What could be an attraction in Wendover has nothing to do with land speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, playing blackjack at a casino, or watching comedian Bill Engvall tell jokes at the Peppermill Concert Hall.
Instead it’s a quiet, humble place on the outside of town, with the Silver Island Mountains and Great Salt Lake Desert as a backdrop. Unless you’re aware of its existence, you wouldn’t know where to look. There are no billboards, no signs. But the place is a veritable time machine into Tooele County’s — and America’s — ancient past. And it deserves more limelight and public awareness, which now may come.
As reported in last Thursday’s edition, the Tooele County Commission is considering a resolution from the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation to designate Danger Cave as a state monument under Utah’s new State Monuments Act.
Barely visible in a rocky slope near westbound Interstate 80’s exit 2 at Wendover, Danger Cave is renown in historical and academic circles as one of the most significant archaeological features in Utah and the U.S. Archaeologists and their digs have determined ancient Native Americans began living in the cave shortly after the last Ice Age up to 11,000 years ago.
Textiles, baskets, pottery, animal bones, plant remains, weapons, chipped stones, and leather scraps have been unearthed from inside the cave. Radio-carbon dating proved the cave to be one of the oldest known Native American sites in the country. Such prestige is recognized by the County Commission.
“At the time of its discovery, Danger Cave was the oldest dated inhabitation in America,” said County Commission chairman Tom Tripp at last Tuesday’s commission meeting. “It was also the first archaeological excavation done with great scientific scrutiny using new methods, so it is instrumental in archaeological history as well.”
This is not the first time Danger Cave has been proposed to receive special recognition. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park System in 1961 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The cave reportedly was also designated as a state park in 1968, but has not been developed into a park with daily public admission. In fact, the cave’s entrance is blocked by a metal gate.
The State Monuments Act was approved by the Utah Legislature last March. It requires the state division of parks and recreation to periodically evaluate and report on state property for possible state monument status. The division has proposed the cave to receive that status. But the process first requires approval from the County Commission before going to the Legislature and governor for final review. Without the county’s support the proposal is dead.
The division of parks and recreation is acknowledged for recognizing the immense value of Danger Cave and proposing it become a state monument. It is hoped the County Commission will embrace the proposal and approve the resolution.
It is also hoped the Legislature votes to make Danger Cave a state monument and the governor ratifies it with a signature. The cave truly is a geological, geographical and historical wonder that deserves all of the rights and privileges that come with state monument status.