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The cave was the focal point for what turned out to be one of the best weekends I have ever spent in California. I packed my car with gear from caving, camping, and skiing and started out alone from my house before 7:00 a.m. to meet at 10:00 in the town of Columbia, which turned out to have set half of itself aside as a state historical park. Most of it was blocked off to all but horse-drawn traffic, and in these pedestrian streets musicians roamed and even at 9:30 were filling the streets with sounds of dueling violins. The horses were being hitched to the stagecoaches which people could ride for about $5, or alternatively you could spend your money panning for gold (different prices if gold provided, or if you find your own). People opened charming old shops in period costume, and you could have a cup of brewed coffee at outside tables served in proper antique china for only a dollar. What a pleasant place to start the morning.
Once the group got together, 14 cavers in all, we caravaned up a gravel road along a rushing stream and then looped uphill on a track leading to a forest service watch tower to a point looking out over the lakes and forests where we parked and prepared to walk down to the cave. The walk was a mile and a half, and the downhill was the easy part. We arrived at the cave entrance around noon and spent the day in the bowels of the earth poking around stalactites and hecalites, straddling underground water channels, and in one place getting sopping wet trying to squeeze through to a side room through a crack graced with rushing water. Most cavers made it through but I have to admit I didn't after three tries though I got drenched and bruised on the rocks I was wedged in, but backed out in frustration each time.
The walk back up to the cars was a strain, and once there a chill set in under the darkening skies in which the comet Hale-Bopp was the dominant feature given the new moon. There was little fire danger that time of year, so we made a bonfire and settled down for an evening swapping tales and discussing sleep research (the cavers being Stanford and Berkeley grads). Conversation was fueled by ample supplies of California wine, but the effect was more somnambulant as the evening wore on, and I was forced to my bedroll to engage in my own experiments in sleep.
The cavers were heading next day to a mini-cave known as Natural Arches which had a river running through it about 400 meters. Someone had brought a boat and they were all going to take turns shooting the cave. I passed the place on my way out, but I had brought my skis, and I myself drove further uphill to Bear Valley Ski resort where I spent the day in excellent snow conditions under sunny skies. On the drive back, I stopped for a stroll in Calavaras Big Trees park where photos were on display showing how people had appreciated these trees (or at least been photographed in their appreciation) for the past century. There were also trees lying on the ground which you could walk through like lava tubes. It was an interesting place, and a great end to a great weekend in on a cold spring day in California.
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