Volunteers and archaeologists from the Bureau of Land Management on Friday cleaned up graffiti left by vandals at Hidden Cave more than six weeks ago.
Hidden Cave and other archaeological sites are about 8 miles east of Fallon.
The cave, which dates back 21,000 years, was targeted with red and orange spray paint and gunshot between Feb. 22 and March 2, when authorities noticed the damage. Kaitlin Godbey, a public-affairs specialist with the BLM, said the agency also found graffiti on an information kiosk and restroom at the trailhead.
Dr. Bryan Hockett, BLM’s lead archeologist for the state, said he was pleased with the cleanup efforts.
“We’re cleaning up graffiti that was painted on the rock, part of the cave and the arch sediments,” he said at the site, adding that the work is delicate. “We’re using trowels and paintbrushes to carefully scape off spray paint from the walls.”
By midday, workers had removed most of the paint, but Hockett said removing graffiti and restoring the area will take time to leave sediments intact.
“It’s difficult cleaning up,” he said. “Here the archaeological sediment is very soft and fragile, and we can’t apply a lot of pressure.”
Hockett said Hidden Cave is a unique site, not only in Nevada and the Great Basin but in the entire United States. Although Hockett did not have an exact date when the cleanup will be finished, he said workers are feeling “great” by cleaning the site and making it acceptable for public tours.
“Can’t say when we’ll be finished,” he stressed when asked.
Because of the investigation, both Hockett and Jason Wright, an archaeologist with the BLM’s Carson City District, could not give a cost estimate on the overall restoration.
Christine Bowen, an archeologist with the Carson City office, said she does not find the graffiti removal tedious.
“It has felt good and rewarding to see the graffiti disappear,” she said.
By afternoon the paint that had covered the cave’s profile wall, which shows all levels of excavation, had been removed.
Wright had said a nondestructive solution is being used to remove the paint.
Churchill County Museum Director Donna Cossette also was at the cave Friday. She said the museum and BLM have worked together for 30 years to provide tours to both Grimes Point and Hidden Cave.
“Hopefully we are educating the public on how delicate these historical sites are within this area, and it’s sad to see something like this happen. It puts us back and takes a while to restore it.”
Because the destruction closed the cave, Cossette said, about 500 people — mostly schoolchildren — have been unable to tour the site, which formed as a result of waves from Lake Lahontan. It remained underwater about 7,500 years ago, but humans were able to use the area caves 1,200 years later when the water receded.
Cossette said only a few people are destructive.
“If people see something out of the ordinary, then they need to tell the authorities,” she said. “I’m glad they did not continue their destruction, or it would have been a bigger cleanup job.”
The BLM said it is still investigating.