GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 236-4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


GARMON, Brenna M.1, LYLES, Alex S.2, BENO, C.J.3, ROOKS, Katie E.4 and BAICHTAL, James F.4, (1)Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Vanderbilt University, 2301 Vanderbilt Pl, PMB 352484, Nashville, TN 37235, (2)Department of Geological Sciences, Ohio University, 316 Clippinger Laboratories, Athens, OH 45701, (3)Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, 115 S 1460 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, (4)U.S. Forest Service, Tongass National Forest, Thorne Bay Ranger District, P.O. Box 19001, Thorne Bay, AK 99919,

El Capitan Cave, the longest mapped cave in Alaska at just over 12,000ft of mapped passageways, is the only cave in the state people can go to for a recreational and educational cave tour experience. Located on the north end of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, El Capitan Cave is one of over 500 known caves in the area and is in the heart of a picturesque karst environment. Through the GeoCorps 2016 summer program, I was able to spend my summer working for the USDA Forest Service as a cave guide for El Capitan Cave along with two other GeoCorps participants. After outfitting our guests, ranging from cruise ship voyagers to local school groups, with helmets and headlamps, we would lead them on the hike of 370 stairs up to the cave. We would take intermittent “breather” breaks on the way up during which we would talk about various aspects of Southeast Alaskan karst and the El Capitan interpretive site in particular. These subjects include history of the trail and cave, characteristics of second growth versus old growth forests, plant identification, geologic history of the area, present ecologic relationships, and current archaeologic significance and indicators. The tour portion of the cave goes through roughly 500ft of passageways in which visitors are able to see various types of cave formations (including flowstone, soda straws, and cave coral) and are informed of the geologic history and paleontological significance of the cave system. The purpose of these free tours is to engage people and to provide in-the-field education to those who have not had formal schooling in natural sciences with hope to foster understanding and appreciation of the unique Southeast Alaskan karst landscape and its unique history. At the end of the tour, our goal as cave guides was to ensure that people from varying backgrounds and education levels were able to take away new and interesting information about karst ecosystems as well as some amazing photos.