. Older bristlecone pines have been measured since then, but Prometheus held the record for a while.

Finally, the arctic-alpine zone extends to the summit of Wheeler Peak, which can be reached by a 2,600-foot climb up a strenuous four-mile (6.5 km) trail. Little grows in this zone, except for lichens, mosses, some hardy wild flowers and grasses in protected places.

On the way to the camp, take an interpretive trail that tells the story of early gold mining in the area. To facilitate placer mining, the Osceola Placer Mining Company built a 30-mile (48 km) long ditch from Lehman Creek around the mountains in the early 1880s. Their most significant find was a 24-pound (10.9 kg) nugget. The path leads to some remains of this project.

Another interpretive trail lies along the dirt road to Baker Creek Campground. The Forest Service located a trail of rock art made by a native culture before the present-day Paiute, Goshute and Shoshone tribes.

However, the best rock art in eastern Nevada is the sculptures that Nature herself created in the Lehman Caverns.


To get to Great Basin National Park, drive about 68 miles (110 km) east of Ely, Nevada, on combined US Routes 6 and 50 to their junction with State Route 487, then south to Baker and, finally, west along Route 488. Cave tours, which last an hour for the Lodge Room tour to an hour and a half for the Grand Palace tour, cost $8 and $10 for adults, and $4 and $5 for children ages 5 to 15 and seniors, but are free for younger children from 5 years old for a tour of the Lodge Room. Children under the age of 5 are not allowed to visit the Grand Palace. Today, the paved path and tunnels make spelunking skills unnecessary, but it still helps to have a certain level of fitness for these tours.

The park has five developed campsites and seven primitive campsites. The town of Baker has a motel and two private campgrounds, while additional lodging is available in the towns of Ely, Nevada, and Milford and Delta, Utah. The trails lead through these forests, to the mountain peaks and to the lakes and streams of the Snake Range. The visitor center is located outside the park in the town of Baker, so you can check to see if you’ve gotten a campsite while making arrangements for a cave tour before you get to the park itself. For more information, write to Great Basin National Park, 100 Great Basin National Park, Baker, NV 89311 or call (775)234-7331.

The Great Basin National Park website is at: Cave tour reservations can be made at

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