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Explore Your Dark Side with Caves Exhibit at Utah Museum of Natural History

May 18, 2005 — The public will be able to explore the hidden secrets of caves from May 28 to October 2, 2005 at the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah. The new display is actually two exhibits entitled The Dark Zone: Discovering Utah’s Caves and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s traveling exhibition of Caves: a Fragile Wilderness.

The media is invited to a special sneak preview Monday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to noon. Artist Wayne Geary and designer Tim Lee will be on hand for this final phase of construction, when large crystal rock formations and a bat array will be installed. Museum experts and representatives from the Timpanogos Cave National Monument will also be on hand to answer reporter’s questions.

Step into the world of caves immediately as you enter the Museum’s Dumke Gallery. In the “Entrances” section visitors will travel through a life-like replica of a cave created by the Museum. This replica is based upon actual cavern structures; complete with various sizes of crawl spaces, the sounds of dripping water and other cave noises, real specimens of cave-dwelling creatures, and impressive rock formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Although not an exact replica of a specific cave, this area will show common features of limestone caves found in Utah. Visitors to The Dark Zone: Discovering Utah’s Caves will learn about Utah caves, cave ecosystems, the natural watersheds found in caves, intriguing minerals unique to caves, cave wildlife, the history of caves, cave explorers and cave safety. In the “Accidents and Rescues” section, people can read about historical catastrophes under the earth, tight spots and daring cave rescues. Visitors can try on real cave safety gear: including the proper jumpsuits, helmets, harnesses, and tools.

On the other end of the cave, visitors will enter Caves: a Fragile Wilderness, a traveling photography exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, brought to Utah by the Utah Museum of Natural History’s Special Exhibits Program. The Museum’s Special Exhibits Program provides a broader view of the world for Utah’s residents. This impressive collection of 39 large color photographs, taken by 23 National Speleological Society (NSS) members, documents the astounding beauty as well as the bizarre formations, animals, colors, and spaces found in caves around the world from Alaska to Malaysia.

This project started two years ago, when the Museum contracted with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service to bring Caves: a Fragile Wilderness to Salt Lake City. “At that time we knew we wanted to create our own exhibit to compliment and augment the photography exhibition from the Smithsonian,” said Director of Exhibits, Becky Menlove.

The Museum immediately cemented a strong partnership with Timpanogos Cave National Monument, National Park Service. The Timpanogos Cave National Monument just south of Salt Lake City features one of the most famous and popular caves in Utah. “We are really excited about the partnership,” said Cami Pulham from Timpanogos Cave National Monument, “people tell me all the time that they forget that they live right under Timpanogos Cave, and have never hiked up to see it. This exhibit is a great opportunity to re-alert people.” One of the exciting components of this exhibit is the public programming centered on cave exploration

The Museum design team was given private tours through Timpanogos Cave and other local caves, and embarked on a long journey of research and planning to create the right look and feel for The Dark Zone: Discovering Utah’s Caves.

Generating an authentic cave experience and augmenting the Smithsonian’s photography exhibit was challenging. “I wanted the photographs to feel like a window back into the cave in the gallery,” said Jill Schwartz, art director for the Museum. There are multiple different ways to go through the galleries, but once visitors go through and glean all of the information in the different areas, they will be able to walk through the cave again and recognize all of the elements they have learned.