My name is Stephanie Bouchey, and I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Science at Brown University (Providence, RI). I study planetary science, an interest that led me to intern at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, Ala.) in 2009.
There, I gained a passion for “inner space” to complement my love of outer space; that is, I fell in love with caves.
I applied to work with the U.S. Forest Service at the Blanco Ranger District through the Geological Society of America’s GeoCorps program. I am working as a “cave interpreter” this summer with my mentor, Victoria Houser, and fellow intern, Olivia Patick. We will develop educational materials for the public about the caves in the White River National Forest, primarily Spring Cave, and the animals that call these caves home.
We are here to provide information on the bat gate that is being installed at Spring Cave this summer to help protect bats during their hibernation and to mitigate the westward spread of White Nose Syndrome, the fungal disease that is wiping out bat populations across the eastern United States and Canada.
In our role as public educators, Olivia and I will be leading tours through Spring Cave’s main rooms and doing some graffiti removal this summer.
Spring Cave is located about three-quarters of a mile from the South Fork Campground, approximately 10 miles southeast of Buford. The cave is formed in greater than 500 million-year-old limestone that was deposited there by a Paleozoic sea.
As rainwater seeps through the soil, it becomes slightly acidic. This acidic water then erodes the limestone bedrock as it seeps through layers and cracks in the rock. As water erodes more and more of the rock, a cave is born (over very long timescales: thousands to millions of years!).
Formations in the cave, such as the stalactites (that hang “tite” to the ceiling), stalagmites (that you “mite” trip over), flowstone and other cave decorations are formed from the opposite process. That is, they form when calcite is deposited from water dripping or flowing in the cave.
These formations, known collectively as speleothems, are abundant in Spring Cave. It has beautiful displays of newly forming stalactites, called soda straws hanging from the ceiling, stalagmites on the floors and everything from cave drapery, tiered-cake-like flowstone mounds and cave popcorn on the walls. More fragile, active formations are found farther into the cave.
Spring Cave is one of the largest in Colorado, with more than 6,000 feet of horizontal and 150 feet of vertical (mapped) passage. It also has the largest underground river in the state. It is important to keep in mind that the water is extremely cold and currents can be swift. Depending on the time of year, some parts of the cave may be inaccessible due to flooding.
Caves are fascinating, beautiful places with unique geology. Visitors must remember to “cave softly” in order to protect these natural wonders and the fragile ecosystems they contain. Humans can damage the cave through graffiti, which, sadly, blemishes the walls of Spring Cave’s Living Room and Pirate’s Den passages.
Visitors may also damage the cave formations by touching them with their bare skin or by breaking and removing them. Formations like stalactites take thousands of years to grow, as they grow an average of 0.005 inches per year. Please, never touch a formation with your bare skin, and never remove a formation from a cave.
Finally, remember the Caver’s Creed: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but carefully placed footprints, kill nothing but time. Cave safely and enjoy this natural wonder!
U.S. Forest Service
Rio Blanco County