Lehman Caves Grand Palace Tour

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Trip Date: Sunday, November 11th, 2018
Last Updated: Thursday, February 21st, 2019
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 0.6 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Having toured three other caves prior -- Mystery Cave, Wind Cave, and Jewel Cave -- I was immediately impressed after entering Lehman Caves (not surprising since a big reason I came here was because someone on my Jewel Cave tour told me Lehman Caves were the best). Though the aforementioned caves certainly had their share of interesting formations, the sheer number and scale of formations in Lehman Caves was on another level. Great Basin National Park is quite a drive from any major city, but these caves alone made the trip worthwhile.

At the time of writing, tickets for the Grand Palace Tour cost $11 for adults age 16 and older. Discounts are available for seniors with a Golden Age or Senior Pass. More information is available on the cave tours webpage. Wear good shoes and a sweatshirt or jacket -- it'll be a cool 50 degrees inside no matter the season! Also, you must leave all bags, food, and beverages including water in your car, and be sure to use the restroom before starting the 90 minute tour.

The tour starts with an introduction outside of the visitor center, and then the ranger escorts the group down a narrow hallway into the cave. Just before opening the door to the cave, you'll be required to walk across a chemically treated mat to help combat White-Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease harming bat populations in caves around the U.S. and Canada. In the first room, the ranger will begin talking about the processes that form the various rocks and shapes you'll see along your tour, like the stalactites and draperies pictured below.

You'll pass many stalactites and draperies

You'll pass many stalactites and draperies

The cave formations in Lehman Caves are all speleothems, artifacts created by rainwater seeping underground and becoming slightly acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide in the soil and slowly dissolving the limestone rock and depositing it on cave surfaces. Shapes depend entirely on the action of the water as it enters a cave. Dripping water creates the famous stalactites (hanging tight to the ceiling) and stalagmites (you might trip over one) as well as columns (when stalactites and stalagmites connect) and soda straws (like stalactites but thin and cylindrical), all of which are pictured below. Water flowing down cave walls creates flowstone, commonly in the form of draperies and cave bacon (thinner than draperies and with colored bands -- just one of many food-themed formations). When water flows through a horizontal crack, cave shields can develop -- something Lehman Caves are known for. You'll also see cave popcorn, the result of water splattering on walls, the floor, or other cave formations.
It's amazing what dripping water can create out of limestone

It's amazing what dripping water can create out of limestone

The biggest difference between Lehman Caves and the other caves I've visited was that the formations weren't limited to certain areas -- it seemed like every surface in the cave had some fantastic decoration. You'll have to move your head in all directions to ensure you don't miss any of the beautiful sights, like the ceiling pictured below.
Stalactites and draperies hanging from the ceiling

Stalactites and draperies hanging from the ceiling

In this particular hallway pictured above, the ranger pointed out that algae was growing on the flowstone to the right side of the path. Algae is a persistent problem in many show caves since their moist environment combined with the brightness and warmth provided by lighting systems encourages growth in an otherwise dark and inhospitable place. This algae upsets the cave ecosystem because it acts as a food source, discolors cave formations, and can prevent further formation growth. The introduction of LED lighting has helped reduce this problem since LED bulbs don't produce nearly as much heat as incandescents, but crews must still manually remove algae using a bleach solution and towels.

One of the commonalities this tour had with other cave tours is the evidence of past visitors. You'll pass through two significant rooms that showcase these impacts. The Lodge Room, a wide expanse without too many cave formations and ceiling higher than your head, was so named because the Elks Lodge frequently used it for meetings and parties (one tour member joked that there must have been a lot of children named "Lehman" in town). Another, called the Inscription Room is full of graffiti from earlier visitors, who would burn their names on the ceiling using the candles that lit their tour. As explained by the ranger, there is controversy about what to do with this graffiti. Obviously any markings are damaging to cave walls, but many of the markings are over 100 years old and considered historical. Because some of the graffiti was burned into the rock rather than being written with ink or charcoal, prior removal attempts have failed and the graffiti remains. You will also notice many broken cave formations throughout the tour, the consequence of the policy in the early days of cave tourism: "if you can break it, you can take it".

Deeper in, you'll enter an area known as Cypress Swamp, named for the many stalactites, stalagmites, and columns that evoke images of Louisiana, as pictured below. The celing is low in this room, and if you're really tall you'll definitely have to duck!
The stalactites and stalagmites of Cypress Swamp

The stalactites and stalagmites of Cypress Swamp

At the end, you'll reach the Grand Palace room, named after the decadent formations that fill the room. One formation called the Chocolate Fountain, pictured below, features dripping columns and stalagmites over a base of flowstone that resemble something you'd see on the dessert table at a fancy wedding. Also in this room, you'll find the Parachute, a gigantic shield formation hovering above the ground. Shield formations are what Lehman Caves are best known for (but apparently they're hard to photograph well which is why I haven't shared any pictures of shields) with 300 shields in the cave, significantly more than you'll find in any other cave on the planet (most caves only have one or two if any).
The Chocolate Fountain formation in the Grand Palace

The Chocolate Fountain formation in the Grand Palace

Overall, this is an absolutely amazing cave tour in one of the coolest caves in the U.S. Book your tour now at Recreation.gov to save your spot. If you're not convinced to drive to middle-of-nowhere Nevada just for a cave, look at pictures of Great Basin National Park and realize there's an entire alpine wonderland to explore high above the caves. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are not allowed on cave tours. Children under 5 are not allowed on the tour except in winter; otherwise this is a family friendly tour as long as there are enough slots open for your group. Tours are offered all year except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Temperatures inside the cave are a consistently chilly 50 degrees, so wear a sweater or jacket! Good walking shoes are essential since pavement is rough and uneven and likely to be wet in places. To protect the cave, you're pretty much only allowed to bring your body, a flashlight, and a camera: all food and drink is prohibited including water and neither backpacks, camera bags, hiking poles, tripods, nor purses are allowed. Tour groups are limited to 20 people and often sell out, so arrive early or make prior reservations on Recreation.gov.

Directions

From Baker, take Nevada Highway 488 towards Great Basin National Park. Once in the park, continue straight until the road ends at the visitor center parking lot.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Unlike many other national parks, there is no entrance fee in Great Basin National Park. There are restrooms, water, a gift shop, and educational exhibits in the visitor center.

External Links

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