Iffy on rope at Gunsight Cave

Doug underground

Chihuahuan Desert

Underground Ranger is a book by retired national park ranger Doug Thompson, published by the University of New Mexico Press. It was a finalist in the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, in the category of Nature and Environment.

To read a brief excerpt, click on the link at the bottom of this page. To order a copy of Underground Ranger, visit the Contact and Order Book page.


Have you ever journeyed into the darkness of the underworld? I have—as an interpretive ranger at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. In the most unusual and exciting assignment of my NPS career, I explored the underworld of caves and found that it had much to tell me about myself and the world of my daily experience. Underground Ranger describes my remarkable journey and shows how it changed my life for the better.

To prepare guided tours and other interpretive programs, I learned the story of caves, from the history of exploration in Carlsbad Cavern to the chemistry of gypsum and the hunting behavior of bats. I discovered how caves are formed and how nature links them to the earth's surface through the creative actions of water.

Unexpectedly, I also found that caves relate to a variety of myths and legends about the underworld. From Judeo-Christian ideas about hell to sipapu in traditional native cultures of the Southwest, human societies have repeatedly imagined a mythical connection between the surface of the earth and what lies beneath. Underground Ranger shows how that connection is relevant to our understanding of caves.

I also became an experienced caver—that's me in the middle photo at left—and, while off duty, explored the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. My caving trips and other adventures taught me that letting go of my innermost fears while trusting in life and my own abilities can bring unexpected rewards and deep satisfaction. The Ojibwa saying I chose as my book's epigraph captures this truth succinctly:

Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky.