ST. GEORGE — Lowering oneself down into a dark cavern, crawling and climbing over rocks, and slinking through narrow openings and over damp, cold slippery rocks is all part of the Bloomington Cave experience. The cave sits on the eastern slope of the Beaver Dam Mountains, approximately 15 miles west of St. George, it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is open to the public to explore on a permit basis.
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Videocast by John Teas, St. George News
About the cave
Bloomington Cave is a tectonic cave, or fault line cave, formed during a major earthquake. It has six different levels currently identified that are connected with steep crevasses and narrow cliffs between the rocks.
About 1 1/2 miles of the 250-foot deep cavern have been surveyed and mapped, with an estimated one-half mile yet to be mapped; measurements are approximate and will vary between studies as the surveying is a continuing project.
Bloomington Cave is currently believed to be the fifth longest cave in Utah, BLM’s Outdoor Recreation Planner, Kyle Voyle, said. That is a step up from its ranking sixth longest in Utah in a BLM 2009 report.
Voyle has been involved with maintenance of the cave for years and is doing the current mapping. As tectonic caves go, Bloomington Cave is notable, Voyle said.
“As far as we know, Bloomington Cave is the longest tectonic cave in the United States,” Voyles said.
So far, inspections show recent earthquakes have had no effect on the cave, Voyles said. Although damage could be possible if an earthquake occurred within the same fault as the cave.
Exploring the cave
Permits are required to explore the cave and can be obtained free at the St. George Bureau of Land Management Field Office at 345 East Riverside Drive in St. George, or online.
Bloomington Cave is not a commercial cave. “There are no lights, handrails or paved paths. It is what is considered to be a wild cave,” Voyles said, “left in its wild state with no improvements whatsoever.”
Lights, helmets with headlamps, maps, water and a basic first-aid kit are strongly advised for those opting for this spelunking adventure. The biggest danger in cave exploration is hitting your head on rocks if you are not wearing a helmet.
Bloomington Cave is not rated for difficulty. Thus, the difficulty will be relative to a person’s skill level and experience. To the casual spelunker, or caver, sections of this cave could be challenging. There are six routes through the cave, each marked with colored streamers fastened to the ceiling.
View the cave routes to read a description of what each entails. Having a map makes navigation easier. The slope of the cave is 60–70 degrees to the west. Steep drop-offs present the greatest hazard in the Bloomington Cave, and have been a factor in accidents and even one death when a teenager fell more than 150 feet while exploring the Cave with a group of other teens and adults at midnight on Christmas Eve 2002. Such groups can lack caving experience, basic cave safety equipment, such as reliable light sources, protective head gear, or appropriate clothing and footwear.
“Don’t go beyond your expertise level,” Voyles said. “Also, do not follow the arrows on the walls. Arrows are supposed to point the way out, but unfortunately over the years people have gone different directions and painted arrows that will … get you confused as to how to get out.”
Bloomington Cave is 58 degrees year-round with humidity ranging from 90-100 percent, depending on what part of the cave you’re in. The humidity will make it feel warmer.
The cave can be much more difficult than expected even for those who have been caving before. Would-be spelunkers are encouraged to observe the BLM’s Cave Safety checklist linked here.
Cave management plan – grafitti, “glo-sticks” and litter removal
In the past, there has been extensive vandalism to the Bloomington cave, including considerable colorful grafitti, markings with “glo-sticks” and miles of string left by visitors seeking to mark their way out. Volunteer groups known as grottos have undertaken to clean up the cave in 2005, but no sooner was that substantial effort completed than new markings popped up again.
In 2009, the BLM introduced a cave management plan “to enhance resource protection for the sensitive biological, geological, and cultural/historical values of the cave; to improve visitor preparedness when exploring the cave; and to provide opportunities for high quality recreational and educational experiences at Bloomington Cave.” Among other things, a gate was installed at the cave’s point of access and the permit system implemented allowing for improved education of the spelunking public and better maintenance.
Kyle Voyles and John Jasper have been key administrators of efforts to restore the cave and preserve old writings within the cave. In 2011 another concentrated cleanup effort was made with better success and visitor respect for the cavern’s natural state has increased.
Today, the efforts to preserve and restore the cave to its original state continue but to finish the project, Voyles said, funds and volunteers are needed.
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St. George News Editor-in-Chief contributed to this report.
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