Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)

Danish immigrant Martin Hansen stopped for a rest before heading home after a day of work.  Hansen was high in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, on the flanks of Mount Timpanogos, named for the Native Americans who lived there over thousands of years.  He was a logger, and the high demand for timber in the American Fork Canyon in 1887 meant he had to climb higher up the mountain every day to access suitable trees.  He leaned his ax against a tree and walked home.

Mount Timpanogos (photo by Brian Smith)

            When he returned the next day, he noticed mountain lion tracks in the overnight snowfall. He followed the tracks up the mountain until they disappeared into an opening in the rocks.  Hansen had discovered a cave in a strange place—high on a mountainside.  As we now know, the cave had been formed first by shifts in the earth’s crust along fault lines; only then did underground water flowing through the fissures begin the erosion and deposition processes that created the extensive cave.

            Hansen and his family began giving tours of the cave, first leading explorers up the cliffs on a series of nearly vertical log ladders and then showing off the beauty inside the cave.  Now named for Hansen, his cave was the first of three discovered along the cliff.  Timpanogos Cave was found in 1913, then lost, and rediscovered in 1921.  The third, Middle Cave, was also discovered in 1921, by Hansen’s grandson and nephew.

The Great Heart of Timpanogos Cave (photo by Scott Catron)

            The caves were being badly plundered for their unusual formations and accessible veins of black onyx.  Consequently, President Warren Harding proclaimed the cave system a national monument on October 14, 1922, noting that it was of “unusual scientific interest and importance, and it appears that the public interest will be promoted by reserving this cave…”

            The park is small—only about 250 acres—and hard to access.  Although the log ladders are gone, visitors must still ascend a steep 1.5-mile trail before reaching the caves.  Access to the caves is only through guided tours by park rangers—with a warning that the experience is strenuous, dirty and only for those in good physical condition.  Still, well over 100,000 people make the journey every year.

The caves have an abundance of helictites, unusual forms of stalactites (photo by National Park Service)

            Most, I’m sure, are glad they made the effort.  The caves are noted for their abundance of helictites, small branching and curved formations that resemble coral.  Helictites begin as thin stalactites, but instead of water dripping down the formation, it evaporates in place, slowly building thin tubes that spread randomly in all directions.

            A central feature of the cave complex is the “Great Heart of Timpanogos,” a large stalactite that resembles a human heart.  Local myth holds that a Native American brave named Red Eagle fell in love with princess Utahna when they met in the cave.  Later, Utahna sacrificed herself to end a drought, and Red Eagle carried her body back to the cave where their hearts fused into the rock formation.

            Visitors also experience the beauty of the Wasatch Mountains on the way to and from the cave.  The park lies within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, a 2.1-million-acre forest that runs north-south along Utah’s main population corridor.  Mount Timpanogos is the second highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains, at a height of 11, 752 feet.

References:

National Park Foundation.  The Great Love Story of Timpanogos Cave National Monument.  Available at:  https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/great-love-story-timpanogos-cave-national-monument.  Accessed February 6, 2020.

National Park Service.  Timpanogos Cave—Cave Discoverers.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/tica/learn/historyculture/cave-discoverers.htm.  Accessed February 6, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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