DRY CREEK CANYON — The dugout in which kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart is believed to have been held captive for four months in the hills above her family's home was not only well-concealed but well-built.

Cut into a hillside deep within the foothills above the Smarts' Federal Heights home and near Dry Creek Canyon, the sturdy shelter is constructed of tree branches, plastic and dirt and does not appear to be something simply thrown together, the Deseret News found upon visiting the site Tuesday.

The approximately 24-foot-long shelter is part dugout, part lean-to. Eight posts made from trees are notched in a jigsaw pattern to interlock with the roof supports. Nails were driven into several of the posts. The bases of the posts are wrapped with plastic and duct tape, probably so that the bottoms would not rot. The roof is made of 3-inch tree limbs, a silver tarp and thick black plastic and is covered with dirt.

Tuesday was the first day the public had access to the area, which had been marked off as crime scene investigation area since Elizabeth Smart's recovery March 12.

Reporters and photographers from the Deseret News, KSL-TV and Fox 13 making the several-mile trek passed members of the Salt Lake City police department and the Utah State Crime Lab hiking out of the area after finishing their work at the shelter.

According to court documents, Elizabeth was abducted from her bedroom and taken to the shelter the night of June 5 and stayed there until Oct. 8. At times she was tethered to a tree with a cable to prevent her escape, according to the documents.

Brian David Mitchell, 49, and Wanda Barzee, 57, are charged with felony kidnapping, sexual assault and burglary charges in the case.

A scheduled court hearing Tuesday was postponed for three weeks while each defendant undergoes mental health evaluations. Bail for the defendants has been set at $10 million each.

Shortly after Elizabeth Smart was discovered on a Sandy street last month, investigators reportedly found at the campsite a knife believed to have been used to kidnap her. Red pajamas she was wearing when she was kidnapped were reportedly burned, police sources said. The campsite is also the area where Mitchell, a familiar downtown panhandler who dressed in robes and carried a staff, is alleged to have married Elizabeth as a plural wife in a "ceremony" conducted the night she was kidnapped, sources said.

The tallest point of the shelter is about seven feet high. The roof slopes at a 45-degree angle to the shortest point of the shelter, which is only about a foot high.

Outside the shelter is a "patio" area of dirt and trees. Up the hill to the east is a cooking area, with the remains of a fire pit and blocks for a stove. A burner is set up under a 55-gallon drum with five apparent flues made with plastic piping.

Several trees are freshly cut, reportedly by investigators looking for evidence. One of those trees may have been the one used to hold Elizabeth.

The three-hour hike to the campsite begins at the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. The reporters followed a faint trail through the rough, rocky terrain, covered with thick brush. The trail is not well marked and hardly ever used. The reporters agreed the hike would have been difficult for a 14-year-old girl dressed only in her pajamas and running shoes in the middle of the night.

Mitchell reportedly had several campsites throughout the foothills in addition to the main camp. About 30 minutes into the hike a campsite area with a rusted old stove was found. The area looked like it had been abandoned for a couple of months.

About an hour into the hike the group came into a clearing. To the left was a lower camp, which may have been base site No. 2. A ladder made out of tree branches was lying on the ground. Farther up the hill is a round clearing, reportedly the area where Mitchell constructed a teepee.

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Long, straight trees stripped of all their branches lay next to the camp area. They were reportedly used to make the teepee. The area cleared out for the teepee was cushioned with leafs on the ground.

The main campsite is reached via a steep, grueling hike in thick brush about 10 to 15 minutes northeast of campsite No. 2. Even though reporters knew they were in the right area, it still took a good half-hour before the main campsite was found securely hidden away in the foothills.

The trees and dirt used for the roofing of the shelter reportedly prevented helicopters with heat-seeking sensors from finding Elizabeth or her abductors.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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