Neat Places to Explore – If You Can Get In
As if Utah doesn’t have an endless supply of natural landscapes and historic sites to discover, the state is also packed with mysterious underground wonders just begging to be explored ― if you can only get into them.
Driving up Little Cottonwood Canyon, I often forget there is an entire world tunneled into the granite. Constructed in 1965 to house genealogical information and other important artifacts significant to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the vault is burrowed nearly 700 feet into solid granite near the bottom of the canyon with reinforced entrance doors rumored to withstand a nuclear blast.
No one knows for sure the extent of what the Vault is guarding and it is not open to the public. Inspired by the social-media planned Storm Area 51 event of last summer, a Storm the Church Vault, They Can’t Stop All of Us event was planned for October 2019 with the goal of breaking into the secret vault to reveal the artifacts stored inside. Had they been successful, rows and rows of file cabinets full of microfilm would probably have been the extent of their finds.
The Vault is just one of many tunnels carved into the Cottonwood Canyons. Ruins from the canyon’s mining days are scattered all over the Wasatch and old mine shafts are everywhere if you know where to look. Most of the abandoned mines are sealed off and gated. Crumbling ceilings, rotten wood, and questionable air quality make them too dangerous to enter, but they are fun to gaze into and imagine how deep they go and what kind of stories they hold.
Salt Lake City residents are often surprised to learn that one of the deepest cave systems in the United States exists in their own backyard. The entrance to Neff’s Cave is hidden in the canyon of the same name and the key to its locked gate is guarded by the National Forest Service.
One of the first teams to fully explore the cave noted it as “frightfully dangerous and of no scientific or scenic value,” but this doesn’t keep people from searching for its hidden entrance.
In the city itself, a somewhat secretive network of tunnels juts out from underneath the Temple. The tunnels were built to give LDS officials a safe passageway, and the extent and layout of these tunnels is a closely guarded secret. Some of the tunnels are open to Temple patrons, but no one except church officials knows exactly how far under the city they go.
At the Dugway Proving Grounds, a US Army chemical and biological weapons testing facility 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, there’s an above-ground tunnel system constructed out of old shipping containers designed to mimic an extensive cave system. Named the BRAUCH training facility, military units train for underground environments here. Although the grounds are largely closed to the public, occasional tours are offered.
In nearby Grantsville, the Bonneville Seabase is a slightly more accessible underground place to explore.
Formed where a natural spring bubbles up from the ancient seabed of Lake Bonneville, the Bonneville Seabase has a salinity on par with the ocean and is stocked with exotic saltwater fish. You can scuba dive here or just gaze down into the property’s three spring-fed pools and spy some marine life in this strange ocean in the middle of the desert.