Cave Explorer: Peter Jones
Cavers have a serious obligation to protect the cave systems that they are privileged to enter. Caves are extremely fragile and even the best of cavers can cause damage by careless behavior. Lechuguilla Cave is a protected resource that is part of the Carlsbad Cavern National Park system. Only about 6 or 7 permits per year are issued by the National Park Service to experienced cavers who have a good reason to go into the cave. Inside this fabulous cave system are some of the most spectacular, unique and extremely fragile crystal formations that would be damaged by inexperienced explorers who just want to "take a peek." Although accidents in the cave are extremely rare, a rescue operation can be costly and potentially damaging to the cave itself.
Peter's passion for caving started at a very young age, when he was just a kid exploring the maze of rooms and bunkers in Fort Knox, a granite fortress, in Maine. He was fascinated with the concept of exploring an underground labyrinth of rooms. He 'got the bug' that separates the non-claustrophobic cave seekers from the rest of us when he visited his first cave in California, called "Crystal Cave" in Sequoia National Park.
Then when Peter was a freshman attending the University of Denver in 1967, he found out about a really fascinating group on campus called the 'Alpine Club' and they offered caving experiences to their members, so he naturally had to join. Later that spring he went on his first 'wild' (undeveloped) cave trip and was hooked for life. He later joined the National Speleological Society (NSS) in 1968 to network with other cavers who shared his passion and get more opportunities to go exploring in other 'wild' caves. The NSS is an important organization that works to preserve caves and properly trains people in the best and safest of caving techniques.
In 1971 Peter had an opportunity with the National Park Service to visit Lechuguilla Cave. At the time, there was nothing more to the cave than the entry room at the bottom of the pit and a side alcove. Looking back with amusement Peter recalls the Assistant Supervisor of Carlsbad Cavern National Park saying it was a "small & disappointing cave". It wasn't until 1986 that the opening to the rest of the cave was dug open. It turned out, of course, later on that Lechuguilla was a phenomenal cave, destined to be the deepest cave system in the United States. New sections of cave are continually being discovered and Lechuguilla officially logs in at over 110 miles in length and 1632ft/497m deep.
After his first uneventful trip into Lechuguilla in 1971 Peter began to hear more about the cave system, which had been dug open in 1986, through his network of fellow cavers and some published stories. It wasn't until 18 years after his first descent into the cave that he went back into Lechuguilla to explore it in depth. Along with hundreds of other well-qualified cavers, Peter joined in the effort to explore, map and study this unique and beautiful cave system (in March of 1989). He's logged a number of trips into the cave since then, with his most recent trip in January of 2004.
For Peter, exploring caves allows him to engage in his passion for cave photography - to preserve and to artistically present the incredibly beautiful and unique crystal formations found only underground. You will see several of his photographs on Extreme Science in the Lechuguilla Cave Tour. He also participates in cave mapping, a requirement by the National Park Service of cavers who enter Lechuguilla and find new territory. It is explorers like Peter Jones who have carefully measured and mapped Lechuguilla that have yielded the picture of this amazing cave system and how it was formed.
Peter's photographs have been exhibited in numerous museums around the world and appeared in various publications including: numerous covers of the NSS News, monthly publication of the NSS; Deep Secrets, the exploration of Lechuguilla Cave; On Rope II; Lechuguilla, Jewel of the Underground; Cigar Aficionado Magazine; numerous cards and posters for the Carlsbad Cavern/Guadalupe Mountain Association, a private fundraising organization.
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