Santa Fe artists Will Shuster and Walter Mruk entered Carlsbad Caverns for the first time in 1924, descending into the caves via a guano bucket and winch. In Visions Underground: Carlsbad Caverns through the Artist’s Eye (Rio Grande Books, 2009), author and experienced caver Lois Manno writes that the pair had probably been attracted to this adventure in the southern part of the state by an article published the same year in National Geographic. It was among a few prominent media mentions that followed President Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 designation of the site as a national monument. (The area became a national park in 1930 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.)
In an introductory section of Visions Underground, New Mexico academic and food writer Dave DeWitt explains that “cave art” has traditionally been thought of as 30,000-year-old Cro-Magnon paintings found in Europe. In Visions Underground, Manno considers cave art as a medium created by nature that is then recorded and interpreted by humans. The book features photography by Ansel Adams, the National Park Service, and others who captured the bats, stalactites and stalagmites, and eerie underground lights and colors that attract so many curious visitors each year (465,912 visitors in 2018). Shuster’s paintings of the same sorts of geological magic appear as well.
Manno’s book has for years been available only at the bookstore at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where she has volunteered for a quarter-century. Santa Feans have the opportunity to purchase Visions Underground at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226) when Manno does a reading there at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, in a presentation hosted by Journey Santa Fe and New Mexico Wild. There is no charge for admission. For more information, go to collectedworksbookstore.com.