High on the steep slopes of Utah's Wasatch Range, three limestone caves pierce 11,750-foot Mt. Timpanogos. On a fall day in 1887, a Mormon settler by the name of Martin Hansen was cutting timber high on the south slopes of American Fork Canyon when he saw a set of mountain lion tracks. He followed the prints to where they ended on a high ledge. There he found an entrance to a small cave. Hansen returned later to explore it, discovering an array of fragile cave formations inside.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument
©National Park Service
Timpanogos Cave National Monument features a unique arrangement
of fragile formations.

In 1915, while their family explored Hansen Cave, two teenagers stumbled upon the opening to a second cave, and in 1921 a third cave was found. The next year, President Warren G. Harding established Timpanogos Cave National Monument to protect the caverns and their spectacular features from vandalism. The caves were formed 65 million years ago when water hollowed out the subterranean chambers. Over countless years, water trickled through the caves, depositing minerals shaped like tiny crystals on the ceilings, walls, and floors. The crystal deposits built up, forming a variety of stalactites, stalagmites, flowston­e, draperies, and helictites, some as fragile as the threads of a spider's web. Early tourists had to climb the side of the mountain to reach the caves.

Today, visitors can walk up a paved trail, though the trip is still strenuous. In the 1930s, tunnels were built to connect the caves, and today a one-hour ranger-led tour explores Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos caves. Highlights of the tour include the Chimes Chamber of Timpanogos Cave, with its profusion of brilliant white helictites, and the Great Heart of Timpanogos, a giant cave formation of linked stalactites. Though the caverns are millions of years old, they are still changing. Drop by drop, water continues to work its magic.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument Information

Address: Off I-15 up American Fork Canyon, American Fork, UT
Telephone: 801/756-5238
Hours of Operation: 7 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Admission
: $3 - 3 Days; $10.00 - 14 Days; $25.00 - Annual

Learn about these other na­tional monuments:

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site Clara Barton National Historic Site
Fort Larned National Historic Site
Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
Adams National Historic Site
Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site Fort Raleigh National Historic Site Hampton National Historic Site Lincoln Home National Historic Site Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site Edison National Historic Site Fort Scott National Historic Site Harry S. Truman National Historic Site Longfellow National Historic Site Sagamore Hill National Historic Site Thomas Stone National Historic Site
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Eisenhower National Historic Site Fort Smith National Historic Site Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site Thomas Stone National Historic Site
Boston African -American National Historic Site Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site Manzanar National Historic Site

Saint-
Gaudens National Historic Site

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site Martin Van Buren National Historic Site Salem Maritime National Historic Site Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site Mary McLeod Bethune House National Historic Site Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site Weir Farm National Historic Site
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site Fort Bowie National Historic Site Friendship Hill National Historic Site James A. Garfield National Historic Site Mc Loughlin House National Historic Site Sewall -Belmont House National Historic Site Whitman Mission National Historic Site
Chicago Portage National Historic Site
Fort Davis National Historic Site Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site Jimmy Carter National Historic Site Ninety Six National Historic Site Springfield Armory National Historic Site William Howard Taft National Historic Site
Christian
-sted National Historic Site
Fort Laramie National Historic Site Golden Spike National Historic Site John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Steamtown National Historic Site

To learn more about national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based author who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.