1
Black Chasm
Entrance
2
Black Chasm
Walkways
3
Black Chasm
Column
4
Black Chasm
Ceiling
5
Black Chasm
Ceiling

6
Black Chasm
Stalactites
7
Black Chasm
Stalactites
8
Black Chasm
Stalactites
9
Black Chasm
Stalactites
10
Black Chasm
Helictites
11
Black Chasm
Helictites
12
Black Chasm
Helictites
13
Sutter
Gold Mine
Entrance
14
Sutter
Gold Mine

Ride Down
15
Sutter
Gold Mine

Tunnel

16
Sutter
Gold Mine

Drill
17
Sutter
Gold Mine

Tunnel
18
California
Caverns
Entrance
19
California
Caverns
Flow Forms
20
California
Caverns
Chamber

21
California
Caverns
Formations
22
California
Caverns
Chamber

 

 

Gold Country Underground

California's Black Chasm, Sutter Gold Mine,
and California Caverns

Click on the images at left to see the photographs enlarged

In 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.

Beginning 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 lake.

Additional photos from Black Chasm

Next 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.

Additional photos from Sutter Gold Mine

Late 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.

Additional photos from California Caverns

During 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.

I 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.

Jim Leftwich - ©2002 - All Rights Reserved