In 1870 Absolom S. Lehman and Olive S. Lehman settled at 600-acre ranch near Lehman Creek. Their ranch was about 1.5 miles below the cave which was still unknown to them.
There are many stories about how and when Lehman found the cave, but his daughter Laura reports that he found it shortly after she and her mother and brother left the ranch to go back to Ohio in 1881. Olive, who was suffering from tuberculosis, died there in 1883. Laura said before her mother died, her father brought them stalactite specimens and told of an astonishing cave near their ranch.
It is said that the native people warned Lehman and others that a little man with a blue beard would bring dire consequences to anyone who entered this sacred cave of the dead. The entrance to the cave had been used as a burial site.
However, the discovery caused a great sensation, and soon people were coming from all over the state to climb the wooden ladder down into the cavern where they toured using only candles for illumination. They broke off formations as souvenirs and for profit and often inscribed their names and the date on the walls and ceiling.
Soon, Lehman was charging $1 for adults and 50-cents for children 12 and over to tour the caves.
Lehman died in 1891 and subsequently his ranch at Lehman Caves was sold to Charles W. Rowland. Mrs. Rowland guided visitors in the cave until the early 1900s.
In 1922 President Warren G. Harding issued presidential proclamation establishing Lehman Caves National Monument. On October 27, 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed the Great Basin National Park Act creating a 76,000-acre park that included what was the Lehman Caves National Monument.
Lehman Caves is one of the most richly decorated limestone caves in the United States. Underground streams carved the caves over millions of years. The water dissolved the natural limestone rock and the liquified calcium carbonate slowly precipitated into forms such as stalactites, stalagmites, helectites, shields, and many other unusual shapes.
Small creatures have recently been found in the cave that have, so far, been found nowhere else on earth.
“Great Basin -- The Story Behind the Scenery” by Michael L. Niklas.
“Basin and Range: A History of Great Basin National Park, Nevada” by Harlan D. Unrau.
“Great Basin Drama” by Darwin Lambert.
“Roadside History of Nevada” by Richard Moreno.
At the Great Basin National Park Visitor Center 5 miles west of Baker, Nevada at the end of highway 488.
Call in advance to confirm ticket prices and tour schedules. 775-234-7331.