It was a hot summer Kanab day when we stepped from our car into the comfortable coolness of Moqui Cave.
Inside we were introduced to Lex and LeeAnn Chamberlain, the owners of Moqui Cave. Lex informed me that he would also be our tour guide for the day, which was excellent because Lex isn’t just another tour guide, he’s the son of Garth Chamberlain, the man who turned a hole in the ground into one of Kanab’s favorite attractions.
Moqui Cave is a naturally occurring cave created by water erosion – there are many such caves in the Kanab area – but Moqui Cave was further enlarged by men who mined the silica sand they found inside to make glass.
Moqui Cave has four rooms. The main chamber, found just inside the entrance, with three large caverns branching off it. The room on the right contains numerous Native American artifacts, most coming from the Ancestral Puebloans who used to occupy the Kanab area a thousand years ago. The room contains nearly a dozen spearheads – each one about a foot long, hundreds of arrowheads, dozens of clay pots, smoking pipes, arrows, and stone tools such as axe heads and grinding stones. It also has an impressive display of Mayan figurines that Garth brought back from a long-ago visit in Teotihuacan, Mexico.
In the middle cavern tourists will find more natural history artifacts, and an impressive collection it is. The display includes several impressive ammonites, fish skeletons embedded in stone, a petrified mastodon tusk, and femur measuring four feet long. All of which is very impressive, but this room is really known for its massive collection of ultraviolet-fluorescent rocks and minerals. More than 4,000 of them. Ultraviolet-fluorescent rocks have minerals in them that glow when placed beneath black lights.
Garth started his collection with several varieties of ultraviolet-fluorescent rocks occurring naturally in the Kanab area, but through the decades he’s added thousands more from all around the world. They glow red, orange, yellow, blue, purple and green. Flintstone disco.
The third room contains a few more Anasazi artifacts and dozens of dinosaur tracks. The dinosaur tracks are approximately 65 million years old, cut from the Navajo sandstone during an era before harvesting such things was illegal. The rest of the third room is a gift shop.
As Lex guides us from room to room he tells us the interp of the artifacts contained in each room, and, as a former guide myself, I recognize that it’s an impressive, knowledgeable piece of interp. And it’s intimate. Lex knows where every rock, dinosaur track, pot and spear point came from, and the story behind them too. And mixed with his interp, Lex also weaves for us the story of
Moqui Cave is part natural history museum, part time machine. And part nostalgia-generator.
how his father turned a trash-filled cavern into Moqui Cave. lt’s a fascinating tale. The story of his father’s hard work, vision, sacrifice, determination and artistry.
Lex’s father Garth bought the land on which Moqui Cave sits from a rancher in 1951 with the intention of converting the cave into the tourist attraction it is today. It was a very ambitious, optimistic, long-sighted goal. Today, Kanab is visited by a constant stream of tourists from April to October but back in 1951 it was a much different story. Back then there was no Grand Circle, and the city of Page was just a glimmer in the Bureau of Reclamation’s eye. The road that came to Kanab was gravel, and the only people who traveled it – with very few exceptions – were the local residents.
When Garth purchased the cave in 1951 it was a nasty mess. When the Kanab townspeople heard Garth’s plan to turn the cave into a tourist attraction they were mystified. They didn’t get it, because for years Kanab residents had been using the cave as a garbage dump, often burning their trash inside the cave. The cave was heaped with trash and its roof was blackened from the smoke of burned trash.
The first thing Garth did was remove the trash. He next wanted to sandblast clean the smoke-blackened ceiling but, being so remote, they couldn’t bring in a sandblaster. Instead Garth and Laura improvised, filling a weed-sprayer with watered-down Portland cement. With that they painted the ceiling white. It took them 288 hundred-pound bags to do the job. An interesting sidenote: in recent years a curious thing has started happening to the whitewashed ceiling. Pictographs painted on the ceiling by the Anasazi 1,200 years ago have begun bleeding through the whitewash, due to the acid left behind in the animal fat that was mixed with the pigments the Anasazi used to paint their pictographs.
Then Garth carried in clean sand and used it to level out the floor. Garth then started filling the rooms with local objects and artifacts he thought tourists might find interesting.
Garth went to five banks asking for loans so he could complete his masterpiece in a timely manner. He was rejected by all of them. So he took a job building the Glen Canyon Dam. But back then there was no direct road to Page. He and some friends, who also worked on the dam, drove through Fredonia, to Jacob Lake, across Navajo Bridge and on to Page. They’d leave about 4 a.m. and get home about 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. Garth bought the week’s groceries, paid his bills and spent what was left of his check buying construction materials for Moqui Cave.