NM Tech Grad was Co-Discoverer of Snowy River Cave

Andrew Grieco

by Tiffany Chisum

Right: Andrew Grieco in his native setting.

SOCORRO, N.M., Aug. 17, 2007 – Andrew Grieco, one of the discoverers of the underground Snowy River calcite formation near Fort Stanton, N.M., recently graduated with two bachelor’s of science degrees from New Mexico Tech.

At the age of 17, Grieco along with hydrologist John McLean and cavers Lloyd Schwartz and Don Becker discovered the Snowy River calcite formation while on a caving expedition at Fort Stanton Cave.

The Snowy River passage was dug into by “old fashioned” digging, Grieco says. The original dig started in the 1970s and was then halted for some time due to poor digging conditions. The dig was originally started when cavers noticed a tremendous amount of air flow in a part of the cave which indicated the presence of a significant amount of unknown space.

Grieco recalls, “My favorite memory of the trip was the very last bit of clay we had to dig out. There was a small hole just a few inches tall and a foot wide at the very bottom of a small passage. We dug it out just enough to fit through. It was so tight that when someone went through, their feet stuck out, just like when the house fell on the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. It was amazing to eventually see the huge passage that that little hole led to.”

The name “Snowy River” was, Grieco explains, a very simple decision.

“It was pretty clear what we were going to call the formation from the very beginning. It looked exactly like a river that had been covered with snow,” Grieco remembers.

When asked about his decision to attend Tech Grieco says, “New Mexico Tech has a reputation of being the best geology school in the United States. The fact that it was very inexpensive and in-state made the decision easy.”

Grieco was also attracted to the fact that attending New Mexico Tech would allow him to continue exploring Snowy River.

Grieco graduated from New Mexico Tech in May 2007 with bachelor’s degrees in both Physics and Earth and Environmental Science (with a Geology option).

The main goal for the continued exploration of Snowy River, while Grieco was attending New Mexico Tech, was to dig a new route to the formation, since the original one was closed because of concerns that it was too dangerous. This goal, Grieco says, was accomplished in June.

Grieco is currently an intern for Los Alamos National Laboratory where he is performing spectroscopic analysis on Native American artifacts for the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

Grieco plans on attending graduate school to earn an advanced degree in electrical engineering. He intends to specialize in photonics.

When asked what he considers his greatest achievement to date, Grieco says, “Snowy River is definitely my greatest achievement at this point. It will be hard to top, but I have high hopes for the future.”

Grieco says that as an undergraduate he was able to develop a broad knowledge base and get a large amount of laboratory experience at New Mexico Tech. He explains that these things have prepared him well for work in the real world.

To current Tech students, Grieco says, “Try not to fall behind on your work. More importantly, always remember that New Mexico Tech is harder than real life.”