Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lechuguilla, Planet Earth, Young Friend From Murphys

The Planet Earth video showed the most pristine cave in the world, right in our own backyard near Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Discovered and discarded as a nothing place it's true scope came to light in the 1980's. Travis Deem of Murphys, Ca., at age seventeen was one of a lucky group of cavers who were allowed the privilege of joining an exploration team. In a recent letter to me he talks about that experience and how it shaped his life.
"It is hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since my first trip to Lechuguilla. I have also seen the footage from the Planet Earth series and it is spectacular, almost like being there.
I have not been to the cave since the early 1990's. Despite all the time that has passed there is seldom a day that goes by that I do not think about the early days of exploration at Lechuguilla and the amazing privilege that I, and several others from our caving group have had as part of it.
The article you wrote had several pictures to accompany it, one of which has two of my teenage friends Greg Stock and Kyle Fedderly entering a cave. Both of them went on to become world-class cavers, not only participating in numerous expeditions to Lech (Greg was there this spring) but also to Europe and Borneo. I spoke with Greg ( whom I had not seen except in pictures from caving magazines since we were in college) just about two weeks ago. He is now the first ever park geologist for Yosemite National Park. During our brief phone conversation he remarked about how those days were instrumental in shaping his life and I have to agree the same is true for mine. In an age were every surface of this planet (and several other planets) has been mapped, I take heart in knowing that common people can still venture into the unknown and make discoveries that can astonish the world. Those who have been blessed with the opportunity to enter Lech have all, in at least some small way, taken their place with the great explorers of other ages. I know that sounds a little melodramatic, but I believe it is true. I asked Greg if Lech has paled in comparison to the other adventures he has had caving all over the world and he assured me that both for himself and other Lech veterans it still stands out as the jewel in the crown of speleology.
As I get older I sometimes find myself wondering if it all really happened, did a bunch of kids really get to engage in exploring the most significant cave discovery of the 20th century? Did I really walk through those rooms filled with forests of crystal and sleep over 1,000 feet below the New Mexico desert? I recall very well waking up on Christmas morning 1989 along with Greg and Kyle in an area called the Western Borehole where all the floors were covered with snow white gypsum, that is one white Christmas I will never forget. I cannot overemphasize the grandeur and beauty of that place. As you can probably suspect, I would go again in a heartbeat.
The exploration that occurs now is much more regulated than in the old days. Although that probably means I will never return I believe it is for the best. Some past practices did real harm to certain areas of the cave and, once damaged, the cave has no means of healing itself. Exploration will go on but now the groups are small and their activities are limited.
I do still cave, now with my own children. I hope that their own experiences will shape them to appreciate the natural world, to be brave, but not foolhardy, and to treasure the fact that they live in a world where there is still a frontier to explore.

Travis Deem

Thank you Travis for enlightening us once again with your experience at Lechuguilla.

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