Great Basin Caves and Fossils
This past week, accompanied by the KSL Outdoors TV Crew, we traveled to Millard County in Utah to explore a few of the caves and fossil sites near the Utah Nevada state line. This was our second trip to Millard County in the past month and we’re finding there’s much to be discovered, but it’s going to take some time explore this region. The county is Utah’s third largest with many of the sites and attractions a fair distance apart from one another.
This week we visited caves and fossil digs located west of Delta Utah near the Nevada state line. These sites are accessed via Highway 6/50 that runs through Millard County with Highway 50 continuing through Nevada, which is known as “The Loneliest Road in America.” The name is no exaggeration! This is one very lonely road with virtually no traffic.
This stop was an unexpected surprise. We heard this was a good place to find trilobites, but we had no idea how easy they are to find and in such abundance.
Trilobites are among the earliest known marine arthropods and were some of the most successful of all early animals, existing for over 270 million years and went extinct in mass extinction 250 million years ago. Because of their diversity and near perfect preservation in fine-grained rock, trilobites are one of the most popular fossils among collectors. We see them frequently at rock shops and in museums but never have we seen them so readily available and easy to find as we did at U-Dig.
There are so many of these little critters concentrated in this quarry that you can often find them by simply looking down as we did within a few feet of where we were standing. But if you want a real fossil hunting experience you can take a hammer provided by U-Dig and spend time in the quarry splitting limestone shale. Personal instruction is offered and access on the 40-acre quarry where visitors can hunt through freshly excavated shale. The shale splits easily into flat sheets, revealing the trilobite fossils. On average 10-20 fossils are found in a four-hour period by most visitors, I think we found that many in the two hours we visited. The bonus is that you get to take home what you find.
U-Dig quarry is located approximately 52 miles west of Delta, Utah, near Antelope Springs. (See map below) We think this a great activity for all ages but would be especially fun for families. Check the link below for hours and fees.
Lehman Caves is located in the Great Basin National Park near the town of Baker Nevada. Discovered in 1885 by Ab Lehman, declared a national monument in 1922 by President Warren D. Harding and eventually becoming part of the Great Basin National Park when created in 1986.
Lehman Caves is an excellent example of a limestone solution cavern. Not the largest caverns in the country, those claims belong to Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns and others, however, they certainly are some of the most impressive. We didn’t enter where Ab Lehman first entered, the natural entrance, which is rather non-descript, and also sacred to local Native American tribes, but we did enter through a long tunnel that empties into a wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites in a series of narrow corridors and large open caverns. The temperature was a comfortable 50 degrees, which may not be comfortable for everyone. We recommend taking a light jacket or sweater with you.
The caves we toured were not so tight that would cause feelings of claustrophobia, at least a few in our group who generally sense claustrophobia expressed that to us. Individuals are not allowed to tour on their own, only small groups are lead through the caves by a park guide. It is highly recommended to make a reservation prior to arrival to be assured passage into the caves. The park highly encourages making a reservation prior to visiting especially during the summer months.
For information on fees, hours and other details visit Lehman Caves Tours – Great Basin National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Crystal Ball Cave
Described as walking through a giant Geode, Crystal Ball Cave is made of limestone and crystal calcite that glows a warm golden yellow when lit up.
The cave was originally found by local resident George Simms in 1956 while looking for lost sheep. In his search he noticed a hole nearby, the rising sun illuminated the inside of the hole allowing him to see that it was very deep. He returned home to get his nephews to explore this new discovery for the first time.
The Cave is now under the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) but managed privately by Jerald and Marlene Bates through a public private partnership.
Once you check-in at the Bates Ranch in Gandy Utah, you will follow a guide from the ranch on a short drive to a parking area where visitors are lead on a quarter mile hike uphill to the entrance. You initially enter a large cavern, but as tour continues there are several narrow tight sections and low ceilings that require stooping down low. We’re not talking squeeze tight, but you may want to practice the limbo before visiting. The return downhill hike to your car follows a trail that offers panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscape of the west desert of Millard County.
Due to the arrangement with the BLM, the Bates are unable to charge a fee for touring the cave, but donations are appreciated, which we encourage. If the Bates family did not offer their time and efforts in guiding people through the cave the BLM would most likely close it and tours would no longer be available to the public.
The cave is suitable for all ages. If you have problems with claustrophobia, sections of the cave may not be for you. We didn’t feel there were any sections that gave any of us the sense of being too tight. The hike to and from is up and downhill but not technical nor exposed to sheer drops.
How to Get There – Take Highway 50 west from Delta Utah 88 miles to North Gandy Highway (county dirt Road), turn north and go 30 miles to Bates Family Ranch. The road to the ranch and cave is suitable for cars. It’s a bit of a drive but well worth taking the time and effort to visit this fascinating place. (See Map Below)
For more information on the cave, overnight lodging and scheduling a visit – go to Crystal Ball Cave (batesfamilyranch.com) Advance reservations are required.
For more ideas and recommendations for places to visit in Utah’s Great Basin region visit Home | Millard County Tourism
LISTEN TO THE ONE TANK TRIP OF THE WEEK ON THE KSL OUTDOORS SHOW EVERY SATURDAY MORNING
One Tank Trip of the Week segment begins at the 10:20 mark