Sandia Cave Project

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Sandia Cave Project - 2015

The Forest Service (Cibola National Forest in conjunction with the Sandia Grotto and the New Mexico Site Watch Program) sponsored a project for the restoration and conservation of Sandia Cave. The cleanup of the graffiti and trash and the restoration of the cave to a more pristine state enhances the visitor experience and insures that future generations are able to enjoy this local landmark.

Phase one tested the cleanup process at the cave. The second phase of the project was completed in July 2015, after hundreds of hours of volunteer assistance under the direction of Dr. Jannie Loubser worked at the cave.

The next phase of the project will install new signs in the parking lot and a follow-on phase will provide maintenance at the cave and additional signs along the trail at points of interest.


The upper photo on the right shows some of the graffiti in the first chamber of Sandia Cave, just under the cliff overhang at the top of the spiral staircase
The photo on the lower right is the same first chamber of the cave, following the Summer 2015 restoration. A red pack can be seen in the same location as the red shirt the caver in the upper photo is wearing.

Historical Significance

Sandia Cave (previously known as Sandia Man Cave) is a historic landmark located on the east side of Las Huertas Canyon, 15 miles outside of Albuquerque.  It has been designated as a traditional cultural property and is significant culturally for many Pueblo groups. This cave also played an important role in the history of how we think about the archaeological record in the Southwest during the Paleo-Indian period. The late Frank Hibben conducted excavations inside of the cave from 1937-1941. His claims of dating items found in the cave erupted into a storm of controversy resulting in accusations that Hibben seeded the cave with artifacts.  A series of academic reports question the veracity of Hibben’s finding and his work was discredited. However, the debate about Sandia Cave and its place in Paleo-Indian history still continue into modern times both in the archaeological classroom and in both popular (hibbenising) and professional articles.


Geological Significance

The Sandia Mountains are a fault block range, on the eastern edge of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The Sandias were uplifted in the last ten million years as part of the formation of the Rio Grande Rift. They form the eastern boundary of the Albuquerque Basin. Sandia Cave is located in the east wall of Las Huertas Canyon in Madera Limestone of Pennsylvanian age (circa 300 million years ago. (~300 MA). The cave follows a tilted layer of limestone to the point where it becomes too small to continue after 138 meters.


Restoration (A plan for the future)

As seen in the photo above, decades of defacing graffiti and illegal fires have left a lasting mark, on Sandia Cave. The mouth of the cave and the area adjacent to the mouth, have been repeatedly and heavily vandalized. The State of New Mexico, Department of Cultural Affairs and the Historic Preservation division awarded a small grant that will allow for partial restoration of Sandia Cave. The project goal was to remove graffiti from the cave without harming any historic material that may lie underneath the modern spray paint.  In the long term, graffiti left untreated can bond to and damage underlying rock surfaces. Studies have shown that the prompt removal or treatment of extant graffiti helps to diminish the incident of future graffiti that detracts from the visitor’s experience. Trash along the trail and inside the cave has also been an issue that continues to be addressed.  A specialist in rock art was contracted for the restoration, and together with volunteers from the various organizations involved, the goal of preserving Sandia Cave for future generations will be reached. Sandia Cave will have a bright future.  For more information on details of the restoration visit additional pages in this Sandia Grotto website [].



The public can help by doing their part to insure Sandia Cave’s survival into the future by reporting anyone defacing our public treasures, by not littering, and by picking up any trash you find along the trail.  Please report any new graffiti or illegal fires so that we can maintain the integrity of this historic landmark for prosperity. Thank you for protecting our natural resources.


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Equipment:   Cavers entering the cave beyond the twilight zone (past a low rock wall) should have 3 sources of light, a helmet, gloves, knee pads and a dusk mask (to protect your lungs from the yellow ocher dust that is easily stirred up when people enter the cave).
Sandia Grotto:   The Grotto is the local chapter of the National Speleological Society. Additional information on the cave and our meetings can be found on the web site at [].

Help us by suggesting additional points of interest along the Sandia Cave Trail

Rev. 5-26-2018 E-mail Contact: Sandia Grotto of the NSS Contact: Webmaster