Black Chasm, Sutter Gold Mine,
and California Caverns
on the images at left to see the photographs enlarged
late August, I toured three different sites in California's Sierra
Foothills in historical Gold Country. These were all part of Sierra
Nevada Recreation's Underground
Adventures in California.
in the late morning, the first tour was of Black
Chasm near the community of Volcano, which is registered as
a National Landmark. You descend down vertically into Black Chasm,
where it opens up into chambers containing spectacular formations,
including helictites. Helictites
are an eccentric or "vermiform" form of stalactite found on cavern
walls and ceilings and shaped in a gnarly twisting fashion, rather
than growing vertically in the familiar icicle shape. From the
catwalk, you can peer down a hundred feet or more to a subterranean
photos from Black Chasm
up was Sutter Gold
Mine, a relatively modern mine located just outside the historical
town of Sutter Creek.
Started in the late 1980s, this mine was converted shortly thereafter
to a tourist mine when the price of gold dropped below a level
necessary for it to be profitable. The tour begins with a ride
down into the mine inn open buggies. Once a thousand feet down,
there's a lecture in a "safe room" blasted out of superhard
"greenrock." A safe room is a place in a mine providing
shelter during underground emergencies. After the lecture, you're
taken on a walking tour through several mine levels and passages.
photos from Sutter Gold Mine
in the afternoon I toured California
Caverns near Mountain Ranch, which at an hour and forty minutes,
was the longest tour of the day. This tour was a fantastic adventure
through narrow, sometimes very cramped, passages. There were many
very large chambers, and enormous ancient formations.
photos from California Caverns
all three tours I took numerous photographs with my Nikon 990,
keeping the flash off. In order to get clear, focused shots with
relatively accurate color, I had to either rest the camera on
a railing or on some surface.
was surprised to learn that most of these caves have been tourable
since the Gold Rush, when enterprising cavern owners charged miners
each a pinch of golddust to be taken on a candlelight tour. All
I can say is that these people were mighty adventurous to go down
in these caverns in their natural state, with such dim and relatively
untrustworthy light sources.
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