Timpanogos Cave National Monument

High above the American Fork Canyon floor a natural wonder resides. The Timpanogos Cave system has been enjoyed by thousands of pleasure seekers over the past century. However, the Timpanogos Cave system almost became another hole in the rock. Because of early conservation efforts, the cave system being turned into a national monument, and continued efforts to preserve the cave, so many more people may continue to enjoy much of the beauty that the early discoverers found there.

Timpanogos Cave represents millions of years of gentle, fragile geological formations. For these structures to be maintained in their natural state, human interaction most likely spelled doom for these natural occurring formations. The story of Timpanogos Cave is a story of unsung heroes and efforts that have fulfilled the dream of the National Park Service, to preserve unique areas of nature for enjoyment of all generations in their same state. Once the three caves (Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos) were discovered, many people made efforts to turn the caves over to the government. The government with their funds from the Forest Service and the National Park Service would be able to continue their efforts in maintaining the natural beauty of the cave while allowing for people to enjoy the beauty of the cave.

To help maintain the beauty of these caves, President Warren Harding placed the caves and the land surrounding them under federal protection on October 13, 1922. Almost immediately after the monument was established, trials that threatened the wonders emerged. There were private claims laid on the caves that required cooperation of those who discovered the cave to prove false. Mining claims were made on the land due to its protection under the forest service by a group of people called the Joy Riders. These claims went to court and were ultimately defeated. There was also the difficulty of protecting the cave from the hands of those who toured it. They would take little pieces of the cave like the one in Figure 1, and put them in their pocket to keep. Overtime, punishments were effective enough to discourage most from tampering with the cave ecosystem.

Once the Timpanogos Cave System was placed under jurisdiction of the National Park Service in the 1933, many problems were minimized even though periodic vandalism and theft still occurred. Under the National Park Service, the next task was to make the caves more accessible to the public due to the increasing popularity of the monument. The Caves became popular due to the spread of mouth and of media created to advertise the mountain and the cave. To make the monument more accessible, a trail was constructed to the caves in 1936 by men who received work from the CCC during the Great Depression. The three caves were also connected in 1939 and lights were installed inside of the cave to allow easier access and pleasure to the guests of the cave (Figure 2). Though difficult, the beauty and integrity of the caves were preserved despite the major projects that took place.

Despite natural disasters such as floods that destroyed the roads in American Fork Canyon in 1965 and 1983 (Figure 3) and a fire to the main building on the monument in 1991, other updates to the monument that have progressed, and Timpanogos Cave National Monument has grown in popularity. Now, over 100,000 people visit the monument every year. Despite the continued popularity and visitation of the Caves, the conservation efforts that have been made have allowed the caves to remain relatively the same as discoveries took place in 1887 by Martin Hansen following a mountain lion.


Figure 1<br />
Figure 1
Source: Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collection at BYU.
Figure 2<br />
Figure 2
Source: Courtesy of Timpanogos Cave National Monument
Figure 3
Figure 3 Source: Courtesy of Timpanogos Cave National Monument



Robert Dayley, Brigham Young University
, “Timpanogos Cave National Monument,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 15, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/312.