Jemez Cave (a.k.a. Crystal Cave) is [still] closed to climbing


Eric Whitbeck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 205

Fine think what you want. I don't care, but I wish you guys luck in the issue and am just suggesting that if you want more local support, abandon the anonymous posting. If Paul Davidson posts something I will take it seriously and if he posts something that I disagree with I will take a lot more time to think about it than if it is posted by someone named climbshard because I respect him as a person and a climber. How are your observations of the situation supposed to be valid if no one knows who you are or if you are even involved rather than just bored at work? If that is inflammatory, you have some seriously thin skin.

Michael Wheat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 65

I've never met a climber that likes to climb in a dump. I've never met a climber that doesn't get concerned when an adverse threat like soil erosion, litter, or vandalism threatens the areas in which they frequent. If anything, it is my impression that climbers in general ( I know there are exceptions) will go out of the way to maintain their crags. I'd like to cite the new trail to the El Rito crags as an example. Los Alamos Mountaineers went out of their way to develop a new trail to prevent soil erosion and damage to the crag. My point is, that a place like crystal cave might be better off being frequented by climbers rather than being forgotten and frequented by transients, the high school party crowd, etc. Climbers are more likely to become alarmed if Crystal cave was to get trashed with beer bottles, syringes and graffiti and are MORE likely to clean it up, as well as take action to prevent it from happening again.

Thousands of years from now what are archeologist going to rediscover at Crystal Cave? A few bolts? Or remnants of beer bottles, syringes, trash bags, and diapers?

I'd like to also point out that transients, or people just looking for a place to get high, are a lot less likely to heed nor care about signage stating that the place is off limits. Those people are just going to end up stashing their trash and vandalizing the place while the people that care are going to stay away and know nothing about it because they will be respecting the signage.

The forest service and the pueblos might be shooting themselves in the foot by kicking climbers out because of a few bolts, and alleged hold chipping.

Eily from ABQ · · Albuquerque, New Mexico · Joined May 2010 · Points: 80

Hello, my name is Eily Schroeder, and that is my real name :) I loved climbing at Crystal Cave and was very close to sending Dope when the cave was closed. I went to the meeting, I asked a lot of questions, I talked to the lawyer, but in the end, we were told by both the lawyer and the head of NM CRAG, that we should back off because it was a lost cause. Two and half years later, I am not surprised that we are being told the same thing by Bryan Pletta..."that it is just not worth fighting" for. Well, it really sucks that someone who is supposed to be representing the climbing community can come to such a conclusion, but luckily, I have a lot of free time on my hands these days. I worked for the VA for a while and I have a special awareness for what the federal government will try to get away with without supervision. I am pretty sure they won't have a very good answer for how they can endlessly initiate "temporary closures," but I am excited to hear what they come up with. I plan to make a visit to the Jemez Ranger District Office in person, and will continue on to the SFNF Supervisor's Office if I have to. I could represent any interested user group who just wants to know what is going on with this closure, and I have a right to know. What is there to show for this 2.5 year closure? What are the plans for the future? How many temporary closures is the FS allowed to instigate? I will let you all know what I find out... If you want it done right....

Tom-onator · · trollfreesociety · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 790
Eily from ABQ wrote:Hello, my name is Eily Schroeder, and that is my real name :) I loved climbing at Crystal Cave and was very close to sending Dope when the cave was closed. I went to the meeting, I asked a lot of questions, I talked to the lawyer, but in the end, we were told by both the lawyer and the head of NM CRAG, that we should back off because it was a lost cause. Two and half years later, I am not surprised that we are being told the same thing by Bryan Pletta..."that it is just not worth fighting" for. Well, it really sucks that someone who is supposed to be representing the climbing community can come to such a conclusion, but luckily, I have a lot of free time on my hands these days. I worked for the VA for a while and I have a special awareness for what the federal government will try to get away with without supervision. I am pretty sure they won't have a very good answer for how they can endlessly initiate "temporary closures," but I am excited to hear what they come up with. I plan to make a visit to the Jemez Ranger District Office in person, and will continue on to the SFNF Supervisor's Office if I have to. I could represent any interested user group who just wants to know what is going on with this closure, and I have a right to know. What is there to show for this 2.5 year closure? What are the plans for the future? How many temporary closures is the FS allowed to instigate? I will let you all know what I find out... If you want it done right....
uhmm, holy anonymous asshats batman you just blew your cover....
Eric Whitbeck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 205

David,
Although I almost never agree with you, I agree with you in the sense that an anonymous poster can make an argument, however, I don't agree that an anonymous poster can say they have been there and done this and that. CHuffs alot misinterpreted my posting. I simply stated that if everyone defending the place is anonymous and everyone saying "screw it we lost it" is a real person that everyone knows, then the rest of us-who do care about access issues-have little to go on. I am generally against permadraws, don't really like caves that much, but I am able to climb at the grade required to be in the cave-club, however, I don't want it closed. My point was that if you want to keep the cave open, you need support from the whole community and that requires people thinking "hey that is where Eily and Augie love to climb, maybe we should haul ourselves up to Jemez and help them out." I am certainly not doing that for chuffers and other anonymous posters. So contrary to dividing the community my suggestion is the opposite. Real people get help, anonymous posters get dissed and if you're worried about your employers googling your postings, follow rule #1. Getting any area closed sucks and the area we don't like today may be our favorite area in the future. Who knows? If the FS was threatening to close the Sandias, how many people who climb at the cave would care? Strength in numbers folks.

Eric Whitbeck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 205

cultivating mass, blah blah..how can you attend a meeting anonymously?

Eily or DJK, post when the next meeting is and see if we can rally a gang to go.

George Perkins · · The Dungeon, NM · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 3,130

[deleted my posts in response to genuine tone change and to keep on focus].
Everyone interested in this should read what Williampenner has to say instead (below). Then read it again.

To everyone who's taken part in this discussion, gone to meetings and called the FS to follow up, thanks. I hope we can continue to have productive dialogue both within the climbing community and to the FS & BLM on this and other climbing issues in NM. A positive tone and seeing actual involvement from others ought to inspire people to put forth more efforts the future.

William Penner · · The 505 · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 455

I swore to myself I would not wade into this morass; however, I felt there might be some value in explaining a couple of the key issues related to Crystal (Jemez) Cave. In particular, I wanted to introduce the legislation that provides the framework for how the Forest Service (USFS) is trying to manage the cave. First, I have a couple mea culpas so everyone can slag on me for my limited perspective.

--I attended the NMCRAG meeting about Crystal Cave at Stone Age, as did several other posters in this thread. I wish everyone would participate when these types of meetings occur, even though I understand other obligations can make it difficult.

--I attended a follow-on meeting with NMCRAG representatives Bryan Pletta and Jason Halladay at the Jemez Ranger District to discuss the Crystal Cave situation with the USFS. They had their archaeologist present, along with other recreational specialists so we heard a variety of perspectives. In so much as I contributed anything to the meeting it was the perspective of an archaeologist who deals with somewhat similar situations all the time on a professional basis.

--I have never stepped foot in the Crystal Cave. I can climb hard enough to enjoy the routes there, although the cave never appealed to me for aesthetic and style reasons. I may, however, want to climb in the cave in the future and having it open benefits those who had been climbing there and any other potential users. I empathize with those who may have lost an area that was important to them.

--I have to make a living working with agencies like the USFS and BLM, so I will try to be as neutral as possible and just present facts and will note my views where possible. If you want to know my personal opinions just talk to me in the real world.

--I tried to use simple terms to explain the issues and whenever possible greater detail is given with footnotes or links to the original legislation or guidance from the various agencies.

--I apologize for the length of this multi-part post, but I am fairly passionate about these issues.

William Penner · · The 505 · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 455
Background:

Crystal Cave is an archaeological site on USFS property that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places1 (NRHP) for its important information potential2. Excavations at the cave in the mid-1930s, along with some later excavations in the 1970s, found the earliest evidence of agriculture in the Jemez area with fragments of corn dating to 500 B.C. and remains of squash. Additionally, these excavations by UNM resulted in the removal of a single infant burial, which was understood to be of Native American ancestry. Cave sites are almost always very important because of the excellent preservation; these are the only places where we can usually find cool items like feather capes or yucca fiber sandals. Any site that exhibits early evidence of agriculture is significant because of the profound social changes that accompany agriculture. Simply put, this is a big deal for the public and archaeologists and helped change and refine our understanding of New MexicoÂ’s prehistory.

It is not clear to me whether the entire site was excavated, but I feel the remaining important information potential lies primarily in any significant buried deposits that could still be present (this is my opinion, rather than that of the USFS). Further, the USFS feels that the soot on the cave roof is an “archaeological feature created from past habitation/use….with the potential to provide information that could be used to date the site further, and could be used in ethnobotanical analysis. Re-analysis of the cave may result in the documentation of additional modification of the cave walls and ceiling resulting from past habitation and use.3”

All of the above describes why Crystal Cave is listed on the NRHP for its contributions to our understanding of prehistory, i.e., why the agencies and archaeologists consider it to be important. In addition, Jemez Pueblo claims cultural affiliation with this site, and considers it, along with many others, to be important to their tribe. I donÂ’t know why they consider it important (one obvious reason could be the infant burial, which they likely consider an ancestor) and I donÂ’t see many reasons to speculate. In this case it is sufficient to say they do consider the cave to be important for reasons known to them (more on the implications of this later).

1. The NRHP is the official list of the United StatesÂ’ historic places worthy of preservation. More information is located here: nps.gov/nr/.
2. There are variety of ways a historic resource can be eligible to the NRHP, including important information potential (criterion D), which is explained in greater detail here: nps.gov/nr/publications/bul….
3. The closure order for the Crystal (Jemez) Cave is located here: fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DO….
William Penner · · The 505 · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 455
Existing conditions:

Since I have not seen the site, I will do my best to describe it based on discussions with the USFS and other climbers. Please feel to correct me if I make a statement in error. The cave has been used by a variety of individuals over the years due to its proximity to the highway. Updates to the archaeological site files from the 1970s to the 1990s always make reference to vandalism and erosion as major concerns with the site condition. As this will be important later, it is clear that the major impacts to the site have been ongoing for decades well before climbers began to use the cave in the early 2000s. Past impacts included typical things like trash, extensive campfires that also resulted in soot on the roof, and erosion from foot traffic. After climbers developed the cave there are about 50 to 60 bolts in the roof. According to the USFS, the use of the cave by climbers resulted in erosion due to increased visitation with climbers as the dominant user group.

USFS and their Statutory Obligations:

The USFS (and the entire federal government or those private entities who apply for federal permits or have projects on federal lands) is required by certain legislation to consider the impact of their actions on the natural, cultural and human environment. There are lots of laws that apply here, but the big ones the USFS is concerned with relative to the Crystal Cave are the National Environmental Policy Act1 (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act2 (NHPA). NEPA deals with almost all impacts to the environment and is a form of umbrella legislation that rolls up and considers lots of other laws like NHPA, Endangered Species Act, etc.

The NHPA is what I deal with all the time, and it asks federal agencies to consider if a project or activity has any adverse effects on a historic property, which means a resource that is listed on or eligible/potentially eligible to the NRHP. Further, if an undertaking has an adverse effect then the USFS has to consider if that project or activity should occur or if there is a way to mitigate this impact. Throughout this entire process (referred to as the Section 106 process), agencies are required to engage with consulting parties (those with some significant interest in the outcome or affected landowners for example), which includes tribal governments. In particular, the federal agency and a interested tribe or Pueblo have a special form of government-to-government consultation that is privileged and often not subject to public disclosure. As a result, the public may never now why the Pueblo considers this site important as the tribe may consider this information to be confidential. Tribes therefore have a unique role clearly defined in the Section 106 process and their viewpoints are of critical importance, albeit not always the deciding factor in what decision an agency may make. For example, many local tribes were opposed to extending Unser Boulevard through the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, but the Corps of Engineers decided to complete the project anyway with a variety of efforts in place to mitigate the adverse effects.

1. Wikipedia has an adequate explanation of the NEPA process located here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natio…
2. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has a Citizens Guide to the NHPA and Section 106 Process located here: achp.gov/docs/CitizenGuide.pdf
William Penner · · The 505 · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 455
Impacts to the Crystal Cave and Potential Mitigation:

The NHPA considers an adverse effect to be something that impacts the qualities that make a site eligible to the NRHP. As discussed above, Crystal Cave is listed on the NRHP for its important information potential (criterion D in terms of the NRHP1), which mostly includes the buried cultural deposits that may remain. At present this is the only reason the site is listed on the NRHP. Given that Jemez Pueblo appears to consider the cave as important to them, Crystal Cave also may considered a traditional cultural property1 and eligible to the NRHP for other reasons (criterion A in terms of the NRHP2).

So what types of adverse effects might be occurring when climbers use the cave? The closure document states: “increasing popularity and demand for sport overhead rock climbing in Jemez Cave is in direct conflict with the preservation and protection of Jemez Cave.” That is pretty generic, but the document goes on to list a couple of primary impacts and what is being impacted. Since we don’t know the perspective of Jemez Pueblo and how climbing may affect why they consider the site important, I have to skip this issue. (1) Climber traffic on the ground leads to erosion of potentially significant buried cultural deposits and (2) climbing on the roof impacts the soot or cave feature that may have some important research value.

Given these impacts, how could the USFS design a management plan to mitigate these adverse effects and allow for climbing to occur at the cave again? Dealing with erosion is fairly straightforward and has been used elsewhere to great effect. Put down some type of cloth barrier, bring in clean fill as overburden up to whatever depth is necessary, then stabilize the site and approach trail so erosion is no longer an issue. A labor- and cost-intensive solution to be certain, but if everyone interested in climbing at the cave donated monies or time this would be a reasonable solution for the USFS despite their current lack of funding. This also would have been a great solution for the Mushroom Boulder at Hueco Tanks, but from a bureaucratic perspective a closure is much easier most of the time.

How could the USFS mitigate the impacts from climbers as “their shoes smear some of the soot each time they climb in the cave and chalk marks are left on the sooted roof?” I don’t really think the USFS can distinguish whether a hold is chipped and the Crystal Cave climbers seem to agree no modification occurred so I will skip that perceived impact. Before answering that I have to go back to the past/existing conditions at the cave to note that campfires were very common over the decades prior to climbing. In my opinion, this type of impact severely diminished the information potential in the soot before climbers ever got there. Further, I have not seen any extensive body of research that indicates roof soot is an important dataset when it has been so impacted subsequent to the original prehistoric use of the cave. From my perspective, there would therefore be no need to mitigate for climbers impacting the cave roof since the information potential in the soot has already been so heavily compromised.

1. A traditional cultural property is an historic property whose significance is derived from the role the property plays in a community's historically rooted beliefs, customs, and practices, which is explained in greater detail here: nps.gov/nr/publications/bul….
2. There are variety of ways a historic resource can be eligible to the NRHP, including its association with important events in the past (criterion A) or its important information potential (criterion D), which is explained in greater detail here: nps.gov/nr/publications/bul….
William Penner · · The 505 · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 455
Conclusion:

Sweet, if only I ruled the world or ran the USFS then mitigation of impacts and a management plan would be straightforward and folks could climb at the cave again! Well, I totally understand why it is not so simple. Critically, none of us really understand the concerns of Jemez Pueblo (including perhaps the USFS) and their perspective is critical to shaping any management plan. This leaves me thinking that the best thing to do is remain engaged in the process, voice your opinion in a constructive way, and try to understand the decisions being made while being respectful of the various parties and perspectives. Don’t get me wrong because I know how much patience this requires and how painful it is—the glacial pace of decision-making at the USFS can drive anyone mad even when one considers how understaffed they are. My condolences to those who lost their important climbing area and are pissed about it. I really hope we can avoid similar situations in the future.

William
Eric Whitbeck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 205

W,
Well done.

Mountain Project · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 0

As retribution against Jemez Pueblo for closing crystal cave, I am making a pledge to ban any business related to this tribe. I encourage other climbers to do the same.

I will never buy any gas, Jolley Rancher push pops, doritos, mountain dew, Sour Skittles, Beef Jerkey, Peanut Butter M&Ms, bubble Yum,hot Cheetos, red Bull, Beer (hey cousin wha happen..uh), or lays Potatoe chips from thier gas stations ever again!

Road side Indian Tacos? Fuck off, packing a sandwich instead. Oh ya, me and La Lloronna are putting a curse on the Jemez Pueblo Too ! Ha! Take that!! Close my Crystal Cave I'll show you!

Shirtless Mike · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 5,095

I agree 100% with Lafayette, I too have decided not to purchase anything from Jemez Pueblo businesses. While it may have a negligible effect, if enough people did it, perhaps it would begin to hurt the Pueblo's revenue source. If I had infinite money I would love to purchase a billboard just outside their boundary's urging people not to purchase from the Pueblo.

(From the Article) I'm not surprised they managed to issue 1900 speeding citations, there is a cop there every time I go through the Pueblo. Is this for genuine safety concerns or to get extra revenue to hire more lawyers for land grabs?

I'll stop now before I really start ranting...

Shirtless Mike · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 5,095

Thanks Jason & Bryan for looking into this. Eily and Djkyote for continuing to pressure the forest service about it. William for the excellent post about the history and archeological significance of the area.

It is too bad that the forest service and Jemez Pueblo aren't open to building a boardwalk above the ground, or bringing in fill dirt to protect any un-excavated artifacts.

Mike Tritt, so no-one thinks I'm trying to hide behind my screen name.

Owen Summerscales · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,098

I'd be pretty happy with a bypass around jemez pueblo. Every time we drive through there we nearly hit one of the many stray dogs that are left to roam around.

Eric Whitbeck · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 205

I am with Owen. The drive just sucks. It is slow, windy, filled with creeping RVs and of course the loose dogs. Build a bypass or pave the road from the Pond up to the Jemez. A toll road seems redundant, however, as they made plenty of money off the 2000 tickets.

Eily from ABQ · · Albuquerque, New Mexico · Joined May 2010 · Points: 80

Sorry this is long, but if you like details, here you go:
I met with Jeff Harris and Jeremy Marshall today at the Jemez Ranger District Office. They were both very nice, but didn't have the best news. I asked them what the status of the archeological survey was, if there was a report, and if I could see it. They said that the archeological survey was completed in about a month's time. According to these rangers, deposits and pollen were discovered in the dirt that supposedly date back 12,000 years. Jeremy said that they plan to rebury the "baby" or "princess" in six weeks. Jeff said that actually, many things had to be done before the reburial, and that it probably wouldn't happen in six weeks. The state archeologists, the Bandolier archeologists(Vanishing Treasures?), SHIPO(State Historic Preservation Officer) and the FS all have to meet to discuss how the reburial will be done. I asked if there was a public record of the archeological reports or if there will be a meeting to reveal the findings and they said they had not received one, and that they might not...so, how we are supposed to know if any of this is true, I'm not sure.
I went on to ask what the deal was with the ever increasing temporary closures, since I could not find any info abut this on the internet. I asked how many temporary closures the FS could instigate and Jeff said as many as they want. I asked if there is a document that can support this claim and he said it was all part of their CFR, or codified federal register, but wasn't sure if there is an actual document stating their legal right to initiate infinite temporary closures.
I told them that I understood the land CC is on to be FS land and that it is deemed a recreational user area. They said that CC is indeed on FS land and is a National Recreation Area, or NRA, for multiple users. However, federal acts give tribes oversight on "forest sacred lands." He said that the Jemez tribe had pretty much claimed all of the district. I asked, as an example, if the Jemez Tribe could claim the Soda Dam. Jeff said, that they could try, but the FS wouldn't let them. So, I reiterated that the decision to allow such tribes to claim sacred lands such as the soda dam is up to the FS, and he said yes. Jeff went on to say that he had discussed creating a management plan with Brian Pletta for CC once the archeological report was back, thinking it wasn't going to contain so much historical and tribal significance. However, after hearing what was discovered, he said he didn't think there would be any management plan, but most likely a permanent closure.
I mentioned the idea someone else has given in this forum, using the example of Cova Gran in Santa Linya. I asked if it would be possible to consider covering these artifacts with plywood platforms, as other historically significant areas have done to allow climbing to continue. Jeff said that that idea probably wouldn't fly because the cave itself contains soot. I said, "not from the 70s?" According to Jeff, no, the soot has been dated back 12,000 years.
I asked why now? If this place has always been so important to the tribe, why was it full of diapers and garbage when climbers came upon it? Jeff just reiterated that the tribe has always wanted it closed. So, I pressed a little more and asked what finally led to the CC closure. Apparently, when Joshua Madalena became governor in 2012, it was one of his top priorities to close the cave and rebury the child. He was not governor in 2013, but is again governor now and until the end of 2014. I asked who would be able to visit the cave once it was permanently closed and he said no one but the tribe.
I mentioned that one of the reasons I was meeting with him had to do with allegations of new bolts and draws in the cave. When I first got to the office, I talked with only Jeremy about it, and he said he could probably take me up to the cave to get a pic of the proof, which made me very excited. However, Jeff shut that down saying only tribal members or FS employees could go up there. I asked how many draws and bolts there were. Jeff said about 20-30. I was confused and asked him how people could sneak up there and install that much gear. He told me that they had never actually removed all of the gear up there, they removed what they could reach and that there are about 20-30 remaining bolts and permadraws. It's been 2.5 years and the gear is still up there. So, I asked how they knew that new gear was up there. Jeff said there are about 3-4 new bolts and draws going right up the middle of the cave. I asked again if I could just go up with them and get a picture of this, and at least say goodbye to this place, but got a firm no.
Before leaving, I gave them my email and phone number and asked them to please let me know if the archeological report ever becomes available, explaining that it might really help a lot of the people in the climbing community to at least understand how a favorite climbing area could be forever closed.
Oh, and by the way,

I thought we were bulldozing...

Michael Wheat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 65
Eily from ABQ wrote: Oh, and by the way, I thought we were bulldozing...
Love it! The necessity of modern convenience trumps ancient cultural and archeological significance. Everything about non-native americans is bad accept, light bulbs, automobiles, computers, planes, phones, the internet, public infrastructure, casino patrons, etc, etc.....

So whats next? They keep all the climbers out, and the place goes back to the way it used to be (trash, beer bottles, diapers, etc)? Or they spend more money on resources patrolling and fencing off the place? Funny how the FS / Pueblo is willing to work really hard at maintaining something they obviously didn't care about maintaining in the first place.

The climbing community cleaned it up. It would be in the climbing communities interest to keep it clean (free of charge more than likely). The only reason why its back on the radar is because of the climbing community.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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