Caving BIO -- Jon Jasper

My humble caving origins began in my youth.  My fascination with caves began with family trips to Mammoth Cave. As a young boy (6 to 7 years old, 1978 to1979) I was very amused by the guide’s torch throwing. When I was 12 years old (8th grade, 1984) my first wild cave trip was to the very popular Buckner’s Cave in Indiana with a volunteer group – Cincinnati Zoo’s SEEDS (Student Environmental Education Discovery). However, I really didn’t truly start caving until I began going with my high school buddy, Mike Mays. His high school Geology teacher took him caving regularly. When I started driving, (16 years old, 1988) we started caving.    

I went caving whenever and with whoever I could and spent almost all of my free time researching more caves to go to. I attended many Greater Cincinnati Grotto meetings, searched through libraries, and asked all of the cavers for interesting caves to go to. For the first 3 years, I was caving 3 out for 4 weekends a month. Being only 16 to 19 years old, I was not taken too seriously by other grotto cavers, but I was still able to visit hundreds of caves in central Kentucky.

I started college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where I stumbled upon friends trying to create a nongrotto – a caving organization set up to avoid nasty caving politics. This group led me to my first experiences with project caving. Teamed with Hilary Hopper, Derek Bristol, and Kirk Bristol, we mapped and explored caves to help stop the expansion of the landfill near Sloan’s Valley Cave. 

The 14-year old footprint proving that we were no longer in unexplored passages in Martin Ridge Cave.

After I graduated with a BS from University of Cincinnati (1994), I started a master degree program at Western Kentucky University. My emphasis was in applied cave sciences. I used dye tracing techniques, microgravity, ground penetrating radar, groundwater mapping, GPS, and land surveying techniques in class projects and while working for Dr. Nicholas Crawford at his business, Crawford and Associates, Inc.

In graduate school, I had many teaching-related tasks. One of particular interest to me was teaching a course with Steve Capps called, “The Secret World of Caves” to gifted 4th through 6th graders (1995 to 1996). In this course, we would give the students an overview of caves and basic cave formations. Then for the end of the course, we would go on three field trips: one to Mammoth Cave National Park, a wild cave trip, and then a trip to Lost River Cave to look at surface karst features. I also was a teacher's assistant where I taught "Introduction to Geology" Lab. Teamed with several other cave-emphasis graduate students, I had the opportunity to see many more caves. From Bowling Green, Kentucky we hit caves all over Kentucky and Tennessee and eventually I found myself back at the area around Mammoth Cave. Alan Glennon and I set out to discover one significant cave. We first searched many areas near Fisher Ridge Cave, and we ended up discovering a new cave near the isolated Whigpistle Cave, which Alan named Martin Ridge Cave. In the first summer (1996) after discovering Martin Ridge Cave, we had mapped over 4 miles and connected it to both Whigpistle Cave and Jackpot Cave. The length of new system was 32.5 miles long – at the time, the 9th longest cave in the United States!

To be closer to the exploration of Martin Ridge Cave, I took up seasonal employment as a cave guide at Mammoth Cave National Park (summers of 1996 and 1997). I started writing my graduate paper, Geomorphic History of Martin Ridge Cave (1997 to 2000), which involved several dye traces and hours of geologic mapping. I changed my path from a Hydrology focus where I spent my time chasing after toxic ooze, to conservation and preservation work for the National Park Service. I was soon working as the Cave Specialist under Rodney Horrocks at Great Basin National Park, home of Lehman Caves. 

I was originally hired in October and November 1997 as a seasonal Physical Science Technician at Great Basin National Park to GPS and inventory all of the park’s caves. For 2 months, Kelly Mathis and I walked about inventorying the park’s caves. I later returned taking a year-round position to help reconstruct the tourist trail through Lehman Caves (1998). We installed nonslip trail surfaces, stainless-steel handrails, and fiberglass stairs throughout the cave’s trail. I also helped design and install cave gates, lead restoration projects (such as Lint Camps and removing old trail debris - wood, asphalt, cement, old light cables), and established the beginning of the park’s GIS program through receiving ESRI software grants. After 2 years (July 1998 to August 2000) at Great Basin National Park, I took a position in Utah to work at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.

Even though the change to Timpanogos Cave National Monument was a lateral move, I went from being the Cave Management Specialist to be an acting Chief of Science and Resource Management -- I didn’t receive an increase pay, but I did greatly increase my responsibility.  I had to expand my focus to include surface resources, as well as cave resources. 

Jon Jasper guiding a welder down from gating Middle Cave at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.

At Timpanogos Cave National Monument, I started doing projects similar to what I did at Great Basin National Park, however with much less manpower and funding.  I worked with an incredibly talented crew - Cami Pulham, Brandon Kowallis, Jason Mateljak, Tim Barnhart, and Becky Peterson.  I was able to get funding to start replacing the caves’ gates and handrails. In 2001, I established a GIS program incorporating detailed cave map layers. I acquired funding for and began many monitoring projects [temperature/rH, water quality, airflow, drip rates, photomonitoring (Werkers installation 2000 to 2002), invertebrates survey (Dr. Riley Nelson 2003-2004), microbe inventory (Megan Porter 2003 to 2004), and monitoring the effects of visitation].      

At Timpanogos Cave National Monument, I became very active in the local Utah caving scene. I branched out from the monument as well, and helped in various cave-related endeavors throughout the state. I helped the BLM gate Crystal Cave (November 2004) and as Chairman of a management team to help the Utah School State Trust Lands gate and manage the highest visitation wild cave in the state, Nutty Putty Cave (2004 to 2005). I helped the University of Utah Museum of Natural History create a Utah caving exhibit, The Dark Zone (2004 to 2005) and helped the Utah Division of Wildlife create Utah Bat Research Cooperative (2005). I helped Chuck Acklin in creating a Cave Safely, Cave Softly program for youth groups (2004). Kyle Voyles and I led one of the largest cave restoration projects in the state by removing graffiti from Bloomington Cave using Ray Keeler’s sandblasting equipment (January to April 2005). Our restoration efforts earned the Timpangos Grotto the National Speleological Society (NSS) Cave Conservation Award in 2005. And I was the project coordinator for the Tony Grove Cave Survey Project (2003 to 2006) in which a breakthrough discovery in Main Drain Cave lead it to become the state’s new deepest cave (1,230 ft deep) and, at the time, the 9th deepest in the United States.

Drilling rig near cave entrance near Carlsbad, NM


In November 2006, pursuing career advancement, I moved to the caving mecca of Carlsbad, New Mexico to work along side the renowned BLM National Cave Lead, Jim Goodbar, as a Cave Specialist for the BLM Carlsbad Field Office. The job was impressively loaded with concerns over the intensity of oil and gas development. My position worked to regulate and monitor the effects of drilling on cave resources. The Carlsbad area had many world-class caves including Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave. The city also pumped its water from the same geologic formation that contained these caves. So my position was in the center of an interesting fight between the powerful, well-backed oil and gas development companies and the puny BLM specialists pushing to manage the land and its resources in the “public’s best interests.”  

I organized and collected data to present arguments to encourage "responsible" oil and gas drilling. I created GIS layers containing cave surveys, large sinkholes, cave occurrence density, and Capitan Massif Aquifer occurrence areas. I created maps showing the areas of special cave and karst interests. I performed regional dye traces, injecting fluorescent dyes into the drilling mud to see if they would surface at nearby springs and water wells. I worked to educate the public on the growing concerns and the need to properly manage oil and gas development.   

Also in the Carlsbad area, I aided in several restoration projects for the caves on BLM, Forest Service, and National Park Service lands. I was an active participant in the High Guads Cave Project (HGCP) led by Jennifer Foote and Aaron Stockton. The purpose of HGCP was to restore the heavily traveled caves on the Forest Service lands. Most of the work was cleaning cave formations and marking trails. We also performed area-wide bat counts, gate repairs, and cave formation repair. I also led large groups (12 to 16 individuals) of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) students on restoration trips into the McKittrick Hill Caves to clean cave formations, remove debris, and mark trails. I also collected bat monitoring data from bat counters and temperature/rH loggers.

In May 2008, I moved to St. George, Utah after accepting a position as an Outdoor Recreation Planner for the BLM Arizona Strip Field Office.  I quickly tried to get back into some of my old Utah cave projects. I felt like my greatest failing project was the closure of Nutty Putty Cave due to the previous cave manager being threatened with a lawsuit. I pushed to continue with the renegotiations with the School State Trust. I encouraged Michael Leavitt to manage the access to Nutty Putty Cave. Michael set up a great online permitting system. The management was finally working again, until Thanksgiving week 2009, when John Jones died after being stuck in a passage for over 30 hours. The cave was quickly cemented shut after the tragedy.

Another project I quickly got involved in after returning to Utah was cave gating. Kyle Voyles and I pushed to get a contract for the gating projects for both Bloomington Cave and Antelope Cave. I started getting Bloomington Cave back to the state it was in when the restoration project ended.The cave kiosk was restored and we scheduled the return of the sandblasting gear to continue removing graffiti.

Under contract, both entrances to Bloomington Cave and Antelope Cave were gated. Bloomington Cave was gated due to its growing popularity and Antelope Cave was gated for its Archeological significance. Kyle and I also gated Jerky Cave, because it contained Native American remains. KyPet Caverns was gated to protect its amazingly pristine formations. In 2008 to 2009, Kyle Voyles and I gated four cave gates in Southern Utah.

Jon Jasper in junction room. Photo by Brandon Kowallis.

In October 2008, I began following Jason Ballenski and Doug Powell on their amazing explorations into the Grand Canyon.  Three trips occurred in 2008 to yield 5 miles of newly mapped cave passages. Our new discovery became the state's longest cave at 5.0 miles. In 2009, surveys continued in the Grand Canyon with just under 10 miles of new cave passages surveyed. The survey added 3 miles to the state's longest cave making it just over 8 miles in length. However, survey went gang busters in a different cave, bringing its total length to 7.5 miles with overwhelming leads still present. In 2010, the survey efforts added another 6.5 miles to that cave, making that the new longest cave for the state. The project now totals 23.6 miles of surveys in a 5 year effort.

At the National Speleological Society (NSS) convention in July 2010, I recieved the Victor A. Schmidt Conservation Award. This national award recongizes a NSS member who, over time, has demonstrated outstanding dedication to the conservation of caves.

I have been working on improving surveying efficiency, so that I can tackle those special unsurveyable caves (due to extreme cold, wet, bad air, etc.) I acquired a DistoX which allows survey shots (length, azimuth, distance) to be taken with a simple press of a button. The idea is to survey in as quick as possible and then quickly sketch on the way out of the cave (or on the next trip).

In 2012, Henry Jasper was born! My priorities have changed. Being limited, I have taken up a few "armchair" projects. I have been digitally converting cave maps for Dale Green. I completed Dale Green's map of Big Brush Creek Cave in 2013 and am currently working on Dale's map of Duck Creek Lava Tube. Hopefullly, my son will be interested in project caving and this page will soon continue.