Marred By Vandals, Hidden Cave Gets Restoration

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FALLON, NV - High on a hill east of Fallon, a team of archaeologists is working at a site that holds thousands of years of our history.

That work, however, is not aimed at uncovering that history, but repairing damage left by modern-day vandals.

Sometime in February or early March, a group of people gained entrance to Hidden Cave and, in an act of juvenile arrogance, left their mark inside and out.

"It's certainly disheartening and unexplainable," says Bryan Hockett, leader archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada.

Hockett has good reason to feel that way and says the rest of us should share his sense of violation. It's difficult to overstate the importance of this place.

Hidden Cave has stood on this hillside for millennia, witness to times that once saw lakes and marshes where there's now desert.

It was home to predators like ancient wolves long before humans arrived in North America and then was used by ancient Americans as a storage site for equipment and food for at least 5,000 years.

And it can tell those thousands of years of history to us.

A bright white line runs a couple of feet down on wall of layers of sediment left by earlier excavations. That's volcanic ash left by the eruption of Mount Mazama, the explosion that created Crater Lake, 6,900 years ago.

A hollow stick protruding much higher up in the strata is a relatively new artifact, an atlatl, a throwing stick left here about the time Europe was being converted to Christianity.

Hidden Cave is not unique, but there are very few places like it.

"It's very rare to have an opportunity to have a cave with intact sediments that you can bring public to and interpret in this manner."

The vandals left all this history marked with graffiti, some obscene. The biggest was a spray painted message across the largest wall saying "I love Rachel".

It's gone now, as Hockett and the others cut deeper into the wall removing the paint. It's painstaking work, done with the same attention to detail as the original excavation.

It's more difficult elsewhere in the cave where the paint marred the rock walls.

Slowly, once again, the work is revealing thousands of years of Nevada history.

But for the moment, Hidden Cave is silent while Hockett and his colleagues complete their work.

The cave will not reopen to public tours until then.

Meanwhile, there have been no arrests.

The BLM has no comment other than to say the investigation continues.

Sources, however, tell us it's thought perhaps more than a dozen people, possibly teenagers, did the damage in two separate, but related and planned incidents.

The Bureau is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to arrests. Anyone with information is urged to call BLM. Secret Witness (322-4900) will also take calls.