Magazine article Sunset

Stalactite Heaven: Underground Treasure in a Gold Country Cave

Magazine article Sunset

Stalactite Heaven: Underground Treasure in a Gold Country Cave

Article excerpt

For 150 years, Black Chasm cavern was a secret shared by few. The dark pit in California's Gold Country was dangerous to explore, and the landowners were not interested in developing it. That's changing now as new owners are gradually--and safely--opening the cave's most accessible chambers.

In September 2000, the first public tours in more than a century brought visitors down steep stairs and into the 170-foot-high Colossal Room, a dripping gallery of stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and columns with an underground lake.

After a winter of further trail construction, the tour expanded last summer into the Landmark Room, home to a pristine collection of rare cave formations called helictites.

"As we know it now, the cave has three large chambers and three underground lakes," says cavern manager Greg Francek. He hopes to extend tours later this year--into the twisted maze of marble bridges in the Hall of Arches, or across one of the lakes. The recently added Discovery Trip is a physically demanding adventure that goes deep into the cavern. …

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