Tigers: Stay-Cation to Calaveras County
California’s captivating creations can be seen not only on land but below the ground as well. In Calaveras County some caverns still await discovery, but in 1885, Walter J. Mercer revealed a subterranean wonderland. Mercer Caverns offers viewers a chance to gaze at geologic formations that are millions of years old. Located one mile north from Murphys, Calif., this cave is nestled an hour and a half from University of the Pacific.
Cave tours take cave explorers through a quarter mile of walkways and stairs in a 45-minute adventure that feels like five. Visitors descend a total of 160 feet below the entrance.The temperature of the cave is 55 degrees all year long, so a trip to Mercer Caverns is ideal on a hot, summer day. Flash photography is permitted, but video cameras are not allowed.
During the tour, the guide explains how old the cave system is, what kind of geologic formations it contains and other interesting facts. At one point along the tour, to fully demonstrate the concept of pitch black, the guide turned off all the lights. The cave was indeed absolutely pitch black because not a single light source was in sight until the guide lit a candle to illustrate just how dim (and scary) the cave was for the initial cave explorers in the nineteenth century.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, Mercer Caverns opens daily at 9 a.m. The first tour departs at 9:30 a.m. and the last one leaves at 5 p.m. For more information or to make reservations, call (209) 728-2101 or (209) 728-2378. Their website is www.mercercaverns.com. It costs$15 to join the tour, but group rates are available for groups of 10 or more.
Right next to the cave is a visitor’s center and a store that offers cave-related souvenirs. In addition, the Mercer Caverns Mining Company allows visitors to experience what it is like to mine for minerals in a mining sluice.
To give you an idea of just how old these caves are, according to Bruce Rogers on Mercer Caverns’ website, the caverns “formed in a large lens of recrystallized limestone and dolomitic limestone of the Calaveras Group…in the vicinity of the caverns, these scraps of ancient ocean floors, tropical attols and long-vanished contents appear to date from the 280-million-year-old Permian Period.”
For some relief and excitement on a hot day, explore theancient geologic structures inside the cool temperatures of the Mercer Caverns.
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