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When I heard that we were off for a short trip to explore the California Cavern, the fist thoughts were dirty, dark and bats! In that order and with emphasis on the bats. My memory bank immediately drew recollections of the first caving experience I had during my youth. It was way before the Facebook generation hence undiscovered and virginal places such as the Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave in the village of  Cotmon, Camalig, Albay still existed. I was not sure if the smell of bats and walking slowly into a narrow ledge while balancing a candle on one hand sounds appealing to me though. However, there was a huge sigh of relief when Sis gave me a briefing on what to expect.

CAVE2The drive from Fresno to Cave City Road took about a little over 2 hours. There was a little town with local restaurants and fast food chains but what got my Bro excited was the cheap petrol stations which gets cheaper as you drive away from the main road.
We reached a two way single carriage road and for a while, there was a feeling of isolation because apart from us, there were no other vehicles in sight. We thought we were the only ones who had the urge to escape the July summer heat and find relief inside the cooling cavern. But alas! The parking was half full and there were visitors coming and going.
CAVE8We bought the Trail of Lights Walking Tour from the souvenir shop at a minimal cost. This guided tour is suitable for the whole family and is only available during dry season. For safety reasons, children to be carried in backpacks were not allowed on this tour. Small babies in front packs or slings were acceptable. The Trail of lights was approximately 60 – 80 minutes, and meandered over nearly level, well lighted passages and walkways. There were approximately 60 steps throughout the tour. Experienced, professional guides led us into the recently discovered “Jungle Room,” named for the array of crystalline “vines” covering the ceiling, many of them, several feet long. We learned about the rich history of the cavern and the surrounding countryside, and cavern formation and geology.
Before entering the cavern, the guide gave us a brief history about how the cavern was discovered. The story goes that in 1849 or 1850, Captain Joseph Taylor was target shooting on a rocky outcropping and noticed that his targets were being moved by a breeze which seemed to emanate from the rocks. When he investigated this curious phenomenon, he discovered the entrance to a cave which he named Mammoth Cave.
In 1850, Captain Taylor opened the cave for public tours, making it the first show cave in the state of California.
Early visitors included Bret Harte, Mark Twain and John Muir who wrote about his visit in “Chapter 15 – In the Sierra Foot-Hills” of his 1894 book “The Mountains of California” when it was called Cave City Cave. For 150 years, visitors have enjoyed the unique delicate beauty of the cavern’s crystalline formations. Some speleothems, such as the beaded helictites found in the Middle Earth area are very rare. Others are so numerous as to be spectacular, such as the “Jungle Room’s” array of stalactites.
There were three more tours available on site which were The Trail of Lakes Walk Tour (wet season only),  The Mammoth Cave Expedition which is a 2 to 3 hours of walking, crawling, wiggling, and squirming through natural passages that connect through thirteen chambers and The Middle Earth Expedition which is only open to 16 year old and above. This tour is run for groups of 9 people and above to explore approximately 80% of the cavern system from the east entrance to the western most exit. The circuit is about a mile long, so stamina is required! The first hour of the trip consists of walking, crawling and squeezing through the historic “Mammoth Cave” area. Then groups pass through the “Middle Earth” area which was discovered in 1980. Here there is mostly walking through nearly knee deep, sticky cave clay (high top shoes are a must) and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. The remainder of the trip consists of exploring the horizontal fissures in the “Cave of the Quills” area and a quick, 70-foot rafting trip across “Tom’s Lake.” The trip concludes with passages filled with “goo,” more beautiful crystalline rooms, and then ascending ladders to sunshine and showers.
CAVE83Although our caving experience was light and could be considered as boring by some but to me, it was exciting enough. I could say that the tour highlight was experiencing a total and complete darkness for 5 minutes as we listen to our guide describe the early miner’s experiences back in the days when only candles were used to light the paths. I developed a deep respect for these people who were willing to risk their lives to put food on the table.
Is California Cavern worth visiting? Yes indeed, many times over!