Sulphur Cave expedition planned |

Sulphur Cave expedition planned

Mike McCollum

— A sulphur cave on Howelsen Hill – a caving attraction whose discovery pre-dates the city of Steamboat Springs – will undergo scientific scrutiny next month.

A team that includes cavers, geologists, biologists, hydrologists and microbiologists will gather in Steamboat from Aug. 17 to 19 to explore and investigate the unique cave.

“As cavers, we are interested in exploring caves and leaning more about the caves of Colorado,” said Richard Rhinehart, editor of the Rocky Mountain Caving Journal. “As scientists, we are interested in getting into the geology and biology wonders of the state.”

Rhinehart, who is one of the dozen cavers and scientists planning to descend into the cave, said the Sulphur Cave is a geological oddity in North America.

“A cave with a warm spring running into it and high (carbon dioxide) atmosphere is not common in Colorado or the United States,” he said. “There are scientists in our group interested in examining the cave to look for small microbes that may be living in there.”

Rhinehart said the group hopes to find a collection of snottites, which are colonies of single-celled bacteria that hang from the walls and ceilings of caves. They are similar to stalactites, which are more common, but differ in texture. Snottites have the consistency of snot or mucus.

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“They have been found in a cave in Mexico, which is similar in that it has several hot springs, sulphuric acid and a high level of (carbon dioxide),” he said. “We are thinking that if the Sulphur Cave has the same sort of thing, it’s easier to go to Steamboat Springs than to Mexico to study them.”

Rhinehart said the team will work with Jeff Nelson, the city’s ski and rodeo supervisor at Howelsen Hill.

“We are intending to survey, document and study this cave, which has seen remarkably little investigation, despite its public awareness,” he said. “With Jeff’s assistance, we have secured permission to safely enter this cave and conduct our investigation.”

Rhinehart said the Sulphur Cave is the first cave in Colorado to be documented in print, making the cave historically significant as well.

“As a historian, it’s an interest to me,” said Rhinehart, who said his research has determined the first mention of the cave was in “Travels in the Great Western Prairie,” which was published in 1843. “Decades before people were going to Cave of the Winds and Glenwood Caverns they were putting the Sulphur Cave on their must-see list.”