Welcome to Timpanogos Cave National Monument’s virtual field trip. As a part of this trip you will be able to “hike” the 1.5-mile trail up the North wall of the American Fork Canyon, which leads to the Timpanogos cave system. You will then be able to explore the passages of Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos caves that are accessible during cave tours.
Along the way to the caves, you can stop to see beautiful scenery and sites
of geologic interest. Once inside, you are invited to look at images of intricate
speleothems (cave formations) and learn about the unique processes that have
led to their formation.
Visitors to Timpanogos Cave National Monument will need to know some very important things before beginning the climb up to the caves.
1. You must have a ticket in order to tour the caves. Tickets are only available at the visitors' center that is located at the base of the trail.
2. Bring water! (The trail is very strenuous and even the best hikers need to stay hydrated.)
3. No strollers, wheel chairs, or other wheeled vehicles are allowed on the trail for safety reasons.
4. No pets are allowed on the trail.
5. An adult must accompany all children under the age of 16 at all times.
6. No running is allowed on the trail.
7. Throwing rocks inside Timpanogos Cave National Monument is absolutely prohibited.
8. Visitors are asked to stay on the trail at all times.
9. Please be advised there are no restrooms until near the cave entrance.
This large rockslide area is located just above the Visitors' Center. This is really a loose debris pile, which has collected rocks falling from the north wall of the American Fork Canyon for a long time. Geologists call this a talus slope. Sometimes only one or two rocks tumble down at a time but at other times large numbers of rocks rain down the slope all at once. These processes, along with several others, that move material down slope under the force of gravity are called mass wasting. Because broken materials (rocks) are transported from one place to another this is an example of erosion. Trail visitors should watch out for falling rocks particularly when passing through areas of the trail which are prone to rock fall. It is important not to stop in these areas, which have been marked with red stripes. Actual visitors should stand as close to the mountain as possible and cover their heads if they hear falling rocks.
As one looks out across the AFC to its southern wall it is easy to see that mass wasting is going on there as well. Notice the tan colored areas in the picture, these are areas which have been stripped of vegetation presumably by the constant instability of the rock chute. From this perspective it is easy to see how erosion and particularly mass wasting have broken down and widened the walls of the stream-cut American Fork Canyon. It is interesting to note that the densest vegetation appears concentrated along the edges on the rock chute. This is most likely because water tends to collect and move quickly through non-vegetated areas. The trees and other vegetation compete for water and therefore are more successful near the rock chute where they can take advantage of the unclaimed water.
Isn't it amazing that trees and other plants can survive in such rocky terrain? Many plants are capable of surviving in this harsh environment because they have roots which extend into the fractures in rocks where water collects during rain and snowfall events. As the plants grow their roots extend deeper and deeper in to the crevices. Sometimes plants exert enough force to actually split rocks apart. This is called physical organic weathering. Another type of physical organic weathering occurs when animals mechanically break down rocks by digging. This however is more difficult to see and not generally as influential as vegetative physical organic weathering, examples of which are seen early on the trail to the Timpanogos cave system.
Wow! Check out the amazing view as you look back across the canyon to the West.
The "V" shape of the valley is clearly visible from here. To geologists this means that the canyon is relatively young and has never been glaciated. "V" shaped valleys are usually stream cut while glacial valleys have a carichteristic "U" shape.
When you look up the trail form here you can see that there is a tunnel up ahead. This tunnel was blasted in 1951 as part of a trail improvement project.
Can you imagine the precision it would take to blast a tunnel through this solid quartzite block? This tunnel was constructed during the winter of 1951. Experts drilled shot holes to be used for the charges of dynamite. They had to be very careful while drilling and blasting because this chunk of rock has many fault lines. A fault is a break in the earth's crust along which blocks of rock slip past one another. If you look closely between the two blocks of rock you will see that the fault has ground the rock into sand. Geologists call this fault breccia. Faults like this are the paths that water followed to create the caves. Further up the trail you will see additional evidence of faulting.
The above picture looks back through the first tunnel where a small fault is visible on the left hand wall. This is the same fault which is discussed above. A closer view of this fault can be seen below, the white line which defines this fault is actually fine sand.
You are now ¼ of the way there!
Now let's look west just past the tunnel for another view of the American Fork Canyon. Notice the slanted cracks which appear in the rock on the north (right) side of the photograph. These slanted "cracks," however are not faults. These are actually bedding planes, separations between material that settled onto the botton of the ancient tropocal sea where these deposits first accumulated. These beds of rock which are now slanted were once flat but the same tectonic forces that eventually caused faults to form first bent and tilted these rock beds into their current position.
The black streaks on the North canyon wall are caused by manganese oxide formation on the surface of the rocks. Exposure to the air causes the Manganese (Mn) in the rock to react with oxygen forming MnO2. This change in the chemical composition of the rocks surface actually breaks the rock down over time, that's why it is called chemical weathering. Notice that some of the rocks pictured below (this is the tunnel from stop #6) appear reddish brown in color. This red brown color is the result of another type of chemical weathering, iron oxidation. When iron reacts with oxygen to form iron oxide the result is commonly known as rust. The red coloring on the rocks is not rust though, it is staining from iron oxide.
Chemical weathering is a much slower process than physical weathering but it is happening almost everywhere!
Here it is easy to see the tilting layers of bedrock on a larger scale than was previously recognized. Can you imagine the force it must have taken to bend these rocks up?
Notice that as you look up the trail, through the tunnel, the tilt of the rocks is still apparent. It is easy to imagine that the rock bed on the top left portion of the tunnel continued across diagonally to meet the top right before the tunnel was blasted.
This tunnel can be locked by an iron gate as seen below. Locking the gate prevents people from visiting the caves when the monument is closed. This is important because it protects the caves from vandalisim and protects visitors from harm.
What could have caused these rocks to look so tilted and warped? The answer is simple, plate tectonics. Imagine a rug that is being pushed inwards from both ends. What was once flat is now wrinkled and folded. That is similar to what happened here approximately 144 to 60 million years ago as the Pacific plate was pushing against the North American plate. This action caused the rocks to be folded in many parts of the western United States, including here in American Fork Canyon. Only through erosion and uplift along the Wasatch fault, within the last 17 million years have these rock layers become exposed.
Look closely at the rock in this picture. Do you see the wavy lines? Those are actually raised ridges, a pattern, left by slow moving water millions of years ago when this rock was still just sand. These ripple marks provide clues about the history of the area.
They tell us that sometime before any of the rocks above these had begun to form, before tectonic forces tilted and faulted the rocks, and before the caves began to form, this whole area was covered by the slow moving water of a shallow sea, which left these marks. Other clues about the history of American Fork Canyon can also be found in the form of sedimentary rock types, which tell about the environment in which they formed, and fossils that tell of ancient life.
These pictures were taken on a cloudy fall day in November, but rest assured the views are just as spectacular in the spring and summer when most visitors see the park. Scenery is an important geologic resource which is often over looked by geologists but continually appreciated (albeit unknowingly) by the public.
Geology and geologic processes are primarily responsible for the way a natural landscape looks. Notice the stratigraphy (different colored layers of rock) and the mass wasting evident in these pictures; these are geologic features, as are the mountains themselves. Even the vegetation is reflective of the underlying geology that influences soil development and the types of plants, which can survive here. There is cool geology everywhere!
Movement of one mass of rock past another can cause fault surfaces to appear polished. These skid marked areas are called "slickensides." There are numerous examples of this polished effect along the trail.
The same faulting of the earth that created the slickensides created a crevice that was later filled with cave formations. A cave like crevice was exposed when this trail was carved out from the side of the mountain. Evidence of this can still be seen in the form of ancient calcite formations along this rock wall.
Sometimes visitors can feel cool air blowing from the holes within this cliff side or smell woodrat nests, indicating there may be a hidden cave nearby!
You probably recognize this, it is another small fault found right beside the trail. The fact is that this area is splintered by hundreds of small faults and several not-so-small faults. Notice that the bedding planes on the left do not continue past the fault into the brecciated fault zone on the right.
The larger faults run perpendicular to the American Fork Canyon along the eastern side of the Wasatch Mountains. This system of parallel faults is known as the Wasatch fault zone. We will stop to learn more about the Wasatch fault zone at Stop #16.
It is hard to believe any creatures can live in these steep slopes but there is an abundance of wildlife to be found in this area. Legend has it that Martin Hansen discovered the first of the three caves while following mountain lion tracks in 1887. It has been well documented that mountain lions use other rock shelters in American Fork Canyon. In winter it is common to see the big cat's tracks along the trail, but as people return to the canyon this creature becomes elusive. In the spring you may be able to spot the mountain goats across the canyon. All of the animals found in the canyon are well adapted to living in these steep slopes. More commonly seen are animals such as the golden mantled ground squirrel and the smaller least chipmunks. Please remember that wild animals have natural food to eat and they are much healthier without human food.
Do these rocks look stable to you?
They may seem to be standing still but one small movement can trigger these rocks to slide. Rain or melting snow saturates these types of rockslide areas loosening the rocks and causing them to cascade downhill. Even small animals or wind can trigger rock movement.
Rockslide areas can become avalanche chutes in the winter. This makes the trail too dangerous to keep open in the winter. Can you see the large gated area at the top of this picture? This large gate, located just east of the cave entrance catches a lot of the rocks that fall from far overhead, but not all. The mountain is always in motion; if visitors hear rocks falling they should move over towards the side of the mountain while keeping their heads down.
If you look east towards the mouth of the canyon to the spot where the paved road curves you will see the approximate location of the Wasatch fault line. At 240 miles long, this is one of the longest and most active fault zones in the world. Movement and earthquakes along the Wasatch fault system have been occurring for at least 15 million years. Geologists, estimate the last large earthquake to occur in this part of the Wasatch fault zone happened bettween 400 and 600 years ago. The vertical fault uplifts the mountains of the Wasatch Range while at the same time down droping the valley to the west. This action over time has been largely responsible for creating the Wasatch mountains, which host the Timpanogos Cave system. These mountains are still rising today. Most of Utah's population centers are located within a few miles of the fault zone. The picture shown below looks in to American Fork Canyon from the East. Visitors to Timpanogos Cave National Monument will drive along this road to enter the park, in doing so they will cross the Wasatch fault zone most of which lies far below the surface.
This is the last chance for trail climbers to use the restrooms before entering the caves. The rock shelter was built in 1939, the first year that tours went all the way through the cave system. It was also the first year that the new trail to the Hansen cave entrance was completed, though it was not paved until the early 1950's. As steep as this trail is, I sure am glad that I didn't have the job of working on it! But the views are great and the caves make the hike worth while.
Close your eyes and imagine you are standing near a warm, shallow sea. This underwater scene is what it would have looked like if you had been here about 340 million years ago a time long before dinosaurs ruled the planet. According to geologists, the fossils found in this limestone represent a community of marine organisms that inhabited this area when Utah was located near the equator and covered by water! Some of the fossils may seem compacted. This is due to the weight and pressure of overlying rocks on top of this fossil rich layer.
This is the natural entrance to Hansen Cave, the first cave which visitors today tour. As you hiked up the trail you may have asked yourself how these caves were ever discovered. Native Americans from a Ute tribe known as the Timpanogots inhabited this area long before the first white settlers. They used these mountains for hunting, fishing and gathering plants and berries. There are still Ute stories that have been handed down through generations involving caves in this area. Although there have been no Native American artifacts found in the caves it is likely that these native people knew about these three caves long before the first white settlers arrived. It was not until the fall of 1887 that the first of the three caves had a documented discovery. The most widely accepted story says Martin Hansen was cutting wood in the canyon when he happened upon mountain lion tracks and followed them. The tracks led him to the cave. Martin led groups of visitors who were willing to make the trek up a trail that was almost straight up 1, 200 feet. The cave looks very different from what those visitors saw. In the winter of 1892 a years after the guided tours were stopped the cave was partially mined. At least two freight car loads of flowstone were shipped east before the contract was cancelled due to the unsuitability of flowstone for decorative stone purposes. Although the cave was mined it is still "alive" and many beautiful examples of formations and colors can still be seen today. Visitors today can help preserve this beauty by NOT touching anything during a cave tour.
Middle Cave is the second cave entered on a tour but it was the last of the three caves to be discovered. It is reached by traveling through one of the two manmade tunnels that were blasted out in the spring of 1937. Before the tunnels were made visitors only saw Timpanogos Cave. In the fall of 1921 just six weeks after Timpanogos Cave had been rediscovered George Heber Hansen (son of Martin Hansen) and his nephew Wayne E. Hansen (grandson of Martin) found Middle Cave. The pair had been deer hunting on the north side of American Fork Canyon when they spotted what they thought to be a cave opening between Hansen and Timpanogos Caves. Since they did not have the necessary equipment they decided to return on a later date to explore the newly found cave. Wayne Hansen later recalled that day, "Grandfather Martin Hansen, although 73 years of age was with us on this trip. He had always been hale and hearty and would not hear of staying home because it did concern him very much." Can you imagine what it would be like to go down a rope 120 feet into a dark unexplored cave? How many undiscovered caves do you think still remain in this canyon?
Two local boys, Frank Johnson and James W. Gough first discovered Timpanogos Cave the second of the three to be discovered. James recalled the day they discovered the cave. "This all happened in 1913 when I was a boy of sixteen. After the dust cleared away I coaxed Frank into the notion to follow me down the passageway and slid the rest of the way down when something knocked my hat off. I told Frank I thought a bear had me, and he laughed and told me that several bats flew out of the cave." James Gough's family and a Mr. Huthchings put a mining claim on the cave but it was never pursued. A few more groups explored the cave but it was covered up and all but forgotten about except for rumors of its existence. It was the idea that a mystery cave may have existed that led the Payson Outdoor Club to explore the area. Club member Vearl J. Manwill found the opening on August 14, 1921. The club became dedicated to protecting and preserving the cave from vandalism. Tours were allowed into the cave under a special use permit from the United States Forest Service even before President Harding declared it a National Monument on October 14, 1922. Even back then people realized what a unique place this is and the need to protect it. Sadly not everyone treated the caves with respect as this newspaper story written in July 1922 by reporter Frank Eversoll reflects. "Unless something is done and done drastically at once, Timpanogos Cave will be a despoiled treasure within a year. Gawky kids, thoughtless women, hard boiled men go in that cave and try to carry away as many crystals as they can stuff in their pockets." Although the caves have suffered vandalism over the years they remain relatively pristine and it is the National Park Service's mission to continue to preserve this treasure for future generations.
Can you imagine what Martin Hansen must have felt like in 1887 after following mountain lion tracks into what would later be known as Hansen Cave for the first time? Sure, climbing into that hole seemed like a good idea a few minutes ago, but now… completely enveloped in darkness and looking back toward the natural entrance which he had just crawled through surely Martin wondered what exactly he had gotten himself into. Well, literally anyway, it was the first of three caves waiting to be discovered in the area. These caves were later joined by man-made tunnels to make touring the caves easier. But what exactly is a cave anyway? In the simplest of terms a cave may be defined as any natural cavity large enough to allow human entry. However, as you will soon see Hansen, Middle, and Timpanogos Caves are much more than your average holes in the ground.
This is actually the first stop on the guided tour through which most visitors experience the caves. On this tour visitors are asked to stay on the paved and lighted trail, not to touch anything, not to eat or drink while inside the caves and to be very careful to avoid bumping their heads on low formations. These may seem like pretty strict rules, but they are designed to preserve the resources of the caves and protect visitors from accidental injury.
Wow! What are all of these things?
Most people refer to the unique secondary mineral deposits found in caves as "cave formations." Geologists and cavers however frequently refer to them as speleothems. You will soon see that a wide variety of speleothems exist in the Timpanogos cave system. Even here in the entrance room are examples of flowstone and stalagmites. As its name indicates, flowstone is formed by flowing water. Stalagmites are formed by dripping water, this one is affectionately referred to as the "Hershey's Kiss." Can you tell why?
We will now leave Hansen Cave and proceed to Middle cave through a man-made tunnel. The tunnels that connect the caves were built between 1937 and 1938. Visitors may feel a gust of cool air as the door to the Hansen cave tunnel is opened. Originally the tunnels did not have doors, and by connecting the caves they dramatically increased the rate of air flow within the cave system. People soon noticed that the caves were beginning to dry out as a result of this increased air flow. Water is necessary for the "growth" or development of cave formations so, in an effort to stop the artificial drying of the caves, wooden doors were put on the Hansen Entrance, the Timpanogos Entrance and the Middle Cave tunnel in 1939. Three other doors were added to the Hansen and Middle Cave tunnels in 1991 to create a true airlock between the three caves. All of these wooden doors had to be replaced by doors made of recycled plastic in 1999 because mold had begun to grow on the wooden doors. So far the doors have been effective and have returned the caves to their current moisture level. In addition they have allowed "baby" formations to begin developing inside the tunnels.
This is cool because unlike most formations we know the exact age of these new formations. In the year 2001, the stalactites are 64 years old and still less than ¼ of an inch long. It is tempting to use this known growth rate to estimate the age of larger formations. However, because conditions change over time, growth is not constant and this will not provide an accurate measure of a speleothem's age. Hopefully however, this general rate will give you an idea about the length of a time over which these amazing formations have developed.
We have now entered Middle Cave! It is hard to tell from this picture, or really even from the trail, but Middle Cave Lake is over 100 feet long and reaches levels of approximately 5-feet deep in the springtime. In the summer Middle Cave Lake is pumped down to a level of 3 feet so that tours can move through without getting too wet. Sometimes stalactites and other formations still drip cold water on to visitors, these drips are known as "cave kisses" and are said to bring good luck! Notice the cave formations that point down from the ceiling above Middle Cave Lake. Most of them are stalactites. (Remember stalactites hold on "tite" to the ceiling as opposed to stalagmites which "mite" reach the ceiling some day.)
The most common cave minerals in the world, and in the Timpanogos cave system, are carbonate minerals. The carbonates found in Timpanogos Cave National Monument are calcite and aragonite. Chemically the two minerals are the same, however they exhibit different crystalline structures.
You may be wondering how cave formations get here. The process begins when carbon dioxide from the air, snow, or soil, reacts with rain to form a weak carbonic acid. As this acid percolates through cracks in the limestone and dolomite which overly the Timpanogos cave system, it slowly dissolves the rock. The water then becomes saturated with calcium carbonate. When this saturated water comes into contact with an air filled chamber, the carbon dioxide evaporates and the water deposits the calcite it was carrying. Over time these tiny calcite deposits build up producing intricate cave formations. These formations found near Middle Cave Lake are called draperies. Draperies are described as curtains of calcite hanging from an inclined surface. Draperies are often remarkably thin.
In some parts of the cave visitors can see broken speleothems. Thoughtless visitors broke some of the formations before the caves were protected. However, most of the broken formations were likely brought down in earthquakes. It is estimated that the area's most recent major earthquake occurred on the Middle Cave falut line between 400 and 700 years ago. The broken formations remind visitors that faults have played an important role in the development of the caves. Before any formations could develop, an air filled cavity had to be created. Faulting in the area pulverized rocks along fractures, thus facilitating the movement of acid-rich water along these pathways. The water slowly dissolved the surrounding rock and began to widen the passage. The area was completely submerged while most of the cave was dissolved out by a mild carbonic acid. If faults had not concentrated this dissolving process in one place it is less likely that caves would have formed in the area.
This picture looks up at the cross-section of a broken stalactite. You may notice the bands of different colors. These bands indicate wet and dry phases of the stalactites growth. However because the cycles which form these bands are not necessarily annual and are affected by factors other than season, they are not useful for dating the age of the formation or tracing climate history as with tree rings.
Visitors must now pass through a very narrow, tall passage which follows the Middle Cave fault line. These pictures look up toward the ceiling of the cave showing direct evidence of the fault itself.
The very morphology (shape) of this passage is characteristic of caves formed along faults which are virtually all tall and linear. The Middle Cave entrance is located in the fault and is the highest point in the cave system, over 100 ft above the entrance to Hansen Cave. The Middle Cave fault is a "normal" fault, meaning that it is formed by tensional (pulling apart) rather than compressional (pushing together) forces. In normal faulting the "head wall" moves down and the "foot wall" moves up. When you are in a fault cave the "head wall" is the rock over your head while the "foot wall" is the rock under your feet. Middle Cave fault records about nine feet of vertical displacement (slip) between the head and footwalls. Although, that doesn't sound like a lot of movement it is important to remember that in some places normal faulting can displace rock beds by miles.
Near the end of this passage, if you look way up, part of an old wooden ladder is visible in the darkness. This ladder was used by surveyors in the 1930's, to enter this part of the cave, when they were blasting the tunnels. Definitely not a feat for the feint- hearted!
Did you know that the Timpanogos cave system is home to 43 different types, subtypes and varieties of described speleothems (cave formations)? There are probably even more that haven't been discovered yet. The spaciousness of the big room is quite a contrast to the cramped quarters of the Middle Cave fault.
The delicate looking formation below is known as frostwork. Frostwork formations are needle-like sprays of aragonite crystals. It is so tempting to touch them, but visitors have to resist not only because formations may break but also because oils from human fingers (even clean ones) coat cave formations. This results in discoloration and prevents natural growth processes form occurring. This picture shows a portion of the big room. How many different types of speleothems can you spot?
Welcome to Timpanogos Cave! We have now entered the third cave on the tour; Timpanogos cave. This area is known as Father Times Jewel Box and with all of the glittering formations here it is easy to see why.
Timpanogos cave is particularly will known for it's abundance of helictites which are relatively rare in most other caves. Helictites are formed by capillary action, which pulls pressurized water through tiny holes or pores on the surface of wall coatings or other formations. Calcite is deposited around the pore eventually forming a micro straw around this tiny hole, water continues to be drawn through the hole and thus the formation grows outward. Branches are formed when the top of the formation clogs during a dry period and water forces its way out through the side of the existing formation. Some geologists have suggested that it is the wedge shape of the calcite crystals that cause the helictites* to twist and turn erratically. (* - The word "helictite" comes from the same root as the word helicopter and means to spiral.)
This is a close up of the area in the top left of the above photo. Some of the formations pointing out of the wall in this photo are helictites; and we will see many more before leaving Timpanogos cave.
The Cavern of Sleep is filled by a wide variety of formations including stalactites, helictites, beaded helictites, anthodites, and soda straws among others.
Because the Timpanogos cave system is still a wet cave system we know that the cave formations are still developing or "growing." Some people wonder if the whole cave will one day fill up with formations making a giant block of calcite. While theoretically this is possible, it is highly improbable that the caves will fill up with formations.
There are two main reasons that this is unlikely to occur. One factor is the location of the caves in what is considered to be an active fault zone. Cave formations develop so slowly that a major earthquake will probably strike the Timpanogos cave system destroying the caves before they fill up. The second and more recognizable threat to the caves is that of erosion and particularly mass wasting in the American Fork Canyon. These same forces which exposed the current cave entrances will likely open up bigger and bigger entrances until the caves dry out and stop growing or eventually tumble down the American Fork Canyon themselves.
Don't worry too much about these possibilities though; it may be thousands of years before any major geologic events affect the caves. The important thing to remember is to enjoy and protect the caves now so that as many people as possible will be able to share them. Also, on the bright side, erosion may expose entrances to new and wonderful caves that have not yet been discovered!
Looking down into Hidden Lake it is hard not to notice the formations decorating the edge of the water. These formations are called shelf stone, unlike the other formations we have seen thus far they are not formed by running water, dripping water. or capillary action but rather by pooled water. In fact, because shelf stone only forms in pooled water it serves as a record of past lake levels in the caves.
As mentioned earlier there are 43 described formations in the Timpanogos cave system, but until recently there were only 42! The most recently recognized speleotheme, Christmas Tree Coral, can be found near Hidden Lake. This example of Christmas tree coral is very small (less than 1 inch in height) and well hidden under a shelf of rock. No wonder it took so long for someone to notice it! The detail of these formations is really incredible.
Discovering Christmas tree coral in Timpanogos cave reaffirms the need to protect, preserve, and study the entire cave system. There is probably even more neat stuff in the caves just waiting to be discovered!
This mixed formation of popcorn and helictites looks green when a light is shown through it. The green coloration comes from the presence of nickel in aragonite crystals. When nickel is present in calcite the result is a lemon yellow color. (You may have noticed that some of the formations in the Cavern of Sleep were yellow, this is due to the presence of Nickel in Calcite.) Other minerals can color formations as well, iron causes them to appear brown, reddish-orange or even a dirty yellow, while manganese can cause formations to appear black or bluish gray in color.
Timpanogos cave is covered with bizarre and intricate formations like these beaded helictites and quill anthodites. Some people think that these formations, which grow along the wall, look like flowers, jewels, or deep-sea creatures. What do they remind you of?
Timpanogos caves most famous stalactite! "The Great Heart of Timpanogos" is impressive not only because of its beauty but also because of its sheer size. The "heart" measures approximately 5.5 feet in length and is about 1 cubic yard in volume. Many people wonder how much the heart weighs, it would be impossible to weigh the heart without removing it from it's current location so no one really knows, however it is estimated to weigh over two tons.
Past visitors to the caves may remember that the great heart used to look red. This is because a red light was shown through it so that it would look more like a real heart. Because the heart is not actually red this was a misleading and unnatural way to represent the it. The heart is now shown in white light (but I bet that if you actually visit the park ranger leading your tour could be persuaded to show you what it looked like with the red light.) Also notice the intricate formations which surround the great heart; the beaded helictites and quill anthodite from the previous stop are found on a wall quite close to the heart.
Below is a picture of the chimes chamber ceiling. Those crazy looking formations are mostly helictites. Kids often think that they look like frozen worms or tooth paste that has been squeezed out all over the place. The variety of shapes which cave formations take really is quite amazing there is nothing quite like them above ground.
The other picture is of draperies in the chimes chamber. Notice the bands of color in the draperies. Do they remind you of anything? Someone once thought that formations like these looked like bacon and the name has stuck! If you ever hear someone mention"cave bacon" you can bet they are talking about formations like these.
This delicate formation is only about three inches long and clings to the ceiling of the chimes chamber. "Sea urchins" are actually anthodites, which have been partially filled in with calcite. Most visitors probably don't notice this little beauty unless the park ranger guiding their tour shows it to them. There are so many elaborate formations to see in the caves that visitors are easily overwhelmed.
The camel room has several nice examples of stalactites, draperies, shields, and columns. Columns form when a stalactite meets and joins a stalagmite. Notice the red brown color of these formations. This coloring indicates the presence of iron. The sloping oval plate on the right, that is fringed with helictites along a medial crack, is known as a shield. Notice that the dripstone stalactite that formed from the bottom plate connected, with the associated stalagmite, forming a column. There is also some cave bacon near the column below.
People who visited the caves a long time ago may remember that toward the end of the tour they were allowed to touch two small stalagmites known as the salt and pepper shakers. This is no longer allowed because the oils from people's fingers discolored and polished the stalagmites which in turn could have prevented calcite from being deposited. Part of the parks mission is to protect and share resources with the public. For this reason they have asked that people no longer touch the salt and pepper shakers so that no more damage will be done; and the caves will be preserved for future generations.
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