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The Story of Human Migration Into North America May Be Written in Caves Beneath the Southeast Alaskan Wilderness. An Unlikely Trio of Men Is Convinced That Clear-Cut Logging Is About to Erase It.
The opening in the craggy rock face is no bigger than a guitar case, yet caver Steve Lewis, even at 6 feet tall, seems unfazed, and quickly drops his long body underground to meet Kevin Allred and Pete Smith, his two somewhat shorter fellow explorers.
There, 10 feet beneath giant Sitka spruce and the fierce winds of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, a dry, narrow passage opens into what may as well be a different planet. The glow from their carbide lights illuminates scalloped walls of a meringue-like crystalline mineral that drips into delicate stalactites. The air is cold, silent and still; it's easy to imagine this is some ancient tomb.
"This is our last frontier. The deep sea and these caves up here are the only unexplored places left," says the 48-year-old Smith, his sinewy form crouched beneath the cave's slanted roof. "You can climb a cliff that no one's been on before, but at least you can see where you're going. When you enter a cave, you don't know what you're going to find. The smallest passage could lead to a 500-foot room."