Devil’s Hole: Featuring The Rarest Fish in the World

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

You can find Devil’s Hole nestled within the arid landscape of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. However, there’s a tragic history that surrounds it. Several divers have gone exploring here and lost their lives in the process.

With over 30,000 caves in the state, you’ll find plenty of other locations if you do happen to visit Nevada. You’re free to enjoy the rest of Death Valley National Park if you ever visit, but Devil’s Hole is not currently open to the public. Perhaps surprisingly, the reason for this actually has to do with an endangered species that lives inside Devil’s Hole. You’ll learn all about these interesting creatures, along with some of the history of Devil’s Hole in this article.


Back in the 1960s, a man named Jim Houtz had dove multiple times in Devil’s Hole, reaching a depth of about 315 feet at the furthest. He said that at this depth, “I don’t know, but at the end of the tube it opens again into something else. We don’t know what the next room is, or if it’s a room at all. It’s like infinity.” He described the magnificent colors: “Greens. Blues, so blue, they are nearly white. Quartz. Bronze colors, every color in the rainbow.”

During a second dive, June 20, 1965, Jim Houtz and his dive partner attempted to aid a rescue and body recovery. More details about this tragic incident come later in this article.

Houtz dropped a weighted depth line to a depth of 932 feet (284 m) from the start of this opening, and it still didn’t reach the bottom of the chamber below. Due to the strong current, the tiny entrance, and no idea about how deep the cavern really was, Jim and his partner held back. They did not go further and explore the Infinity Room, leaving it unchartered territory to this day. This mission, while unsuccessful in its primary goal, did confirm that the Infinity Room and the cavern itself, has a depth of at least 1,247 feet (380 m) from the surface.

A map of Devil's Hole Cave shows the complex passageways that have been charted so far.

The Structure and History of Devil’s Hole

The mysterious limestone cave, infamous for its treacherous depths, was first explored in February 1961. Divers from the Southwestern Speleological Society described Devil’s Hole as “shaped like a boot”. Inside, a narrow pool of 93 °F (34 °C) water stretches down over 500 feet, with a bottom that has never been mapped.

The structure of Devil’s Hole reveals a remarkable complexity. There is a series of chambers and passages, intertwined in a labyrinthine network beneath the surface. As you venture deeper, tight squeezes, vertical drops, and narrow passages steadily complicate the journey and increasing the risk of going further. There are a variety of geological formations as well, formed over millions of years.

One interesting aspect of Devil’s Hole is its connection to an underground aquifer, which is a body of rock and/or sediment that holds groundwater. It’s part of the vast groundwater system that flows beneath the region. The water within the cave is not stagnant but rather continually replenished by the aquifer.

If you’re into learning about interesting cave creatures, you might find the unique Devil’s Hole pupfish fascinating.

The Devil’s Hole Pupfish

A pair of Devil's Hole pupfish pictured up close.

Devil’s Hole is home to a unique subterranean pool, known as the “Devil’s Hole pupfish habitat.” Surprisingly, the unique makeup of this cavern is vital for the survival of the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish. Inside is a delicate ecosystem, with waters of constant temperature and chemistry.

The narrow opening above prevents the water level from changing much, allowing algae and other microscopic organisms to thrive as food for the pupfish.

There are no predators for the pupfish, which scientists believe may have evolved just a few hundred years ago. Over time, this evolution resulted in a streamlined body shape, enhanced colors, and behaviors that allow for efficient movement in such a confined space. You can see a picture of the Devil’s Hole pupfish to the right.

At about ¾ of an inch in length on average, the pupfish have large heads and no pelvic fins. In the picture shown, the fish are males, which are usually a deep blue with a black band on their tail. Females are closer to an olive color.

These fish are found closer to the surface, and it’s thought that they don’t go much further down where the cave system has yet to be explored. Near the surface, the shallowly submerged limestone sometimes houses owls, which drop nutrient-rich pellets into the water.

Just how endangered are they? Well, as of 2022, scientists counted the highest in 22 years, a population of 263.

Tragedy at Devil’s Hole

With such a narrow, vertical shaft plunging into the earth, Devil’s Hole challenges even the most experienced cavers and divers. Some find the cave alluring because they know that the bottom remains unexplored. Others are curious about the vibrant colors around the Infinity Room, as described by Jim Houtz in the 1960s. Sadly, a few unfortunately met their fate inside this mysterious cavern.

As with any cave diving adventure, there are great risks. Hopefully learning about a few of the sad stories that unfolded here can prevent tragedy from occurring again.

Burglary and Destruction

The first story isn’t about the death of a caver, but it’s a sad one nonetheless. In 2016, a group of three men were identified and charged with drunkenly vandalizing the area. They broke into the Devil’s Cave site, shot at locks and the security system, and left beer cans and vomit in their wake. One even went skinny dipping in Devil’s Hole, leaving behind his boxer shorts and killing at least one of the endangered fish inside the waters.

If you weren’t aware, killing an endangered species is a felony, and their idiocy was caught on the security cameras to make identification a little easier.

The Deaths of Paul Giancontieri and David Rose

On the fateful night of June 20, 1965, four high school friends made their way to the park, bringing diving equipment and unwavering curiosity. Their names were David Rose, Paul Giancontieri, and Bill and Jack Alter. Ignoring the warnings signs near the hole, three went into the water, and Jack stayed behind as a lookout. The three went without wetsuits, with basic air tanks on their backs.

Shortly after they were submerged, Bill noticed his oxygen supply dwindling, The three decided to resurface, and noticed that Paul didn’t make it back. Bill and David immediately went back into the water to find Paul, and this time Bill resurfaced alone. “He got ahead of me and I lost him,” Bill Alter recalled. “I went to a depth of 175 feet and couldn’t find him.”

A search team gathered shortly after the two brothers located a sheriff and explained the situation. The bodies were never found.

Jim Houtz and his dive partner attempted to aid the search and recovery of the bodies the following morning, and found nothing. They have yet to be found, and are likely down somewhere near the bottom to this day.

Divers explore the narrow passages of Devil's Hole Cave in Nevada.


Caving, and cave diving especially, carry extraordinary risk at times. It’s not to be taken lightly. You may have already heard some of the horror stories that took place in some of these dangerous sites. You shouldn’t have to worry about Devil’s Cave, as it’s not open to the public. But let these mistakes serve as reminders that we are fragile, and wild caves can be unforgiving to even the experienced.

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