Glenwood Caverns is temporarily closed until March while we install our new high-capacity tram. In the meantime, we’ve been busy housekeeping our treasured caves.
Most caves including Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park have a stable year-round temperature of about 55°F (13°C). Even when the outside temps dip to freezing or below, the interior of the caves remains comfortable for working—and that’s just what we’ve been doing since the Park temporarily closed in the fall.
Improving the cave experience for visitors
“The closure gives us time to work on some projects. We were able to eliminate eight steps on the King’s Row tour. It will be the same fun and informative cave tour, but now guests will be able to walk amongst some of the rocks instead of above them on a walkway,” said Kathy Miller, Natural Attractions Manager at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. “Visitors will feel more a part of the cave and get a sense of what it might have felt like for the first people who discovered this room in 1960.” In place of the raised walkway, Miller and her team installed a new path with switchbacks that meander through the rockfall. The location of the new walking surface is in the Barn, the second largest cave room in Colorado. It’s what’s known as a breakdown room where the floor is covered with rocks that dislodged from the ceiling when the cave was formed. Extreme care was taken to ensure that no living cave formations were damaged in the process of building the pathway.
Yes, we dust our cave formations
Just like homes, caves are not maintenance free. Miller and her staff spend a significant amount of time housekeeping. Even though visitors leave backpacks, food and other items outside of the caves before taking a tour, they still track debris inside that must be tidied up periodically. “We regularly clean lint and hair from the cave walkways and formations, and we dust the formations as well,” Miller explained. During the closure the team is doing an extensive deep clean that includes removing dust with small shop vacs fitted with an attachment typically used to clean computer keyboards. After the dust is removed the formations also get a gentle washing. “When spring comes the cave will rinse itself but we want to get the dust gone before the thaw,” Miller added.
Checking, replacing and installing
At any given time there are two to four staff members working in the caves as well as a welder who is constructing new handrails for guest safety and convenience. The maintenance checklist includes checking the airlock seals on the doors, replacing burned out bulbs and resetting lights for the new pathway. Building the pathway necessitated pouring concrete for a smooth and stable pedestrian-friendly surface. Because of its location inside a cave and the need for the airlock doors to remain sealed at all times, pouring concrete is done the old fashioned way. “We put up a double tent to contain the dust. Instead of using a cement truck, portable mixers and bagged concrete are hauled in. Our contractor does it the hard way—in small batches, by hand,” Miller said. Other tasks taking place include installing a new phone line in the event of an emergency and “scaling” work which is poking areas prone to loose rock.
Open or closed, high-season or off-season, we are always concerned about the health and wellness of our cave. It’s our baby! Caves are extremely fragile environments with perceptible growth occurring incrementally over long periods of time. To assess its condition, the staff takes the cave’s temperature and measures humidity. It is an ongoing project that to date has spanned 20 years. Every three months a group of cavers from Denver check the evaporometers and data loggers that are placed throughout the cave. Evaporometers are devices that measure the rate of evaporation. Your cave guide can point them out to you on a cave tour. The data loggers take the temperature of the cave every 15 minutes. The information then gets downloaded and evaluated by experts four times per year.
While the Park may seem dormant this winter, there is a lot happening behind the scenes. Special thanks to Kathy Miller for providing information and photographs. Miller was recently appointed to the board of directors for the National Caves Association as regional director for member caves in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. She joined Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in March 2006 and was promoted to natural attractions manager in October 2014. Miller has lived in the area for 28 years.