Because the drive from Grand Junction home to MT would have made for a very long day, we broke it into two days with a stop just south of Salt Lake City at American Fork Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains. I don’t recall where we camped, but I do recall that American Fork Canyon was a zoo. There were so many people there. It’s easy to see why, though – the geology of the canyon is incredible and the views are fantastic! Definitely plan to arrive early in the morning to find a place to park.
There are many recreation opportunities in American Fork Canyon. It could be a vacation destination in and of itself. Since we only had half a day, we headed to Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
The monument is small and encompasses little more than the cave and the trail up to it. The hike up to Timpanogos Cave is 1.5 miles/2.4 km (one way) and climbs 1100 feet (335 m). It’s very steep, and in summer it can be very hot. Sunscreen and water are a must. Inside the cave, though, the temperature rarely varies from 45°F (7°C) so a jacket is necessary as well. Sturdy shoes and a flashlight are also recommended while inside the cave.
Despite being called Timpanogos Cave (in the singular) National Monument, the ranger-guided cave tour actually took us through 3 caves connected by manmade tunnels – Hansen Cave, Middle Cave, and Timpanogos Cave. Tour tickets are $8 per person, and advance purchase is recommended. There is no entry to the caves without a ticket.
All three caves are made of limestone and contain many mineralized cave features called speleothems. Probably the most well known speleothems are stalactites and stalagmites. Fun fact – if you have trouble remembering the difference between stalactite and stalagmite: stalactite is spelled with a C and originates from the Ceiling, while stalagmite is spelled with a G and originates from the Ground.
Whoever the first spelunkers were, they must have been hungry, as many of the other speleothems are named for foods. There’s cave popcorn, cave bacon, and soda straws, to name a few.
The cave tour lasted 55 minutes (excluding the time spent hiking up and down the trail) and, along with lots of information about the caves, we had some time to take photos of all of the interesting cave features. Since I don’t have a super fancy camera not all of the pictures turned out very well, but the few that did I’ve included below.
Well, that concludes summer vacation 2010. The next morning, it was time to pack up camp and head back to reality. Until next time!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located in American Fork Canyon, 12 miles (19 km) north of Orem, UT on UT Highway 92
- Fees & passes: no charge to enter the monument, $8 per person to enter the caves
- Camping: there is no campground in the monument, but there are other campgrounds in American Fork Canyon
- Hiking: from the parking area, it’s a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) strenuous climb up to the caves. The walk through the caves themselves is less than a mile
- Other: White nose syndrome is a disease that’s currently wiping out the bat population in the US. To prevent the spread of this disease, anything (backpacks, clothing, shoes, cameras, etc) that has ever been in another cave is not allowed in Timpanogos Caves.