In fact, the prints were rediscovered. A ranger was giving an interpretive program about the park when sisters Peggy Bennett Smith and Grace Bennett Goodlin interrupted to tell about a cave near the bottom of the gorge that they knew about. Smith, who lived in Hawaii, and Goodlin, visiting from Texas, had grown up nearby on their grandfather S.W. Ritchie’s ranch. As girls they had spent time fishing in the gorge and had found the cave, which they called “the pony track site.” (Deseret News, December 23, 1990)
Park Manager Kevin Lynott asked the sisters to show him the site, which they did.
Fossilized tracks of ancient animals are fairly common around the world. The ones at Malad Gorge may be unique. Rather than a depression in what was once mud, these prints were hoof-shaped mounds on the roof of the cave, almost as if you were looking at the bottom of the hoof plunging through the rock.
William (Bill) Akersten, PhD, then the curator of the Idaho Museum of Natural History studied the tracks and told how they were likely formed. There was wet sand or mud on top of an old lava flow when several horses came galloping along leaving hoof prints behind them. Speculating what they might have been running from a million years hence is just guesswork, but their existence proves that an active lava flow soon poured across the sand and the depressions left by the horses. At some point erosion from the nearby Malad River probably washed out the softer remnants of the ancient sand leaving behind a three-foot cave with hoof prints protruding from its ceiling.
The prints are about the size a modern horse might make. Though the animals that made them may have been distantly related, the prints were not made by the famous Hagerman Horse, fossils of which were found just a few miles away. The Hagerman Horse was smaller and lived about 2.5 million years earlier.
The ancient tracks may have had an impact a million years after the lava cooled. There was a proposal about that time to build a “high drop” power site that would have run a large pipe over the edge of the canyon and into the river. It would have threatened the unique hoof prints and the proposal was scrapped.