Gypsum Cave

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This page last updated on 04/06/2018

(Fig 01)
Gypsum Cave
(Fig. 02) Click to Enlarge
04/24/2013 Trip Notes:
After leaving NV-147 (Lake Mead Blvd) you must drive in about five miles on the Pabco Mine Rd before turning off and heading north onto a dirt road near a grouping of power line poles. Refer to (Fig. 02) There are several crisscrossing roads in this area, most all of which leading to a parking area (Fig. 03) below the cave. The view in (Fig. 03) was taken looking down from the cave entrance, back to the parking area. Note, Lava Butte is the dark, volcanic mountain in the very center of this view.
To reach the cave entrance you must then climb a several hundred feet up a hill (Fig. 01) in front of the parking area. The dark area in the center of (Fig. 01) is the location of the cave opening. Unfortunately, for the shot of the cave’s entrance in (Fig. 04), I had to zoom in in order to eliminate the multitude of graffiti markings that some rather unscrupulous persons had sprayed all over the outside rock faces. It was really sad to see how much this area had been defaced. They even graffitied area inside the cave.

Because it has been written that unexcavated areas of the cave still exist, we were hopeful that we might be able to explore its depths and find something of interest. Unfortunately, our exploration of the site (Figs. 05 & 06) revealed that the majority of the rooms were well below ground, and required much better lighting and climbing equipment than we had in order to be safely explored. The first room entrance we located had some wooden shoring (Fig. 07) near the opening, but then required you to squeeze through a very narrow opening to go any deeper. The second room’s entrance was a small opening that required a very steep decent into a very dark room (Fig. 08) that appeared to go much deeper. Without a stronger light, it was impossible to determine what we would be facing. Learn more about this site by reading the “Cave History” below.

Climbing to the top of the ridge above the cave, seen in (Fig. 01), we were afforded a view of the open pit Pabco Gypsum mine and processing plant (Fig. 09), the largest drywall manufacturing operation on the West Coast. Mining at the Pabco plant started in the early 1960s. At the time, Pabco used to scrape gypsum from the land, but now, new technologies and methods allow them to drill and blast gypsum. Their manufacturing plant produces nearly a billion square feet of board annually; enough daily to line the innards of 800 homes. In 1994, Nevada State Historical Marker #103 was erected about a half mile from the cave's entrance, but it was removed by the  PABCO Mining Company, to discourage visitation of the area.
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Cave History: Gypsum Cave, a six-room limestone cave in located in Sunrise Mountain, is considered to be among the oldest aboriginal sites in North America. The cave measures 300 feet long (deep) by 120 feet wide. Its rooms are filled with dry, dusty deposits. Gypsum Cave is significant because it has yielded artifacts related to early human occupation and information about the region's ancient ecosystem.

Gypsum Cave Photo
(Fig. 10)
Back in 1930-31, archaeologist Mark R. Harrington (Fig. 09) unearthed various kinds of prehistoric materials from Gypsum Cave, proving that it was occupied by both humans and now-extinct mammals, specifically the ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastense). His excavation yielded an extraordinary collection of terminal-Pleistocene paleontological and Holocene archaeological specimens. In different places within the cave, he found hand-carved wooden fore-shafts from dart/atlatl weapons, torches, stone points, and yucca fiber string. Since the advent of radiocarbon dating, it has been determined that the presence of sloths in the cave dates back to between 20,000 to 33,000 years BP (Before Present). In contrast, the human artifacts are much younger. Radiocarbon dates on the dart shaft fragment and nine other cane and wooden dart fragments taken from the cave’s six rooms range from 2,900 and 4,250 years BP. The oldest implement now documented from the cave is a fragment of a 9,280-year-old basket found in a crevice in Room 3. It is among the oldest pieces of basketry ever found in North America, and its weave is unlike that of other basketry traditions documented in the region.