Growing up in Calaveras County, Stephen Fairchild spent more time underground than above it. This drive for the underworld has stayed with the “Caveman” through adulthood leading him to purchase four caves privately, making him owner of more caves than anyone else on the planet.
Fairchild got his start in the commercial caving biz in 1972, when a friend who owned Boyden Cavern in Kings Canyon National Park decided to sell it. (The friend suffered from claustrophobia, a deathblow to anyone in the caving industry!) Fairchild took a look and decided it would be more fun to own and operate a cave than toil away as a computer executive and solid-state physicist.
In 1978, Fairchild bought and developed Moaning Cavern, a 165-foot-deep sliver cave that you can access via a spiral staircase and the truly intrepid can rappel down by rope. A few years later he acquired California Caverns, an open cave that had been closed since the 1900s and developed it for commercial use. In 1998, Fairchild purchased his third cave, Black Chasm, an undeveloped cave that was later designated as a National Landmark. More recently, he purchased and developed Sutter Gold Mine Underground Tours.
A pioneer in commercial caving, Fairchild was the first to offer spelunking trips in Moaning Cavern and rafting trips across lakes in California Caverns. But he claims there’s more to caving than having close encounters with slimy-green things, getting head-to-toe muddy, or doing a rappel into the deep.
In addition to his cave operations, Fairchild is now working with the University of California, Davis, on an isotope research project to determine when the glaciers were born, and when people first settled Calaveras County. “Caves are time capsules that record the history of the earth for millions of years,” says Fairchild. “It’s as close to going to another planet as we have. Instead of going into outer space, you’re exploring inner space.”
For more information on visiting Fairchild’s underground wonders, call (866) 762-2837 or (209) 736-2708, or visit www.CavernTours.com.