FALLON — Disgusting, horrifying and bewilderment.
It is just three of several sentiments expressed by officials from the Churchill County Museum, Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and the Bureau of Land Management after an act of vandalism at Hidden Cave.
The cave, which dates back about 21,000 years, was the target of graffiti and possibly gunshots, which was discovered on March 2. The museum held its final public tour before the vandalism on Feb. 22, and the person or persons responsible struck sometime in the following week, according to BLM Public Affairs Specialist Kaitlin Godbey.
Godbey, along with BLM law enforcement, the museum and members of the tribe hosted a media tour on Friday to update the public on the situation.
Graffiti was located on the information kiosk and restroom at the trailhead, along with numerous bullet holes. As a result of the vandalism, public tours are canceled indefinitely and are not likely to resume until late April.
Scott Fischer, a field staff ranger with the BLM, said the messages sprayed in and out of the cave lead authorities to believe at least one Fallon resident may be responsible.
“We have a pretty good haunch that it is local Fallon people who did this,” he said. “This possibly could be felony level.”
Jason Wright, an archaeologist with the BLM’s Stillwater Office, said the BLM is currently working to develop suspects and leads, and has asked for the public’s assistance.
“It’s very frustrating,” Wright said. “When it to happens to an archaeological site, which is protected for everyone in this country, it’s really disappointing.”
Fischer said the charges may include the depredation of government property and crimes associated with the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
Each charge carries a possible prison sentence and fines between $2,000 to $100,000.
Wright was disgusted by the act and said the estimated cost to restore the damaged areas in and around the cave will be in the “tens of thousands of dollars.”
“It’s an affront to the heritage of region,” he said. “It’s a sacred cave and none of us our happy about it. We are already have funds in place to replace some of the signs.”
Red and black spray paint used to cause the damaged contained profane words, but also left a message that said, “I love Rachael.” A shack containing a generator to light the cave also was targeted and left an expletive directed at Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford Jr.
In addition, rocks and wood planks used as steps up the trail also were painted.
Wright said non-destructive solution will be used to remove the paint, which must be handled with care.
According to Wright, the cave formed about 21,000 years as a result of waves from Lake Lahontan. It remained underwater until about 7,500 years ago and humans used the cave about 1,200 years later.
The cave preserved the tools and “life ways” of the indigenous population up until about 800 years ago, Wright added.
“It tells us what food and game they ate and hunted,” he said.