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The Caves Of Calaveras

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THESE caves are situated about fourteen miles west of the mammoth trees, sixteen miles south, by the trail, from Moquelumne Hill, seven miles north, from Murphy's Camp, nine miles east of San Andreas, and near the mouth of O'Neil's Creek.

They were discovered accidentally, in October, 1850, by Captain Taylor, who, with others, was engaged in mining on this creek, and who, having finished their midday repast, were spending the interval, before resuming their afternoon's work, in shooting at a mark near the back of their cabin. Mr. Taylor, having just fired his rifle, proceeded to examine the mark, and having hit the centre, proposed that it should be placed at a greater distance than any at which they had ever before tried their skill; and was looking out for a tree upon which to place it, when he saw a hole among the rocks. He immediately went to it, and, seeing that the aperture extended into the mountain for some distance, he called to his companions, and they conjointly commenced to explore it.

The entrance is round a jutting angle of a ledge of rocks, which hides the small mining town adjacent from sight.

Only the house of the proprietor is to be seen. The country around is wild and romantic. Provided with adamantine candles, we entered through a small door-way, which had been blasted out to a sufficient size. Thence we crept along twenty-five or thirty feet, threading our way through an irregular and difficult passage, at first descending rapidly, but afterward level. Sometimes we were forced to stoop, and at others to bend the body in accordance with the seam of the rocks which constitute the passage. Suddenly we emerged into a large, vault or room, about sixty feet in length by twenty in breadth, with an irregular roof, running up in some places thirty feet. This room is called the Council Chamber. The walls are dark, rough, and solid, rather than beautiful. Descending a little to the southwest, we again made our way through a long, low passage, which led to another room of half the size of the Council Chamber. Rising from the floor of this room, by another narrow passage, we soon came into a third large room, of irregular construction. The roof ascends, until lost to sight in perfect darkness; here, as far up as the eye, assisted by the dim taper, can reach, the lime depositions present a perfect resemblance to a vast cataract of waters rushing from an inconceivable height, in a perfect sheet of foam, leaping from one great shelf of jutting rock down to others, onward, widening as they near, in exact perspective. This room is called the Cataract. And well does it deserve the name. Next we descended a short distance, by another passage, and entered a small, round room, in the centre of the roof of which runs up a lofty opening, sixty feet high, of singular appearance. This apartment is called the Cathedral. Turning back by the Cataract, we passed an easy way by a deep well of water upon the left, and very singular small pools or reservoirs on the right. Leaving these, we soon entered a spacious room, full one hundred feet square, and of fair proportionate height. Through another low opening, we entered yet another great room, near the centre of which stands a large, dark structure, the perfect likeness of a full-robed Roman. Bishop, minus the head; whence the name for the room, the Bishop's Palace. Descending through another small opening, we entered a room beautifully ornamented with pendants from the roof, white as the whitest feldspar, and of every possible form. Some like garments hung in a wardrobe, every fold and seam complete; others like curtains, with portions of columns, half-way to the floor, fluted and scalloped for unknown purposes; while innumerable spear-shaped stalactites, of different sizes and lengths, hung from all parts; giving a beauty and splendor to the whole appearance surpassing description. Once, as the light was borne up along a glorious fairy stairway, and back behind solid pillars of clear deposits, and the reflected rays glanced through the myriads of varying forms, the whole—pillars, curtains, pendants, and carved work, white as snow, and translucent as crystal—glistened and shone, and sparkled with a glory that surpassed in splendor all that we had seen in art, or read in fable. This is called the Bridal Chamber. Immediately at the back of this, and connected with it by different openings, is another room, now called Musical Hall. It is so called from the fact, that, on one side, suspended from a singular rock, that has the character of a musical sounding-board, hang a large number of stalactites, arranged in a line very large at one end, and gradually increasing in size toward the other, so that, if with a rod you strike the pendants properly, all the musical tones, from a common bass to a very high key, can be produced in perfection, ringing loud and clear through the halls, as a well-toned instrument.

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