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Park History: Timpanogos Cave National Monument


Colorful patches of formations can be found inside Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Photo by Bill# via flickr.

Believe it or not, Timpanogos Cave National Monument and Mammoth Cave National Park have something in common. Both owe their discovery, in part, to hunters. At least that's the local lore.

In the case of Mammoth Cave, they say that back in the 1790s John Houchins stumbled upon the cave when he shot and wounded a bear and tracked it into the cave. Those who disagree with that story say it couldn't be so, for if Houchins really were a Kentucky hunter, he would have killed the bear with one shot.

Anyway, in the case of Timpanogos Cave, the story goes that Martin Hansen was tracking a mountain lion in 1887 when he came upon the first of three caves that today comprise the national monument, which is located in Utah's Wasatch Range. Well, as the story goes, that cave later was stripped of its mineral deposits in the 1890s by a Chicago-based onyx company. Things were relatively quiet until 1914, when two local boys discovered Timpanogos Cave. Seven years later Middle Cave was discovered by Martin Hansen's son and grandson.

Today these three caves are connected thanks to manmade tunnels.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument entered the National Park System on this date in 1922. The protection of the National Park System was granted the three caves because of their abundance of helictites, which are spiral cave formations. Enter Chime Chamber in Timpanogos Cave and you'll encounter hundreds of 6- to 10-inch long helictites.

According to park geologists, these "formations are created by capillarity attraction, hydrostatic pressure, and tiny (0.008 to 0.5 millimeter) central canals (Hill & Forti 1997). In simpler words water is pushed and pulled through small opening where the forces of capillarity attraction and hydrostatic pressure are greater than the force of gravity."

The monument also is noted for its green and yellow flowstone formations, as well as the fact that it's located in an alpine environment. Now, part of the challenge of visiting Timpanogos Cave National Monument is the mile-and-a-half-long trail that climbs 1,160 feet to the cave entrance. It's not a walk for everyone.

Now, if you want to visit the cave this year, you better do it soon, as with winter coming the monument will shut down for the season this coming Sunday, October 19.


I have posted photos from my recent visit to Timpanogos Cave National Monument. It was a nice visit but I must say the thing I would not miss in the immediate are is the Mount Timpanogos hike (even if you don't do the whole hike).

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