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Natural Bridges Water Cave, May 1997

On a recent trip to Crystal Palace, I had spent the night under a canopy of stars and Hale-Bopp with a group of crazy spelunkers with whom I had enjoyed a day in the cave. And I found out that one of them had brought an inflatable boat along so that in the morning anyone who wanted to could drive over to a spot elsewhere in the Mother Lode called Natural Bridges, where there was a cave with a river running through it. I had got up the next morning and gone skiing instead, but in the next issue of the SFBC newsletter, there was on the front page a picture of my friends in that very cave, enjoying the adventure I had missed out on. I wanted to go, and I resolved if I was ever up that way, I'd make sure I took our inflatable boat along.

So when we all went to Yosemite, I packed the boat. We had planned to stay in the park a couple of days, or perhaps do some river rafting, but we couldn't reach the rafters at their 1-800 number (they were all out rafting) and most of Yosemite was closed, roads blocked off 20 miles from the nearest patch of snow. The park had been rendered too sterile. In an age of litigation, we had been protected from embarking on any adventure we might have been inclined to. At that point we decided that the only course was to head out of the park and down to Natural Bridges, about which I knew nothing except that there was a river in a cave and you could take a boat into it.

On the way we passed through the town of Columbia. Columbia is a jewel of tourism in California. The occupants of the town dress up in gold rush dress and serve tea and coffee in pleasant rustic surroundings wearing granny aprons. There is music in the streets, and kids can ride the stagecoach, and you can pan for gold ($5.00, they add gold to pan, $4.00 they add gold but you provide pan; $3.00 to use their pan but you take your chances on the gold, etc.) What a concept! It's a pleasant place to stop for lunch on a hot day. And Zephyr Whitewater rafters is located there and if you're lucky you can meet the muscular ms. Kelly who will seduce you with her blue eyes into agreeing to a several day wild water rafting adventure. One of the rangers told me they had all kinds of rafting, from "a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other" to "let me outta here". This is MY kinda town.

After Columbia, the family was in the mood for whatever I had in store for them, so I drove them up to the Natural Bridges trailhead and we started on a walk down into the gorge, a walk of indeterminate length, not always a good sign (my family has grown less trusting with experience). Fortunately, this walk was only half an hour or so, and we arrived at a shallow stream which indeed flowed out of the mouth of a cave. We inflated the boat and waded it into the icy flow and paddled upstream into the dark maw of earth dripping with water coming in showers from its ceiling. The showers were a great delight to Dusty, and the decorations were definitely cave-like, eerie in the fading light. But the light never disappeared as the other end of the cave was a mere 70 or 80 meters away. So it wasn't as great an adventure as it had been cracked up to be, and I was glad I had gone skiing instead of joining my friends the time before. But they had got a great photo out of it (the aura of adventure in a world of vicarious pleasures is mainly derived in the manipulation of the illusion of it), and Dusty found the experience of paddling through a real cave much to his taste. Anyway, it was a pleasant day out.

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Last updated: November 13, 1997

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