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Dark Canyon Cave

NM: Eddy Co.: ca. 1100 m.


Location of Dark Canyon Cave.Age. Emslie 1987: Date on UTEP condor specimen 75-262 (tibiotarsus) of 9,585 ± 310 (AA-1490); (10,921 ± 426 calendar) (AA-1490). Tebedge (1988) had four 14C dates: Surface on walnut shells, 30 ± 120 in table (20 ± 120 in text); 20-24" on charcoal, 2620 ± 110; 24-30" on charcoal, 3160 ± 180; and 12-30" on bone fragments (mostly on the apatite fraction of Perissodactyla and Artiodactyla postcranial bone) 20,210 ± 420. The walnuts, charcoal, and possibly some microfaunal elements may have washed in through a fissure in the cave roof.

General Description. Northwest-facing shelter on south side of Dark Canyon, ca. 1100 m. Tebedge (1988) has the elevation as about 1067 m.

Rick Smartt in the upper chamber of Dark Canyon Cave

Fig. 1. Rick Smartt in the upper chamber of Dark Canyon Cave. 24 June 1970. Photograph by A. H. Harris.

Discussion. Howard (1971) noted that bones originally were salvaged by Wm. H. Balgemann of Carlsbad, who submitted them to Lynn Hargrave. Hargrave, in turn, passed them on to Howard, and Balgemann eventually turned over most of the collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Galliform birds and a single parrot bone were returned to Hargrave along with small passerine bones. Most of the deposits were disturbed except in a portion of the right chamber. Apparently deposits, including a "Basketmaker culture", occurred in sediments to about 36-38 inches; the bone deposits were lower, mostly from 50 inches to 8.5 ft. Skeletal material of birds was disassociated. Remains of immature owls, vultures, and Caracara suggest nesting in the cave. Theodore Downs identified mammal bones, including presumed Stockoceros conklingi, and horse teeth were abundant.

Three vertebrae of Ambystoma from Dark Canyon Cave

Fig. 2. Three vertebrae (75-391) of the Barred Tiger Salamander from Dark Canyon Cave

Most of the later excavations were by Ernest L. Lundelius, Jr., and associates;Dark Canyon Cave identification and interpretation of these later recoveries were by Sleshi Tebedge for his doctoral dissertation. Tebedge (1988) noted that the cave has three levels, but only the lowermost level (East Side Pocket), was excavated by him with stratigraphic control in undisturbed sediments. He noted that the other levels (not considered by him) had produced proboscidean, mountain goat, and sagebrush vole. From his review of the history of the cave, it appears that C. Bertram Schultz had recovered some paleontological material in the 1930s. Balgemann's excavations in 1951 were delayed for a time by uranium mining which destroyed the stratigraphy in the main part of the cave.

In 1975 and again in 1979, Harris cleaned up spoil from excavations made by pot-hunters since the work by Lundelius.

The site has been given Texas Memorial Museum locality number 41228 and UTEP locality number 75.

Fig. 3. Dark Canyon Cave. Photograph by A. H. Harris, 18 June 2012.

The report of parrot by Howard (1971) evidently consisted of archaeological material. Applegarth (1979) found no Cnemidophorus (= Aspidoscelis), unlike reported by Rickart (1977). Although Applegarth (1979) reported three species of Phrynosoma, P. cornutum and P. modestum were represented by one element each, compared to 176 elements of P. hernandesi. Several birds listed by Harris (1993c) as "? gen. et sp." or recorded as queried genera have been omitted here as adding no value. The "Oreamnos-like bovid" record of Harris (1993c) is withdrawn pending further data.



Ambystoma mavortium—Barred Tiger Salamander (UTEP)
Anaxyrus woodhousii—Woodhouse's Toad (Applegarth 1979)
Craugastor augusti—Barking Frog (Applegarth 1979)
Lithobates blairi/pipiens—Plains or Northern Leopard Frog (Applegarth 1979)
Scaphiopus couchii—Couch's Spadefoot (Applegarth 1979)
Spea multiplicata—Mexican Spadefoot (Applegarth 1979)


Crotaphytus collaris—Eastern Collared Lizard (Applegarth 1979)
Holbrookia maculata—Lesser Earless Lizard (Applegarth 1979: cf.)
Phrynosoma cornutum—Texas Horned Lizard (Applegarth 1979)
Phrynosoma hernandesi—Mountain Short-horned Lizard (Rickart 1977; Applegarth 1979)
Phrynosoma modestum—Roundtail Horned Lizard (Applegarth 1979)
Sceloporus undulatus—Eastern Fence Lizard (Applegarth 1979)
Plestiodon multivirgatus-size—Skink size of the Many-lined Skink (Applegarth 1979)
Aspidoscelis sp.—Whip-tailed Lizards (Rickart 1977)
Pituophis catenifer—Gopher Snake (UTEP)
Rhinocheilus lecontei—Longnose Snake (UTEP)
Salvadora sp.—Patchnose Snakes (cf.) (UTEP)
Crotalus sp.—Rattlesnakes (UTEP)
Thamnophis sp.—Garter Snakes (UTEP)


Aix sponsa—Wood Duck (Howard 1971)
Anabernicula oregonensis—Extinct Sheldgoose (Howard 1971: cf.)
Anas acuta—Pintail Duck (Howard 1971)
Anas crecca carolinensis—Green-winged Teal (Howard 1971: ?)
Anas platyrhynchos—Mallard Duck (Howard 1971)
Aythya valisineria—Canvasback Duck (Howard 1971)
Mergus merganser—Merganser (Harris 1993c, UTEP cf.)
Grouse, 2 species?—(Howard 1971)
Meleagris crassipes—Big-foot Turkey (Rea 1980; Howard 1971; UTEP)
Quail, 2 species? (Howard 1971)
Tympanuchus pallidicinctus—Lesser Prairie Chicken (Howard 1971 ?; UTEP)
Podiceps nigricollis—Eared Grebe (Howard 1971)
Phalacrocorax auritus—Double-crested Cormorant (Howard 1971)
Coragyps occidentalis—Western Black Vulture (Howard 1971; UTEP)
Gymnogyps californianus amplus—Ancestral Condor (Howard 1971; UTEP)
Accipiter cooperi—Cooper's Hawk (Howard 1971)
Aquila chrysaetos—Golden Eagle (Howard 1971)
Buteo jamaicensis—Red-tailed Hawk (Howard 1971)
Buteo lagopus—Rough-legged Hawk (Howard 1971)
Buteo nitidus—Gray Hawk (Howard 1971)
Neophrontops americanus—American Neophron (Howard 1971)
Caracara cheriway—Crested Caracara (Howard 1971)
Falco mexicanus—Prairie Falcon (Howard 1971)
Falco rusticola—Gyrfalcon (Emslie 1985a; Howard 1971)
Falco sparverius—Sparrow Hawk (Howard 1971)
Burhinus sp. small—Small, extinct Thickknee (Howard 1971)
Burhinus sp.—Thickknee (Howard 1971)
Charadrius montanus—Mountain Plover (Howard 1971)
Ectopistes migratorius—Passenger Pigeon (Howard 1971)
Zenaida macroura—Mourning Dove (Howard 1971)
Psittacidae sp.—Parrot (Howard 1971)
Geococcyx californianus conklingi—Conkling Roadrunner (Howard 1971)
Tyto alba—Barn Owl (Howard 1971)
Asio flammeus—Short-eared Owl (Howard 1971: ?)
Athene cunicularia—Burrowing Owl (Howard 1971: UTEP)
Bubo virginianus—Great Horned Owl (Howard 1971: UTEP)
Phalaenoptilus nuttallii—Poorwill (Howard 1971)
Corvus corax—Common Raven (Howard 1971; UTEP) Passerina sp.—Buntings (Harris 1993c: ?)
Agelaius phoeniceus—Red-winged Blackbird (Harris 1993c: ?)
Euphagus/Sturnella—American Blackbirds or Meadow Larks (Harris 1993c: ?)
Icterus sp.—American Orioles (Harris 1993c: ?)
Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus—Yellow-headed Blackbird (Harris 1993c: ? gen. et sp.)


Nothrotheriops shastensis—Shasta Ground Sloth (1McDonald and Jefferson 2008)
Cynomys gunnisoni—Gunnison's Prairie Dog (Tebedge 1988)
Cynomys ludovicianus—Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Tebedge 1988)
Ictidomys tridecemlineatus—Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (Tebedge 1988)
Marmota flaviventris—Yellow-bellied Marmot (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Otospermophilus variegatus—Rock Squirrel (Tebedge 1988)
Urocitellus elegans—Wyoming Ground Squirrel (Tebedge 1988: cf.)
Xerospermophilus spilosoma—Spotted Ground Squirrel (UTEP)
Chaetodipus hispidus—Hispid Pocket Mouse (Tebedge 1988)
Dipodomys sp.—Kangaroo Rat (Tebedge 1988)
Dipodomys spectabilis—Banner-tail Kangaroo Rat (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Perognathus merriami—Merriam's Pocket Mouse (Tebedge 1988)
Cratogeomys castanops—Yellow-faced Pocket Gopher (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Geomys bursarius—Plains Pocket Gopher (Tebedge 1988)
Thomomys bottae—Botta's Pocket Gopher (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Thomomys talpoides—Northern Pocket Gopher (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Lemmiscus curtatus—Sagebrush Vole (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Microtus longicaudus—Long-tailed Vole (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Microtus mogollonensis—Mogollon Vole (Tebedge 1988)
Microtus ochrogaster—Prairie Vole (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Microtus pennsylvanicus—Meadow Vole (UTEP: cf.)
Ondatra zibethicus—Common Muskrat (Tebedge 1988)
Synaptomys cooperi—Southern Bog Lemming (Tebedge 1988)
Neotoma cinerea—Bushy-tailed Woodrat (Tebedge 1988: UTEP)
Neotoma leucodon—White-toothed Woodrat (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Neotoma micropus—Southern Plains Woodrat (Tebedge 1988)
Onychomys leucogaster—Northern Grasshopper Mouse (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Peromyscus nasutus—Rock Mouse (Tebedge 1988)
Reithrodontomys sp.—Harvest Mouse (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Sigmodon hispidus—Hispid Cotton Rat (Tebedge 1988)
Lepus californicus—Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Tebedge 1988)
Lepus townsendii—White-tailed Jackrabbit (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Sylvilagus audubonii—Desert Cottontail (Tebedge 1988)
Sylvilagus nuttallii—Mountain Cottontail (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Notiosorex dalquesti—Dalquest's Shrew (Carraway 2010)
Sorex merriami—Merriam's Shrew (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Sorex neomexicanus—New Mexican Shrew (Tebedge 1988)
Antrozous pallidus—Pallid Bat (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Myotis lucifugus—Little Brown Myotis (Tebedge 1988)
Myotis velifer—Cave Myotis (Tebedge 1988)
Lynx rufus—Bobcat (Tebedge 1988)
Canis dirus—Dire Wolf (Tebedge 1988; UTEP cf.)
Canis latrans—Coyote (Tebedge 1988)
Canis lupus—Gray Wolf (Tebedge 1988: UTEP cf.)
Vulpes velox—Swift Fox (Harris 1993c;UTEP cf.)
Vulpes vulpes—Red Fox (Tebedge 1988)
Mustela frenata—Long-tailed Weasel (Tebedge 1988)
Taxidea taxus—Badger (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Mephitis mephitis—Striped Skunk (Tebedge 1988)
Spilogale gracilis/putorius—Spotted Skunk (UTEP)
Bassariscus astutus—Ringtail (Tebedge 1988)
Tapirus sp.—Tapir (Tebedge 1988).
Equus conversidens—Mexican Horse (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Equus scotti—Scott's Horse (Harris 1993c; UTEP)
Odocoileus hemionus—Mule Deer (Tebedge 1988)
Stockoceros conklingi—Conkling's Pronghorn (Tebedge 1988; UTEP)
Bison sp.—Bison (Tebedge 1988)

Literature. Applegarth, 1979; Carraway 2010; Emslie 1987; Harris 1985, 1993c; Harris and Porter 1980; Howard, 1971; Lundelius, 1979; McDonald and Jefferson 2008; Nowak, 1979; Tebedge 1988; Rea 1973; Rickart 1977.


1McDonald and Jefferson cite Harris (1985) as the source of the record, but it is not listed for Dark Canyon Cave in that work.

Last Update: 19 Feb 2015