NSS 75th Anniversary Convention

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Caving in Eastern Nevada

In a remote and mountainous corner of Nevada, hundreds of undiscovered caves lay within the remnants of an ancient seabed, lifted high above the valley. These are the caves of Eastern Nevada.

Though the area is cold and dry today, the carbonate rocks which house many of the caves were deposited between 250 to over 500 million years ago, when Nevada was covered by a shallow ocean, bordering a continent near the equator. Millions of years of mountain building extensively fractured the carbonate rocks. They were subsequently buried with ash and lava until around 16 million years ago, when extensional forces began stretching the Earth's crust. Normal faulting lifted up sections of the old seabed, and created hundreds of parallel mountain ranges divided by broad valleys. Areas where the limestone from the seabed was particularly thick were ideal for the formation of caves.

More recently (in a geological sense) lakes, streams and alpine glaciers developed during the cold and moist ice ages of the Pleistocene, about 2 million years ago. This is likely when many of the caves began to form, as some contain fossils of giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), camel and other Pleistocene mega fauna.

Caves are scattered across the numerous mountain ranges of Eastern Nevada, and are typically found in Cambrian, Devonian and Mississippian limestones (carbonate rock). The complex geology of the area makes predicting cave locations difficult and most are fairly remote. Due to the extreme distance from larger populations, and the difficult hike to reach them, these caves receive limited visitation. Many have never been explored.


Great Basin Caving

Video compliments of KNPB PBS, Reno

Most caves in this area are hypogenic, meaning they are formed from an upwelling of water. These caves have no relation to the present topography or local drainage pattern, which makes predicting their location difficult. The irregular caverns of these hypogenic caves contain unique features such as Gypsum crust, ceiling cupolas, crystalline linings, folia, floor vents and other uncommon speleothems. These caves lack fluvial sediment and their floors are generally covered in dust or mud derived from weathered bedrock.


Very few caves in Eastern Nevada have an epigenic origin (formed from water descending waters) but those that do are the largest in the area. The Baker Creek System at Great Basin National Park is over 2 miles long, including 7 hydraulically connected caves all of which formed by stream capture of Baker Creek. Some of these caves periodically flood during spring runoff and water levels in others are in constant fluctuation. Another well known example is Cave Valley Cave, which was first reported by the survey party headed by George Wheeler in the 1870s. Cave Valley Cave is located right at the valley level and connects to a nearby stream. It is over a mile of branching passages filled with unpleasant clay that requires a great deal of scraping to remove from your clothing. Abandoned boots litter one muddy stretch of the cave.

Vertical Caving

In Eastern Nevada, vertical gear is sometimes required to reach cave entrances, or to enter the caves themselves. Some cave entrances are located high in cliffs and can only be accessed by a rappel. Others have drops ranging from 20 ft to over 200 ft. Additionally, some of the alpine caves have multiple drops and the hypogenic caves offer great climbs.

Additional Resources

White Nose Syndrome decontamination protocols!

Out of all the many cave explorers and organizations, the 2016 convention staff believes that NSS cavers are the most aware and responsible visitors to our underground wilderness areas. The reality of WNS issues and subsequent management decisions has impacted us all.

As responsible cavers, the 2016 NSS Convention will be requiring full compliance with USFWS decontamination protocols to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome.

If you plan to go caving during the convention, please decon all of your gear before you arrive in Nevada! We are hoping to have some "loaner" gear for our guests to use. That information will be shared here when it is available.

Download the current protocol.
Download the recent protocol update.

Check the NSS WNS page for current news.