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Hawver Cave discoveries dazzle

Local landmark boasts archaeological treasures
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Dripping with icicle-shaped stalactites and looking like a vision from another world, a newly-revealed room in Hawver Cave drew "oohs" and "ahhs" Monday in Auburn at a Parks Department presentation on the little-known local paleontological landmark. Nearing the century mark since bones and fossils inside the cave were first discovered by an Auburn dentist in December 1906. Hawver Cave's history has been studied and its innards explored by state Parks Department environmental resource specialist Gene Lorance over the last 1½ years. With recent work completed to secure the cave's entrance, Lorance was able to share some of the mysteries authorities have attempted to keep quiet while trying to keep vandals, partyers and the just-plain-curious out. A testament to the interest in the cave -- located about a mile east of Highway 49 on the El Dorado County side of the middle fork American River -- an estimated 250 people attended Lorance's presentation at Placer High School Auditorium. Lorance provided a glimpse into the history of the cave and efforts after the 1906 discovery to identify more than 400 bones and fossils found inside before limestone mining operations ran a tunnel through the underground site. The bones of Hawver Cave saber-toothed cats, mastodons, ground sloths and other extinct animals -- plus skeletal remains of four humans from 10,000 years ago -- are now stored at the University of California, Berkeley. Moving the presentation into the present-day, Lorance reported that a stalactite-filled room has remained preserved and unseen, despite activity in the surrounding cave ranging from hard partying to fireworks displays to vandalism. It's about 10 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Lorance's photo of the room elicited an audible gasp of wonderment from many in the audience. Lorance also said that another room exists near the original dig that has intact layers of sediment that hold the promise of containing more bones. Theories are that animals were dragged into the cave or had their bodies wash in during flooding from the nearby middle fork of the American River, he said. Located off the Old Quarry Trail, the cave's main opening is about 100 yards from the river. Lorance also showed photos from the late 1980s in the cave showing a pure-white spider and reptile. With trespassers constantly burrowing into the cave, Lorance said he doesn't see those animals any more and suspects they have been removed and possibly sold on the black market for exotic pets. Bats have also left the cave, probably from the noise of humans over the past several decades, he said. "I can see why kids go down there but vandals and trespassers will be punished," he said. With the aid of Teichert Aggregates, owner of the quarry above the cave, and the state Department of Conservation's Mines and Geology Division, heavy, bat-friendly gates and concrete frames have been installed to keep people out. Lorance said there is the possibility that the public will be allowed back in for tours. Jay Galloway, Auburn State Recreation Area supervising ranger, said a number of steps still need to take place before the public is invited in, including convincing property owner the federal Bureau of Land Management that plans will work. "We need to assess whether there is any danger, we need an evacuation plan and an interpretive plan, as well as a development plan," he said. "It would be open on a tour basis. That's our goal but it may be some time in the future." Lorance said that he plans to make more presentations on Hawver Cave, shedding light on a part of local history that Monday's lecture proved holds interest to residents of the area. The cave may reveal more bones, fossils, rooms and other finds in the future as the Parks Department moves to clean it up and study it more, he said. "We'll see what the future holds," Lorance said. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.