Enter the Lehman Caves, and you’ll step into a dazzling and seemingly endless array of stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites reaching down from above and up from below. In total, the cave’s delicate ecosystem is home to over 300 rare rock and shield formations, as well as a number of small bugs and animals, including multiple species of bat, spiders, and a pseudoscorpion that is endemic to the Great Basin National park cave system.
When you look from the outside at the mountains of Great Basin National Park, you might never guess that miles of cavernous chambers rest within. Once you enter the cave system, you’ll find yourself in magnificent cathedral like spaces, with elegant rock structures and delicate geological filigree covering the walls.
The Lehman Caves became a National Monument in 1922, and were integrated into the National Park system in 1986. The caves were discovered in the late 1880s, and there is evidence that they were once used as a burial site for Indian tribes. In the following decades, the natural wonder was home to everything from weddings to a speakeasy. The early cave exploration left it’s mark. Many of the smaller stalactites have been snapped off, when the cave’s souvenir policy was “if you can break it off, it’s yours to take home.” You can still see graffiti on some of the cave walls in the aptly named Inscription Room. Some of the signatures are written in charcoal, while others are burned into the stone itself. However even the damage to the cave, represents over a hundred years of human interaction with the site and is historically valuable in its own way.
One of Lehman’s most eye-catching features is the Parachute, an enormous shield in the “Grand Palace” that hangs about 20 feet off the ground. Shields are formations that grow out of cracks in the wall that flow with calcium carbonate-infused water, creating a clam-like shape.
The caves can only be accessed through guided tours led by park rangers, which are offered year-round except for major holidays, and allow you to explore the interior of spaces such as the Gothic Palace and Music Room. For a full overview of the geological site, check out Lehman Caves…Its Human History: From the Beginning through 1965, published by the National Park Service. A virtual-reality tour into the Grand Palace room of Lehman Caves is available online.