I'd hoped to make it to Black Chasm Caverns on a friend's recommendation, but decided it was too far from Arnold. Instead, I picked California Caverns, primarily because the guided tour was "mostly level." Other closeby expeditions were shorter, but involved over 200 steps and might have been a problem with a 5-year-old in tow.
In retrospect, I might have reconsidered if I'd realized how carsick my nephew Aidan gets -- and these roads are carsick roads for anyone! I'm happy to be back in my old motorcycle stomping grounds (classics like Avery-Sheepranch Road and Fullen Road), but in the back seat of a minivan, these can't be any fun.
I took a lot of photos in the caves, but only the stationary ones came out. I've been to other caverns that are more spectacular and colorful, but this one is so interesting historically, in that gold miners discovered it and then used it for things like church services and weddings. The miners damaged pretty much every area they touched, but there was one room that was discovered as recently as 1960 and is completely preserved ("The Jungle Room").
Unlike our hike along the fantastic Big Trees, there was no whining or complaining on this tour. Gabriel was probably the most enthusiastic, whereas he'd been the biggest complainer on the Big Trees path, and had objected the most to going out today.
We're so in the swing of things now that we've decided to stay an extra day, and our kind landlady happily agreed!
We'd essentially lost a day because my sister's flight was cancelled (can you believe that?!) and they didn't arrive on their rescheduled flight until well into the evening. This forced us into a delayed, traffic-choked drive eastward, a hurried Denny's dinner, and then a long painful search for our rental house in the dark, instead of an easy, clear, daylight drive with plenty of time to get oriented and re-acquainted (thanks a lot, American Airlines).
Turns out, my initial instinct of 5 days was about right, but we lost a day with the airline snafu. So after our landlady kindly confirmed another day, we were all jumping for joy to have another final day together in the magical mountains!
I can't get over the views, the fragrance of the woods, how things shift so quickly according to altitude here. The Caverns we went to were at under 2000 feet, and not only was the vegetation much different, but it was much hotter and just seemed so different. I'm not sure which I love better -- 2000 ft. near Sheepranch or 4000ft here in Arnold (where it snows) -- but it sure is a terrific dilemma to have!