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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Chilling Underground

No gem mining for us, this day it was all about the Cavern! 

Ok, by now you know I LOVE exploring caverns, caves and mines as well as learning about the wonderfully historically rich area in which we now live. Last week it was Moaning Cavern, in which we took both our middle daughter, a new regular on our weekly outings, as well as our oldest who was visiting from Texas for myself and my husbands birthday.... YEP! I turned 48 this past week, and hubby will be the big 
5-0 tomorrow. Anyway, you also may recall if you read last weeks post, that my Grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago, well, my Mom was out from Texas as well to be there for her passing and to spend the week following with her sister before coming and spending the week with me. We had quite a few outings, from shopping to mini golf... I forgot how bad I was and how fun it could be!! 

Taking time in the shade between shots on
my birthday mini golfing trip.

Anyways, as it came to the weeks end, the day before her departure back home, we had chatted about taking the oldest daughter to the caverns up near Murphys (California) and that there was another one there that we wished to explore, however we were concerned about the stairs, but she was thus what I have to share with you today!! Mercer Cavern is located a mile up Sheep Ranch Road, a quick turn off of Main Street in Murphys California . It is nearly a two hour drive for us, but we don't mind, the scenery is beautiful and peaceful, passing through historic gold mining towns as well as historical markers that dot the roadside along the route and though a bit too many curvy parts for my liking, so I have to chew on a ginger candy or two, but it is doable. There is a few good potty stops and places to find food, coffee, gas and photo ops too!!   The tour once you begin requires that you leave your purse in the car, so make sure you have an ice chest to put your make up in ladies if it is hot out. Bring a light sweater, the cavern is a regulated 55 degrees at all times. Wear your walking shoes as there is a lot of stairs going down and back up. You can take your camera, but no case, and make sure you have a wrist strap. A few rules apply besides the no purse rule, and the main one is NO TOUCHING! You will read why down below. There is picnic tables and a great little gift shop with restrooms and drinks also available. Plus like the photo shows above you can mine for gems too! 

The history of Mercer is much like many of the caverns we have visited, thought to be filled with gold, but sadly not, then opened to the public for the entrance price of a pinch of gold, so the owners did indeed still manage to get gold out of the mine. Walter Mercer discovered the cave in 1885 when he spotted a green Laurel tree among all the brown, thinking there must be a water source, he made the hike but was disappointed, but after sitting down to rest in the shade of the tree, he felt a cool breeze and went searching for the source. He soon found a small hole, and dropped a stone down the hole, and he heard it make a noise as it hit what he thought must be the bottom. Believing he may have found a gold mine, he made a claim on the land for just 1.00 . He took a bunch of mining tools and rope and after making the hole large enough to fit through, and with a candle lit on a flat paddle in his mouth descended down. Long story short, though you can find the history online, as I mentioned it was not a gold mine after all, but an ancient cavern full of earthly wonders. Mr. Mercer lived for 5 years after finding the cavern, giving tours along side his wife, and making sure that the cavern was protected all who visited were required to wear gloves, because if you touched the formations, they would die and stop developing. He was very much ahead of his time in the preservation of his find. He died shortly after a fall in which it had left him paralyzed, though he did help with the tours from the opening, prior to that, while his wife lead the tours. She continued her leading of tours until the 1940s.  Visitors today are quite lucky that award wining caverns and formations within have been well cared for and protected because when you take the tour you are greeted with stunning formations that many, even with all the caverns I have been to through the years are firsts for me to see! It is a real treasure! 

A little more history. 

Fashion shot for the day.. trying out a new way to wear my pixie as
it grows out a bit.. all the better to hide my roots LOL 

Enjoying the scenery while waiting for our tour to start. 

Down we go....

 Having visited many a haunted location and
having photographed quite a few orbs that can not be explained away with
bugs and moisture or dust, I am thinking we were not alone on this tour.
Maybe Mr. Mercer and his wife still enjoy exploring with tour goers! 

It is a long way down! 

It gets pretty dark even with the addition of modern day lights, at one point
during the tour the guide lights a few candles and flips the light switch off,
then she one by one puts out the candles before too long it is beyond pitch black...
scary and fascinating all at once to think what it might have been like to be one of the
early visitors. 

Stalagmites growing down, it can take millions of years to get to this point. 

Drapes, Curtains, or even Bacon is what these formations are often called. They grow along
sloping ceilings when water trickles down along the slopes depositing crystals in thin bands and often different hues depending on the minerals.

Speleothem. speleothem (/ˈspləθɛm/Greek: "cave deposit"), commonly known as a cave formation, is a secondary mineral deposit formed in a cave. Speleothems are typically formed in limestone or dolostone solutional caves. *Via wikipedia
 There are plexiglass shields all throughout the cave/cavern to protect the growths from
human touch, one touch from a human hand can kill the formations. 

What happens over time of many people touching the formations. 

I wish my camera could have done this justice. In these stalactites, which have been broken,
you can see the crystal within, and when seen in person they shimmer like gems!  

A mini cave within the larger cavern.

More drapes.

Calcite veins, the green is bacteria that has developed
after years and years of humans like us bringing in spores
that attach to the growths. Oh and can you see the "soda straws?"
Soda Straws are thin, hollow growths. They form from the ceiling or
down from other growths. Water moves down the center of the
straws so it grows only from it's tips. 

More secondary growths or  "Speleothem" 

Pop Corn, Cauliflower, Broccoli... what do you see?
Every name given to a formation
 is open to interpretation, rather like clouds. 

Thousands of tiny crystal formations, that truly sparkle as if they have
been covered with faerie dust... I just wish as I said my camera did them more
justice. You will have to take my word for it.

I just love seeing all the colors and textures that are created within
the confines of the caverns we visit. 

More crystals , these are known as Aragonite formations. Mercer is the
only cavern to have these unusual formations. Many within the walls of
Mercer grow up to three inches in length.  It is believed that the water that
drips into the caves/cavern is rich in calcium and magnesium that is leached
from the dolomitic bedrock. The Aragonite is similar to calcite, but of course
visually it very different. 

A good example of several types of formations, the one closest to the
camera is often called Cave Lasagna for the mimic it appears to be of the
Italian pasta.  Truly it is just another drape formation. 

Upon finishing up with our tour we headed back to Murphys for a cold drink and then to go do a bit of wine tasting. Once back out on the road, we popped into our favorite farm stand, Davis Farms on route 16 and bought some goodies to have with our supper. A perfect way to round out the day and our latest adventure in the Gold Country of California.  

All smiles in front of the "pokie" in Murphys. 

Blue cheese, Argentinian preserved walnuts and a
great glass of wine was had at Lavender Ridge's Wine
tasting bar, cheese and gourmet food shop.

Just grabbing some fresh goodies for supper. 

MMMM Sweet Corn! 

Besides memories, these were the spoils of the day .... tasty!  A great finish to a great day. 

**** Visited 
Stevenot  Tasting room on Main street in Murphy .. 5.00 tasting fee per person, refundable with purchase. 
Lavender Ridge, also on Main street ... 5.00 tasting fee pp , refundable, and tastings of cheese given with the wines. 
Zucca Mountain , Just off of Main street , also 5.00 per person tasting fee , also refundable with purchase. 
Davis Ranch Produce, on Jackson Road/ HWY 16 Sloughhouse  Ca 
Mercer Caverns, Sheep Ranch Road, Murphys ca  15.00 per adult and 8.50 for children. Check out web site for further information for tours. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sunday Adventures

Resting in the shade during
a busy day of adventures

This past week was a tough one for our family, we lost our beloved Grandmother, Martha after a battle with her declining health was lost. It was also a cause to embrace family even more, and we were lucky to do so when our oldest daughter flew in from Texas to spend a few days with us and help us celebrate the Fourth of July holiday weekend as well as have an early celebration for my husbands upcoming 50th and my 48th birthday(s). We decided to celebrate life, having a close knit family as well as the birth of the country. But once the birthday cupcakes were eaten, and the smoke had settled from the fireworks it was a question as to what to do next. So of course the answer was a daycation adventure!!! So then the question was where to this time?? The answer was Calaveras County and go explore another cavern! So with only a couple left that we had not already visited, we landed on Moaning Caverns

Moaning Caverns, so named for the sound that the first people who discovered it that sounded like a distant moaning sound when drops of water dropped into the wholes withing some flowstone located in the small town of Vallecito Ca, just outside of Murphy's ( some of you may recall a couple of years ago a visit to Murphys and Calaveras Big Trees State Park and the blog that I did about our trip there.. if not you can look under the labels section and find the blog there) , it is a great place to have a full days worth of adventures if you choose too, with everything from the actual decent of over 200 stairs ( or repelling if you choose) and a 165 feet down into the heart of the cavern to zip lining and panning for gold, you can even sit and have a freshly cooked hot dog while enjoying the surrounding scenery there in the heart of gold country. We choose, or should I say "I" choose to use the stairs and the family did not have a choice. I was ready for a good work out and with all those stairs down and a few more than the 235 up, I was sure to get one. 

After so many caves/caverns, I did not think I could learn any more interesting facts to share with you here, but I did just that! So here they go... First off, did you know you have no depth perception when you are in the caverns. Formations seem so small, or at least not as big as they actually are, and also seem closer, and yet they are actually far bigger and further away than what they seem. No animals live in the bulk of the caverns that we have visited that I have shared with you. Not even bugs! Most of the caverns I have shared with you have absolutely no gold, even tho they are in gold country. I could go on and on... Ok, nope, I can't .. I lied, cause with descending a 100 foot hand forged iron spiral staircase that made me more than a little dizzy, as we made our way down, and a very short memory for facts and not having the luxury to take notes, I picked up a few key facts to share with you, but you can read all the rest HERE.  It will do a better job of educating you on what is in caverns in general and all sorts of great stuff about Moaning Caverns.  Of course I have shared things about stalagmites and stalactites in previous blogs. So now without further wait, here are a few photos.....

Our very informative guide.. boy she must get a workout
doing this tour all day! 

Some of the many bones found inside the Cavern, the guide said was one of a young girl and that all of  the bones are about 13,000 years old! How did they get there?? Well from falling, having taken the "7 second" tour, which we were warned could happen to us without proper safety  precautions.  

The size of the actual cavern, we stopped at 165 feet down.

100 feet of steps down and then back up....
but so worth it! 

A few visual highlights...

The "Chocolate Waterfall" ... actual color is from Iron deposits..
it goes all the way from the opening to the bottom of the stair case we
took down. 

Flowstone formation, color comes from Calcite sheet like deposits. 

This formation had many nick names, so many that I forgot what kind it
actually was. I know I am a bad tour guide! Anyway, what stood out was that it is
over the size of a 2 story house and yet seemed not as tall as even
a one story when we stood there and gazed upon it! 

After going down, one must go back up...
after the 100 feet climb of the spiral staircase,
there is the ladder like stairs. No worries,
you can pause, and there are a couple of landings.

Stopping to rest and take a couple photos as well.
Oldest, Chanda in the back, and middle Rebecca...
our youngest was unable to join us. 

Time for one including hubby Robert.

After our adventure through the cave it was time to refuel! With Murphys Ca, being just a few minutes away we decided to stop there for lunch before deciding what to do next. I have as I said done a blog on Murphys and plan to go back and visit a few more wineries that are located in this charming town, so I shall not go too in depth about our time there, but wanted to share a few snap shots with you before moving onto the second half of our adventure. Oh YES there is MORE! Maybe YOU should grab a bite to eat too!  

We had a lovely stroll through the town, listening to an elderly gentleman playing a trumpet outside a cafe, enjoyed a bit of time in the park and of course we found a great little place to eat, V Bistro and Bar, a little place tucked in away from the main street of town, but with really great food. I just had to give it an honorable mention. Next time we just might eat there again and I will remember to take pics of the actual food.. but trust me we were so hungry, there was no time for photos! My husband and oldest dined on Sunday brunch offerings of French Toast , that included 3 Slices of French croissant in a cinnamon vanilla batter, whiskey anglaise and of course maple syrup .. I had a nibble and it was so yummy! My middle daughter and myself shared, I was trying to watch my diet even with all those stairs, we dined on the Croque Madam, which in this version was grilled Prosciutto and Gruyere cheese on sourdough with Mornay cheese sauce, country potatoes.. which were cooked to a crispy perfection! 

Not where we ate, but the flagship landmark beauty of the town of Murphys.
The food sounded very yummy, but we were looking for a bit something different. 

Part Two....

So the day not even really half over we had to decide what to do next. Three of us would have settled on simply wine tasting, but our oldest daughter is not into wine and it was her vacation so we left it up to her, Big Trees or the Railtown 1897 State Park, of which none of us had been to the latter, and thus it was decided upon to make the 40 minute drive from Murphys to Jamestown Ca. in  Tuolumne County, here in California. To quote the official details of what the state park actually is, as they can put it far better than myself, " Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and historic trains preserved there have starred in over 200 feature films, television shows and commercials. the historic Jamestown shops and Roundhouse complex is one of the last of it's kind in America....." I adore trains, riding, watching, learning about them, there is nothing I don't like about trains, and after visiting the Sacramento Railroad Museum, of which I did a blog about as well, I had always wanted to make the trip up into gold country and more so when I found out you can take a train ride. This day we were VERY lucky and they were running the engine on steam, something that only happens on occasion from what I understand. We arrived just in time for a potty break, and to buy our tickets and get aboard the historic train lead by engine 3 and make the 45 minute round trip from Jamestown to the Rock Quarry and back.... and after get the free tour of the historic Roundhouse.  For this second half of the day we took a combo of both *videos and photos to give you just a little taste of what it was like... it would take three or more blogs to share everything we saw!

All Aboard!!!

Always good to see a smile on my girls face,
here Rebecca gives me a good one. 

"Tickets please?"

This water tower helps replenish the steam engines and was also used
in the filming of Petticoat Junction....anyone remember that show from
the 1960's ? It was a favorite of mine ( in reruns).

Engineer Stephanie, one of the very few
women engineers in the country!  Or ever!
Especially of steam trains.

When it was time to go back, Engine 3 uncouples from
the front and gets switched on the tracks to go past us
sitting on the train, then switched again to recouple at the
other end and take us back.

Whistle blowing and steam pumping,
we are on our way back. 

Time for a tour of the Roundhouse. 

Just one of the historic train engines housed at the park.

Docents help add to the experience,
from information, to stories. 

It takes more than just one size tool
to do the job when caring for a train. 

Taking a moment for a photo op.

Underneath it all...
what an engine looks like without the insulating

Explaining how the bolts work and
sharing his own personal stories.

What train travel used to look like. 

Car or train ? How about both? 

Part Ford, part train, this would be often used for VIP's
back in the day to go out and inspect the tracks. 

*Well I wanted to share videos with you all, but sadly blogger is having some glitches... if you would like to see the train videos, and follow my fan page on facebook, I will be posting them there. if you do not follow me there, I certainly hope that you will, or if you would like me to send them to you, leave a comment with an email or email me from my profile and I will be happy to send them to you. 

All photos taken by Chanda Feldman-Grivas