Kyle demonstrates the tight squeeze technique.

Kyle Voyles | Keeper of the Caves

Kyle Voyles knew that he wanted to be a professional caver when he was 12 years old.

“I remember coming back from a trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky,” he said. “My dad was driving us back. I told him, ‘I want to be a professional caver.’ My dad turned around as he was driving and said to me, ‘You’re going to be a very poor man.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. That’s what I want to do.’ So I did it.”

When Kyle moved to Southern Utah from Kentucky in 1995, he said there were two known caves in the area.

Although Southern Utah has a very sparse history of caving, Kyle feels interest is growing. “We’ve kind of revolutionized caving in Southern Utah,” he said.

His love for Southern Utah’s nature and people has kept him in the area for almost 20 years. “It’s grown, but in my mind it still has that small-town atmosphere that I really like,” Kyle said. “The community is just so friendly and it’s so clean. I just love it here. I’ve been here 20 years. Never even thought about leaving. It’s just an awesome place.”

In 2001, he was hired to help with the cave management program. “They essentially paid me to go caving,” Kyle said.

In ten years, Kyle found 700 new caves in Southern Utah and along the Arizona strip. In Washington County alone, he found about 150.

“Caving is my profession and my hobby. I love it,” Kyle said. “I couldn’t get up early enough to go to work and I couldn’t stay long enough. I never wanted to come home.”

Finding caves in Southern Utah can be a bit tricky. Only certain types of rock are prime for cave hunting. “If you want to find a cave, you’ve got to know what kind of geology you are looking for,” Kyle explained. “You can’t go to Red Mountain and find a big limestone cave, because it’s totally the wrong kind of rock.”

Kyle takes time to study the geology of an area before searching for caves. After locating a place with the correct type of limestone, he will often take days to walk through the desert. In the course of his career, he has walked thousands of miles. At times, a day in the desert may be utterly fruitless. At other times, it can be richly rewarding.

“Sometimes you’ll get lucky and you’ll find a great, giant hole in a cliff side and you just walk right in,” he said with a smile. “Those are the ones I like. Those are the nice ones. Some require extensive rope-work and vertical work to get to. Some, you have to place bolts as you climb up the cliff-face to get to it. Some you have to rappel down to. Some you dig out.”

Although half of the adventure is simply getting to the cave, the other half is exploring places no other human has ever been. Kyle said he feels excitement mount every time he knows for a fact that he is the only person to have ever seen a cave.

“God created it and I’m the first one to see,” he said. “You get a special link. It’s like God gave you His own little thing that only you can see. I love that! It gives you – for lack of better words – a spiritual feeling. I’m not sure everyone sees it that way, but I love it.”