Alabaster Cave, El Dorado County
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WHEN entering the cave from the road, we descend some three or four steps to a board floor. Here is a door that is always carefully locked, when no visitors are within. Passing on, we reach a chamber about twenty-five feet in length by seventeen feet in width, and from five feet to twelve feet six inches in height. This is somewhat curious, "though very plain and uneven at both roof and Sides.
Advancing along another passage, or room, several notices attract our eye, such as, "Please not touch the specimens," "No smoking allowed," "Hands and feet off" (with feet scratched out)—amputation of those members not intended! The low shelving roof, at the left and near the end of the passage, is covered with coral-like excrescences, resembling bunches of coarse rock-moss. This brings us to the entrance of the Dungeon of Enchantment. Before us is a broad, oddly-shaped, and low-roofed chamber, about one hundred and twenty feet in length by seventy feet in breadth, and ranging from four to twenty feet in height.
Bright coral-like stalactites hang down in irregular rows, and in almost every variety of shape and shade, from milk-white to cream-color; standing in inviting relief to the dark arches above, and the frowning buttresses on either hand; while low-browed ridges, some almost black, others of a reddish-brown, stretch from either side, between which the space is ornamented with a peculiar coloring that resembles a grotesque kind of graining.
Descending toward the left, we approach one of the most beautiful stalactitic groups in this apartment. Some of these are fine pendants, no larger than pipe-stems, tubular, and from two to five feet in length. Three or four there were, over eight feet long; but the early admitted Vandals destroyed or carried them off. Others resemble the ears of white elephants (if such an animal could be known to natural history), while others, again, present the appearance of long and slender cones, inverted.
By examining this and other groups more closely, we ascertain that at their base are numerous coral-like excrescences of great beauty; here, like petrified moss, brilliant, and almost transparent; there, a pretty fungus, tipped with diamonds; yonder, like miniature pine-trees, which, to accommodate themselves to circumstances, have grown with their tops downward. In other places, are apparent fleeces of the finest Merino wool, or floss silk.
Leaving these, by turning to the right we can ascend a ladder, and see other combinations of such mysterious beauty as highly to gratify and repay us. Here is the loftiest part of this chamber.
Leaving this, you arrive at a large stalagmite that resembles a tying-post for horses, and which has been dignified, or mystified, by such names as "Lot's wife" (if so, she was a very dwarf of a woman, as its altitude is but four feet three inches, and its circumference, at the base, three feet one inch), "Hercules' club," "Brobdignag's forefinger," etc.
Passing on, over a small rise of an apparently snow-congealed or petrified floor, we look down into an immense cavernous depth, whose roof is covered with icicles and coral, and whose sides are draped with jet. In one of these awe-giving solitudes is suspended a heart, that, from its size, might be imagined to belong to one of a race of human giants.
On one side of this is an elevated and nearly level natural floor, upon which a table and seats have been temporarily erected, for the convenience of choristers, or for public worship. It would have gratified us beyond measure to have heard these "vaulted hills" resound the symphonies of some grand anthem from Mozart, or Haydn, or Mendelssohn. Many of the pendent harps would have echoed them in delicious harmonies from chamber to chamber, and carried them around, from roof to wall, throughout the whole of these rock-formed vistas.
We must not linger here too long, but enter other little chambers, in whose roofs are formations that resemble streams of water that have been arrested in their flow, and turned to ice. In another, a perfectly formed beet, from one point of view; and from another, the front of a small elephant's head. A beautiful bell-shaped hollow, near here, is called "Julia's bower"!
Advancing along a narrow, low-roofed passage, we emerge into the most beautiful chamber of the whole suite, entitled the Crystal Chapel. It is impossible to find suitable language or comparisons with which to describe this magnificent spot. From the beginning, we have felt that we were almost presumptuous in attempting to portray these wonderful scenes; but, in the hope of inducing others to see, with their natural eyes, the sights that we have seen, and enjoy the pleasure that we have enjoyed, we entered upon the task, even though inadequately, of giving an outline—nothing more. Here, however, we confess ourselves entirely at a loss.
The sublime grandeur of this imposing sight fills the soul with astonishment, that swells up from within as though its purpose was to make the beholder speechless—the language of silence being the most fitting and impressive, when puny man treads the great halls of nature.
After the mind seems prepared to examine this gorgeous spectacle somewhat in detail, we look upon the ceiling, if we may so speak, which is entirely covered with myriads of the most beautiful of stone icicles, long, large, and brilliant ; between these are squares, or panels-the mullions or bars of which seem to be formed of diamonds; while the panels themselves resemble the frosting upon windows in the very depth of winter ; and even these are of many colors—that most prevailing being of a light pinkish-cream. Moss, coral, floss, wool, trees, and many other forms adorn the interstices between the larger of the stalactites. At the farther end is one vast mass of rock resembling congealed water, apparently formed into many folds and little hillocks ; in many instances connected by pillars with the roof above. Deep down, and underneath this, is the entrance by which we reached this chamber.
At our right stands a large stalagmite, dome-shaped at the top, and covered with beautifully undulating and wavy folds. Every imaginable gracefulness possible to the most curiously arranged drapery is here visible, "carved in alabaster" by the Great Architect of the universe. This is named "The Pulpit."
In order to examine this object with more minuteness, a temporary platform has been erected, which, although detracting from the general effect, in our opinion, affords a nearer and better view of all these remarkable objects in detail.
This spectacle, as well as the others, being brilliantly illuminated, the scene is very imposing, and reminds one of those highly-wrought pictures of the imagination, painted in such charming language, and with such good effect, in such works as the "Arabian Nights."
Other apartments, known as the "Picture Gallery," etc., might detain us longer ; but, as they bear a striking resemblance, in many respects, to other scenes already described, we must take our leave.