Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Timpanogos Cave - Don't Eat the Ants

The very first time I hiked to Timpanogos Cave, I was 8 years old and went with my Cub Scout Troop. If I recall correctly, I had never climbed a hill quite that steep and I was afraid of heights. It seemed as if the trail would never end and that the mile and a half climb must have taken hours to get to the cave entrance. It probably took less than an hour, and my scoutmaster kept me going and occupied by pointing out plants and animals along the way.

The scoutmaster was, I definitely recall, slightly odd, and had a fascination with everything along the trail. Showing us how to make the snapdragon flowers open and close their mouths was neat. Having us pick up and eat the large black ants wasn't (they did NOT taste like grapes like he claimed). But, it did make the hike interesting.

The hike up the trail is actually quite stunning, through the brush and trees on the lower part of the trail, then you come to the portion of the trail that lets you get a panoramic view of American Fork Canyon. Along the way you'll see all kinds of plants and small animals. Take a pair of binoculars to get really good views of the other side of the canyon and down into Utah Valley. You may even get a glimpse of a Mountain Goat or Bighorn Sheep.

The hike is moderate to difficult, but the trail is fairly wide and is paved all the way up to the cave.

At the top of the trail is what you really hiked all this way to see- Timpanogos Cave. The 45-60 minute cave tour is led by a ranger who will tell you the history of the cave and point out all of the different features of the cave.

Timpanogos cave is actually three different caves; Hansen Cave, Middle Cave and Timpanogos cave. The three caves are connected by man made tunnels. Hansen Cave was discovered first and many of the formations were damaged or destroyed before the caves became national monuments. Fortunately, Middle Cave and Timpanogos Cave were found later on and were protected from the damaged experienced in Hansen Cave.

Inside the cave, which maintains a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you will see helictites (hollow straws of rock), cave bacon, cave columns, cave popcorn and many stalactites (they hang from the ceiling) and stalagmites (grow upwards from the floor). The largest, most impressive stalactite in the cave is known as the Great Heart of Timpanogos.

My favorite portion of the tour is when the tour enters a chamber where the ranger turns out the lights. Absolutely no light enters this part of the cave and it is so dark nothing can be seen, not even your hand right in front of your face.

At the base of the trail is the visitor's center where you can watch a film about the cave and see exhibits about caves. This is great place to either start or end your hike to the cave. There is also a snack bar and gift shop located at the visitor's center.

Timpanogos Cave will open for visitors this weekend, Saturday, May 10, 2008. This is a great activity for couples or families. Bring some water, but just remember- don't eat the ants!

Place: Timpanogos Cave National Monument
Location: State Highway 92, American Fork Canyon, UT (follow the signs)
Phone: 801.756.5238
Hours: May through Labor Day 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (first and last hike times are 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.)
Cost: American Fork Canyon Entrance Fee: $3.00/car
Timpanogos Cave Entrance Fee: $7.00 for adults (16 or older), Children (6-15) $5.00, Children (3-5) $3.00, Infants (0-2) FREE

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Distance from:
Salt Lake City: 34.9 miles
Ogden: 70.3 miles
Provo: 18.7 miles
Logan: 115 miles

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