Domenici Announces Discovery of “Snowy River” Within Fort Stanton Cave - May 2005


He will introduce a Bill to Protect Find for Research & Education

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici today revealed the discovery of the Snowy River passage of the Fort Stanton Cave—an unparalleled natural wonder in Lincoln County that may be the longest continuous calcite formation in the world. Domenici also indicated his intent to introduce legislation next week to establish the Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Cave Conservation Area. Snowy River—already mapped at more than two miles in length—is likely to grow in acclaim as more of it is revealed.   “We have not found a formation of this size anywhere else in New Mexico or perhaps anywhere in the world. In addition to the beauty of this discovery, I am particularly excited about the scientific and educational opportunities associated with the find,” Domenici said. “This large, continuous stretch of calcite may yield valuable research opportunities relating to hydrology, geology, and microbiology. In fact, there may be no limits to what we can learn from this snow white cave passage.”  “I am pleased to join Senator Domenici's effort to permanently protect this natural hidden wonder as a National Cave Conservation Area,”


Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said today. “This designation for Fort Stanton Cave would be the first of its kind in the nation. We look forward to working with the scientific community, universities, and local partners in the creation of a workable plan to conserve the Fort Stanton Cave including the unparalleled Snowy River discovery.”  The Snowy River passage was discovered in the Fort Stanton Cave by volunteers of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2001, but it can now be made known with the completion of an environmental assessment of the passage and its formations.


Upon learning of this discovery earlier this year, Domenici began drafting legislation to preserve the Snowy River passage for scientific and educational purposes. The continued scientific research and discoveries in the cave may yield valuable information on the hydrology, geology and microbiology in the region. For instance, investigations of the Snowy River formation may provide information on past water chemistry, weather trends, and flood and drought cycles. “Because of the unique education and research opportunities that this passage affords, I will file legislation to preserve the Snowy River passage of Fort Stanton Cave for scientific, educational and other appropriate purposes,” Domenici said. “New Mexico is home to many natural wonders, and I am proud to play a role in the protection of this newest unique discovery in our state.”


Domenici is drafting legislation to give the caves permanent protection by creating a Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Cave Conservation Area to protect, secure and conserve the natural and unique features of Fort Stanton Cave and the Snowy River passage, including the more than two-mile-long continuous calcite formation. The bill will instruct the BLM to prepare a map and legal description of Fort Stanton Cave, and to develop a comprehensive, long-term management plan for the cave area.


Domenici legislation would:

• Conserve the unique features of the cave for scientific and educational purposes, as well as other public purposes that are deemed safe and appropriate pursuant to a BLM management plan;

• Allow the BLM to work with colleges, universities, and scientific institutions to better understand the significance of this discovery;

• Protect the caves from mineral leasing and mining operations; and

• Protect existing surface uses at Fort Stanton, including recreational opportunities.


The conservation area designation would not affect private land owners in the area.  The passage was discovered by veteran speleologist John McLean and team members Lloyd Swartz, Don Becker and Andrew Grieco—building on a long legacy of exploration of the Fort Stanton Cave area that dates back to the mid-19th century. Fort Stanton Cave was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1975.


The length of the Snowy River passage is more than two miles. When survey teams stopped the last expedition, the passage was 40 feet in diameter and continued to stretch beyond the limits of their lights. Additional information and images of the Snowy River passage are available at or .