Today was another long drive day. We drove to Calavares County. They are knows for a few different things we did see (caves and sequoia trees) and somethings we didn't see (jumping frogs).
Our first stop was at California Caverns. There are a few different caves to explore in the area but California Caverns is by far my favorite. We started with a half-mile walk to the cave exit. It was here near the exit that we picked and put on our hard-hats.
The actual cave entrance was little further down the trail. It was the original entrance from 1849, although, it's been opened up a little more so we could all enter the mountain safely.
Once you enter the cave, and begin the maze of different corridors and rooms, you'll see all sorts of cave formations like the soda straws, stalactites, and cave bacon shown here:
Since the save formations take thousands and thousands of years to form, we're not supposed to touch them. But here you can see the one spot where it's okay to touch. Henrietta uses the touching rock to gain balance around a sharp turn. In addition to the sharp turns there are also low ceilings and places you have to squat down to pass through. You can see the places where people touch are much darker and less pristine than the other formations.
One room they have, the jungle room, isn't open all year. It's a room that often times gets flooded and because of all of the unique formations they limit the number of people they allow into the room even when it's not flooded. Luckily our tour guide, David, enjoyed our quiet and respectful group. He even went so far as to take a picture of us in the jungle room. This was after he pointed out some of the more interesting formations that looked like a variety of animals.
As we were leaving, David pointed out a hole in the side of a wall. He explained that when you go on the Middle Earth tour (a longer, more expensive tour that you get suited up in full gear with ropes for) you start here at this hole. This room starts with a six foot slide into a small room about the side of the inside of a two-seater car. David explains they use this room as a test for the Middle Earth tour. If you can make it into this room (and out) without freaking out, you can handle the Middle Earth tour. The adults on our tour graciously chickened out. But Henry, who's mom was there to approve it, gave it a try. Here he is sliding into the room alone:
Henry did a much better than those of us on the outside. Marilyn and I both pretty much held our breath the entire time.
Once Henry got out, we finished our tour and took some time "mining" gems out of the local dirt. First students poured some dirt into a screened box. They then lowered it into a trough that cycled water through the mud clearing all but the larger gems.
As you can see they collected quite a few interesting gems:
Feeling rich, but hungry, we laid out a spread of lunch meat and chips and made ourselves sandwiches.
From there we took some back roads to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. In addition to having big trees it also had some pretty big pine cones, as you can see here displayed by Justin:
The most popular spot at Big Trees is the "Discovery Tree" or "Big Stump". This was the tree that put the park on the map. Unfortunately, it was cut down many many years ago and turned into a dance floor. You can see the Akiuk kids jumping on just one small part of the "Big Stump" as it looks today.
After the "Big Stump", we continued on a couple mile trail that highlights many of the named trees around the park. Most of the time we stayed on the trails. But some of the time, all that rule following got to be just a little too much and we let the kids be kids... or as you see here on the right... we let the kids be monkeys:
The hiking trail was a hit. While we did encounter some mosquitoes the bench that let us view the tops of trees and the fallen trees that allowed for tree climbing were some of the highlights.
It wasn't the biggest highlight though. The most exciting "find" on the trail was the loud baby birds calling for food. You can see the head of one here in this hole. We were tempted to reach in and grab a baby to get a better look but we knew that getting too much human scent around the nest would deter the mother bird from returning. As it was the only "proof" of multiple birds in the tree was this picture and the memory of the loud (echoing?) squawking.
Sequoia trees are made up of a very fine fibrous material that was surprisingly delicate to the touch. They may be the most massive tree on the planet but as you can see... even Yago can leave finger prints with with a delicate touch.