Listen Live

Mining Company's Proposal Threatens Newly Discovered 'Witches' Pantry' Cave In Glenwood Springs

Jan 30, 2020

Inside Witches' Pantry.
Credit Rob McFarland

Witches’ Pantry is stocked with animal bones, microbes and stalagmites and stalactites, but it's not a cupboard in a haunted house. It's a cave recently discovered in Glenwood Springs that researchers say could be home to new scientific findings. If mining company Rocky Mountain Resources' expansion proposal is approved, Witches’ Pantry could be destroyed.

Walking through the narrow, dark hallways of the Glenwood Caverns, caver Richard Rhinehart and geologist Harvey DuChene point out different rock formations that make the cave unique. 

Just a half-mile away from where they’re standing, Rhinehart and fellow caver Rob McFarland discovered a new cave last October they named Witches’ Pantry. They weren’t able to thoroughly study it -- they need permits from the Bureau of Land Management to do that -- but DuChene says it’s worth looking into.

“There's just so much that we don't know that destroying this stuff, to me, would be a travesty," DuChene said. 

Rocky Mountain Resources wants to expand their limestone mining operations by 5,000%, and Witches’ Pantry is within the boundaries of that expansion. Rhinehart says if that proposal is approved, the cave would be destroyed.

Rocky Mountain Resources' current limestone mining site just outside of Glenwood Springs. If their expansion proposal is approved, Witches' Pantry could be destroyed.
Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio

“All we’ll have left is photographs that we’ve taken and our memories because it would literally be completely gone," he said. 

So would all the science he says is most likely inside. Rhinehart said he and McFarland initially found animal bones, microbes and a gust of wind. DuChene says that wind is an important indicator of just how big the cave might be.

“The fact that there’s wind blowing out, it was suggestive of significant volume sitting below where they have reached in Witches’ Pantry," he said. 

Rhinehart says when you can feel a breeze coming from inside the cave, that means there is much more passage to be explored.

"It can certainly have thousands of feet of passage, it could have a mile of passage. We don’t know yet," Rhinehart said.

And they won’t know until the Bureau of Land Management gives them approval to study the cave further. The team of scientists needs a permit to chip away at a part of the cave that is only ten inches high.

Rhinehart said McFarland and a couple small women were able to squeeze through the opening and take a peek.

Kathy DuChene, one of the women that was able to squeeze through the ten-inch-high opening descends into Witches' Pantry.
Credit Norm Thompson

"They all say it looks really good. They can see this little two inch gap or so and that the passage is continuing," he said.

Rhinehart and DuChene say what they have found so far in Witches’ Pantry -- animal bones that could be hundreds or thousands of years old and possible markings left behind Ute Indians -- all show that there is a chance to find new science and unique history.

The Bureau of Land Management must approve Rocky Mountain Resources’ expansion proposal, so Rhinehart sent a report of what they found so far to the agency. He hopes it will use his report both when conducting research for Rocky Mountain Resources’ proposal and to study Witches’ Pantry further.

“Hopefully the BLM will come back to us and say, yes, we want to push this exploration, we want to get the paleontologist here, we want to have other scientists look at it and really document what is going on because this is important to us as an agency, and it’s important to the people of the United States," Rhinehart said. 

David Boyd, the spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, says the agency will use Rhinehart's report when it comes to Rocky Mountain Resources’ proposed expansion.

“We’re going to use the best information we have when we do our environmental analysis," Boyd said. 

So until the Bureau of Land Management makes a decision on Rocky Mountain Resources’ expansion proposal, all that is stocked in Witches’ Pantry could be at risk.