By DENNIS WYATT
PINE GROVE — There’s an entirely different world underground in the 209.
And one of the best places to explore it is the Black Chasm Cavern near Volcano.
The cavern - a kissing cousin to the more advertised California Cavern featuring the state’s largest public cave chamber between Murphys and Columbia off Highway 49 — is a national natural landmark. It got that distinction because you will find rare - and stunning - displays of helictite crystals. They look from the ceiling. Not only do they appear to defy gravity but it is one of about four known locations in the United States that you can find them and it’s considered the best examples. They are considered the most delicate of cave formations. They are also one of the few cave formations that scientists have a good understanding of how they are created.
The 50-minute tour isn’t strenuous even though there are 165 steps.
With groups maxed out at 20, it allows for plenty of room to gaze at the formations.
As for dress, just keep in mind it’s a constant 57 degrees 24/7.
If you’ve never been in a cave with formations it is worth the trip. You can combine it with a trip to Jackson Rancheria — you pass the entrance on the way — or make it a solo excursion. There are grounds you can explore plus a gift shop. You can also stop in the quaint communities of Pioneer and Volcano and browse or do what we did and hit the Jackson Historical District for lunch and “shopping” that included hitting Wierschem’s Train Town Candies & Ice Cream parlor.
The tour itself was well worth the drive and cost.
Credit that to tour guides that are pleasant, informative, and patient.
It was the only the third cave I’d ever been in. The others were Meramec Caverns near St. Louis and the other was Shasta Lake Cavern in Northern California. The others were bigger but they were not anywhere near as stunning or beautiful. Little wonder why they’ve hosted three weddings down below over the years.
There are other “wild” caverns besides the ones ht public can access including one that the tour guide says the owner show to be able to secure enough funds one day to open it up as it puts what is on public view to shame. Spend 50 minutes in the Black Chasm Caverns’ public area and you will think it would be pretty hard to top what you see.
The guides do a good job of explain what is in front of you - and what you can’t see. Some 70 feet below one platform are the still waters of an underground lake that runs 400 feet deep. They also will give you a quick lesson in the life that lives within the dark underground world including one rare species you won’t find anywhere else on earth.
The tour is $17.50 for adults and $9.50 for kids ages 3 to 12. The tours are offered daily year round including holidays.
There is also a three-hour labyrinth surface tour offered Wednesday through Sunday weather permitting that requires reservations by calling 866-762-2837.