The 77,100 acres in Great Basin National Park in Nevada State has over 41,000 acres of karst, which is a landscape that supports caves. The park has over 45 caves but the most visited are the over two miles long Lehman Caves. Lehman Caves have limestone rock formations believed to have formed 600 million years ago when a warm shallow sea covered what's today Nevada and Utah. Throughout those years the sea creatures died and solidified to limestone rock.
Lehman Caves have beautiful and ornamental formations called speleothems. These formed when water droplets with limestone drained into the underground cave chambers. Air in the chambers caused carbon dioxide to escape from the water droplets and the speleothems were formed that naturally decorate the ceiling, stairs, and passages in Lehman Caves.
The Discovery Of Lehman Caves
Lehman Caves were discovered in 1885 by Absalom Lehman(1827-1891) a miner and rancher from Ohio. He had settled in Weaver Creek in the 1860s few miles north of the caves that today bear his name. To date, unconfirmed accounts exist of how Lehman discovered the caves. One account is that curiosity made him want to explore the strange entrance near his ranch.
According to historical accounts, American Indians knew of the caves but Lehman was the first person to deeply explore them and as a result, he was credited with discovering them. Lehman built a ranch house near the caves' entrance aiming to develop the caves. Since 1933 the Lehman Caves have been under the protection and stewardship of the National Park Service.
Lehman Cave Tours
Lehman Caves are strictly visited through guided tours conducted daily, all year except on Christmas, New Year, and Thanksgiving. Park Rangers conduct these tours while educating the visitors on caves' history, geology and ecology. The tours offered are the Lodge Room, Grand Palace, and Parachute Shield Tours. Visitors have to be screened for the white-nose syndrome bat disease for all three tours.
- Lodge Room Tour: This tour is 0.4 miles long and takes about 60 minutes to finish. Visitors tour the Gothic Palace, Music Room, and the Lodge Room sections of Lehman Caves. The Lodge Room Tour is limited to 20 visitors and is suited for families with young children.
- Grand Palace Tour: This tour is 0.6 miles long and takes around 90 minutes to finish. This tour explores the Music Room, Lodge Room, Grand Palace, Inscription Room sections of Lehman Caves. On this tour, visitors also catch glimpses of the Parachute Shield formations. This tour is limited to 20 visitors and children must be at least 5 years old to go on it.
- Parachute Shield Tour: This tour is 0.5 miles long and lasts around 60 minutes to complete and is limited to 16 visitors. It passes through large rooms connected to steep ramps and tiny passages. Visitors also visit the Lodge Room, Inscription Room, and the Grand Palace on this tour.
Short tours are organized for visitors unable to go through the narrow passages and stairs and venture deeper into the caves. They can visit Gothic Palace the first room of the cave if park rangers are available to conduct them. Alternatively, they can go on the first 30 minutes of the regular tour and be escorted out by a park ranger. There is no guarantee that visitors in wheelchairs will be able to visit Lehman Caves. However, visitors on motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs must have friends or family members to assist them to maneuver steep passageways.
Topography and Dimensions Of The Caves
Lehman Caves have magnificent topography with different dimensions. There are 0.6 miles toured in 90 minutes and 0.4 miles toured in an hour and 70 stairs in the caves. Different cave sections have different depths from the surface.
- Gothic Palace is 93.5 feet
- Music Room is 125 feet
- Lodge Room is 151 feet
- Cypress Swamp is 167 feet
- Grand Palace is 167 feet
- Inscription Room is 194 feet
The other rooms in Lehman Caves have the following dimensions:
- Talus Room: This is the biggest room by area. It is 90 feet wide, 376 feet long, with a surface area of 21,511 square feet equivalent to half an acre. The room's height from floor to ceiling is 113 feet making it the tallest of all Lehman Caves' rooms.
- Sunken Gardens Room: From floor to ceiling it is 32 feet in height.
- Music Room: From floor to ceiling, this room has a height of 51 feet.
Cave Tour Regulations
Below are regulations and precautions visitors on cave tours have to meet:
- Masking is required inside the caves regardless of age and COVID-19 vaccination status.
- Visitors have to check in 15 minutes before tour time for the White Nose syndrome bat disease screening test to be done.
- Visitors are prohibited from wearing clothes or shoes they entered other Lehman caves to protect the bats from infection.
- Touching the caves is prohibited.
- All bags are prohibited inside the cave except front-mounted baby carriers.
- Foods, liquids, water, chewing gum, or tobacco are prohibited inside the caves.
- Pets, strollers, and camera tripods are not allowed inside the caves.
- Visitors who experience claustrophobia or any unease during the cave tours can be escorted out on request.
- Lehman Caves tours can be booked for up to 30 days in advance.
- Visitors are advised to wear strong shoes with tread as cave trails can be slippery.
- Visitors are advised to book caver tour tickets in advance at Recreation.gov
The Great Basin National Park has no entry fees but annual passes that provide access to all federal recreational sites are sold for different age groups and military members and their dependents. But there are entry costs to Lehman Caves that are as follows:
Adults (16 years and over)
- Parachute Shield Tour -$12
- Lodge Room Tour -$12
- Grand Palace Tour -$15
Youth (5-15 years old)
- Parachute Shield Tour -$6
- Lodge Room Tour -$6
- Grand Palace Tour -$8
Golden Age/Senior Pass (discounted)
- Parachute Shield Tour -$6
- Lodge Room Tour -$6
- Grand Palace Tour -$7.50