The name “Volcano” conjures up a fiery, hot hell.
And speaking of hot heat, it’s likely we will see some 100-plus degree days over the next few months.
That is why you might want to go to Volcano this summer.
There’s an entirely different world underground in the 209. And you can find a bit of it in Volcano.
And one of the best places to explore it is the Black Chasm Cavern near Volcano where it is always 57 degrees.
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 branch out in a unique formation, often growing in several different directions. 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.
There are other “wild” caverns besides the ones the public can access including one that the tour guide says the owner shows 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 explaining 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 on the life that lives within the dark underground world including one rare species you won’t find anywhere else on earth.
The tour is $19 for adults and $11 for kids ages 5 to 12. The tours are offered daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round including holidays (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Fast facts about volcano's Black Chasm CavernWhile Black Chasm Cavern was likely known about by the local Miwok people who existed in this area long before the Gold Rush, the first documented exploration occurred in 1854. That’s when a group of explorers braved the unknown to discover the phenomenal beauty that exists below the surface including a bright blue lake and millions of sparkling crystals that seemed to twist from the cavern walls in every direction.
The unusual formations are helictites.
Simple tours were held at Black Chasm in those early days, barely penetrating the cavern system that is known today. Shortly afterwards, with the decline of the Gold Rush, Black Chasm was abandoned and largely forgotten about except for a handful of speleologists that continued to explore the chasm and discover the seemingly endless beauty of the cavern.
Over 100 years after its discovery Black Chasm was recognized by the federal government for the abundance of the unusual and rare speleothems called “helictites” that grow throughout the cavern and declared a National Natural Landmark in 1976. Twenty years later Black Chasm began to be developed as a show cave with the construction of environmentally friendly steps and walkways.
Today guests can explore the cavern via these platforms and view the dazzling array of crystals throughout the cave guided by an experienced and knowledgeable cavern naturalist.
While Black Chasm contains an incredible variety of speleothems the highlight of the cavern is the incredible displays of helictite formations.
While most cave visitors are familiar with “stalactites” and “stalagmites”, Black Chasm is decorated with these as well as millions of “helictite” formations. These amazing crystals seem to defy gravity as they twist and curl from the cave wall in every direction.
Of all known caves on Earth, perhaps 5 percent contain helictites. Inside Black Chasm, helictites grow in each and every chamber and in such an abundance that Black Chasm was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1976 in recognition of this spectacular example of America’s natural history. On the walking tour, guests will view hundreds of thousands of helictites including many that twist into shapes that are reminiscent of different animals and figures including candy canes, butterflies, reindeer and a dragon that has been adopted as the cave mascot.
The Miners Trail
In addition to the Black Chasm Cavern, guests may be able to visit the Miners Trail located on the property. This area is not only naturally beautiful but also historically significant.
During the Gold Rush, hydraulic mining was used extensively in the Volcano area. This resulted in millions of tons of top-soil being washed away into Sutter Creek and beyond.
What resulted was an area of convoluted marble monoliths that was uncovered during these operations. A self-guided walking tour is available through this remarkable area when the Miners Trail is open to visitors. Due the ecologically fragile nature of the Miners Trail, they may choose to close access as certain points throughout the year. Speak to a naturalist at the visitor center for directions and a pamphlet to guide you through the garden.
WHERE: Volcano Pioneer Road, Volcano
WHEN: Daily with tours starting from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the three-day Memorial Weekend)
COST: $19 per adult, $11 per child (ages 5 to 12), those under 5 are free
MORE INFO: Go to www.BlackChasmCavern.com or call (209) 736-2708