Timpanogos Cave National Monument


Useful Information

the Heart of Timpanogos.
Location: 2038 W. Alpine Loop Road, American Fork, UT 84003.
In the Wasatch Mountains. I-15 exit 284 Alpine-Highland, highway 92 east 16 km. Navi have problems, enter cave name instead of address.
(40.443750, -111.705536)
Open: Mid-MAY to mid-OCT daily 7-17:30.
First tour 8, last tour 15:30.
Weather permitting!
[2023]
Fee: Adults USD 12, Children (2-11) USD 7, Children (0-1) USD 2, Seniors USD 6.
Introduction to Caving Tour: Adults USD 22.
Sold at visitor center, not at cave.
Prebooking recommended, tour tickets sold 30 days in advance, by telefone or online.
American Fork Canyon: 1-3 Day USD 6.
[2023]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=3.2 km, T=11 °C, A=2,051 m asl.
Guided tours: Cave: L=800 m, D=60 min, St=100, Max=16.
Walk from Visitor Center to cave: L=2.400 m, VR=332 m.
Total: L=5,600 m, VR=332 m, D=180 min.
Introduction to Caving Tour: D=90 min, MinAge=14, Max=5.
V=105,014/a [2004]
Photography: allowed, no tripods or monopods
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: George V Martin (1973): The Timpanogos Cave Story, 64 pp, illus., Hawkes Publication, Utah.
Address: Timpanogos Cave National Monument, 2038 W. Alpine Loop Road, American Fork, UT 84003, Tel. +1-801-756-5239.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1887 Martin Hansen, a Mormon settler from American Fork, Utah, accidentally discovers the first cave.
1888 cave developed wit a crude trail to the entrance and opened to the public as a show cave.
1891 tours unprofitable and cave closed.
1898 visited by a group from the University of Utah.
1913 Timpanogos Cave discovered by the fourteen-year-old boys James W. Gough and Frank Johnson.
08-AUG-1915 James C. Gough, James W. Gough, and John Hutchings file a mining claim on the cave minerals.
14-AUG-1921 Timpanogos Cave rediscovered.
15-OCT-1921 Middle Cave discovered by Heber Hansen and his eighteen-year-old nephew Wayne Hansen.
MAY-1922 Timpanogos Cave opened to the public.
14-OCT-1922 declared a National Monument.
1930s tunnels between three neighbouring caves built.
10-AUG-1933 caves become a National Monument.

Description

stalactites with helictites.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument is quite small, with an area of 1 km², but quite spectacular too, as it covers an alpine mountainside in American Fork Canyon, only 4 km east of Cedar Hills. In other word, it looks like a remote mountain valley and is just 4 km from a huge city with Walmarts and McDonald's. And there are two more quite exceptional aspects, the caves are rather small but their speleothems are spectacular, and we are not talking about stalagmites. And the third: it's a quite sportive show cave, probably the most demanding show cave in the U.S.A. The reason is simply its location at the northern slopes of Mount Timpanogos, hence the name, in the Wasatch Mountains. It's more than 5 km walk to the cave entrance, through the cave and back, and with an elevation gain of 332 m not really easy, despite the comfortable paved trail. It adds almost 2 hours to the 1-hour cave tour, so you should plan enough time, bring sun protection and a jacket, good comfortable walking shoes, a bottle of water, and basic physical fitness. However, they give 1.5 h walking time to the cave entrance, which is obviously the estimate for obese hamburger fans, if you are walking or doing workouts regularly you should do the hike in 45 minutes. From the Visitor Center the trail climbs 332 m over a distance of 2.4 km. This walk offers spectacular views of Wasatch Mountains and Utah Valley. Tickets are sold only at the Visitors Center, so do not walk to the cave without.

Timpanogos Cave has three well decorated caves called Hansen Cave, Middle Cave, and finally Timpanogos Cave, connected by man-made tunnels. The most famous formation is the so called Heart of Timpanogos, a stalactite shaped like a heart, surrounded by helictites. But the tiny white, pink, yellow and green translucent crystals covering walls and ceiling are much more interesting. This colour is caused by small amounts of different metals like copper, iron and tin in the surrounding rocks. Many of the crystals are helicites, dripstones with weird shapes, or aragonite crystals.

The mountains consist of quartzite and dolomite, the caves are obviously located in the dolomite. The caves are very young, formed during the last 200,000 years. They are often described as being quite small, but actually a length of 3.2 km is not that bad. 60% of the passages are visited on the guided tours, one part on the regular show cave tour, most of Hansen cave on the cave trekking tour. The term small actually refers to the size of the passages which are mostly quite narrow, except for a few large chambers. The development is an early example of careful development, with timer switches to reduce the damage by light and doors to maintain a high moisture level. Unique are the numerous ores in the rock, which cause quite exceptional colours. The rather dominant yellowish tints are caused by nickel.

Martin Hansen, a native of Denmark, came to Utah with the Mormon pioneers and settled in American Fork City in 1861. In October 1887, Hansen hiked high up a south canyon wall to cut timber in American Fork Canyon. The next day he found mountain lion tracks in the newly fallen snow, following the lion tracks up the mountain he found the entrance of a cave. He explored the cave only as far as the light reached, fearing to encounter the lion. He returned to the cave with family and friends, and even started to build a crude trail to the cave entrance. The cave was called Cave of the Buried Rivers or Hansen Cave. But after only two years the cave became unprofitable and was closed.

In the following winter, three men, William Wadley, Isaac Wadley, and John Devey placed claims on Hansen Cave and another cave on Mahogany Mountain. They actually thought the flowstone was onyx, so they mined it for the Duke Onyx Company of Chicago, Illinois. They drilled holes into the flowstone and inserted dry wooden pegs, soaked with water they expanded breaking slabs of stone away from the walls. Reports state that at least two freight car loads of cave onyx were shipped to the eastern United States, including several slabs weighing more than 15 tons. According to local lore the flowstone was used for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But soon they learned that the stone did not contain onyx, and so the labour intensive mining high up the mountain was not profitable.

Over the years there were now and then groups visiting Hansen Cave. In summer 1913 a large group with James C. Gough, Harmon Johnson, Wilma Johnson, Lavon Fox, George Price, and Thomas A. Taylor visited the cave. The fourteen-year-old boys James W. Gough and Frank Johnson became bored and left the others to explore the ledges above the entrance. They were not able to climb down the same way, so they looked for another way, discovered a large rock with mineralization and dug around the rock in search of precious metals. So they opened a cave entrance, where they could see daylight in the darkness from another opening. They explored the new cave until the reached a vertical shaft which they could not climb. Finally, they lead the group to the new cave and the men solved the problem with a log from outside, which created a small bridge. So they discovered the famous Heart of Timpanogos stalactite. Two weeks later they returned with better equipment including ropes and carbide lamps to finish their exploration.

Exploration continued, fueled by the discovery of bones and small amounts of metal in the minerals. James C. Gough, James W. Gough, and John Hutchings file a mining claim on the cave minerals and James W. Gough planned to level the floor in one chamber, install coloured lights and offer public dances. However, they moved to Shelley, Idaho, and the cave was forgotten.

The cave fever was reignited by a newspaper article in the American Fork Citizen in 1921. Obviously only the Hansen Cave was remembered by the locals. Wasatch Forest Supervisor Dana Parkinson feared that another cave would degrade like Hansen Cave, and after a rumour about the sale of speleothems to Chicago University she met James W. Gough. But he wanted $10,000 before divulging any information.

In August Vearl Manwill, Elon Manwill, Dr. and Mrs. Pfouts, George Martin, Florence Fairbanks, Dr. and Mrs. A. N. Early, Wells Calderwood, and Pearl Taylor went to visit Hansen Cave. They were disappointed by the extensive damage in Hansen Cave. When they rediscovered the cave, with the damage at Hansen fresh in mind, they discussed ways to preserve this cave. They founded the Payson Alpine Club, designed to protect the cave. The cave was still unnamed, but the names Utah’s Wonder Cave or Utah’s Fairy Cave were discussed. But there was the fear of further mining attempts or vandalism, and after only 13 months the official application was made to turn it into a national monument. It was signed less than one month later by President Warren G. Harding on 14-OCT-1922.

Middle Cave was discovered on 15-OCT-1921 by Heber Hansen and his eighteen-year-old nephew Wayne Hansen. They were hunting on the opposite side of the valley and during lunch they peered through field glasses and Wayne spotted the entrances of Timpanogos and Hansen Caves. But he also saw another opening between the two cave entrances. They abandoned their hunting trip to locate this new cave and actually explored it to the first drop.

The development of Timpanogos Cave as a show cave in winter 1921 to 1922 was obviously intended as a measure to protect the cave. It would allow to have staff on site as protection from unauthorized visitors and vandalism and to close the cave with a gate while at the same time allowing the public to see the cave. The argument is valid and the main argument for show caves. The cave was opened to the public in MAY-1922.

The Introduction to Caving Tour is a cave trekking tour, as the name says. With a helmet and headlamp the undeveloped part of Hansen Cave is visited, which includes some crawling and climbing. Bring clean gloves, rubber-dipped cloth or leather, walking or trekking shoes, clothes which may get dirty with long pants and long sleeves. They are also quite strict concerning White Nose Syndrome (WNS), they do not allow any boots, clothing or gear, including camera, which have been in any other cave or mine at any time. We generally recommend bringing your own caving gear for such tours, but in this case this would be futile. Here it's actually best to bring clothes you use for the first time. Helmet and headlamps are provided.

There are also the Centennial Lantern Tours, which is a normal show cave tour just without the electric light. The visitors get "park approved lanterns" at the cave entrance, which are simple kerosene or petroleum lamps. As it is not possible to mix lantern tours and regular tours, those tours are only available quite early in the morning. You must start your hike to the cave at 7 in the morning.

The cave is located in American Fork Canyon at Highway 92, the Alpine Scenic Loop Backway, surrounded entirely by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. There is a day use fee for the US Forest Service recreation sites. You must stop at a US Forest Service information station on the way to Timpanogos Cave to purchase the ticket. However, visitors going just to Timpanogos Cave National Monument, are not required to pay the fee. The Timpanogos Cave National Monument does not charge an entrance fee, not even for the picnic areas or hiking within Monument boundaries.

The big "if" at the cave are the weather conditions. The season is short, and often a lot of snow causes delayed opening, sometimes to late May. The snow on the trail is only one problem, floods caused by heavy rains or melting snow are another, also the danger of rockfall. Please check the official websites for weather alerts and the status of the trail.