Explore Sequoia's underground world

At Sequoia National park's Crystal Cave the staff has put visitors to work helping to restore this magnificent wonder to a more natural state.

In the 1930's with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC the National Park Service undertook large-scale development in their efforts to prepare crystal cave for public tours. Restrooms were installed and massive concrete walls constructed in natural rooms adjacent to the now famous Spider Web Gate entrance. It has since been discovered that a rare, unique to entrances of caves i nthe Yucca Creek watershed, reside in the area that was enclosed for storage and restrooms. Restoring the bathroom area increases the total habitat available for these creatures by as much as 20%. In addition, hundreds of tons of blast rubble were left behind throughout the cave when sections were enlarged for tours.

In the 1990's, restoration projects were initiated to restore the cave to a more natural state while allowing public tours to continue. Over the next few years, volunteers removed tons of rubble from within the cave and work began to eventually remove the restrooms and storage room near the entrance. By the end of the 2004 summer tour season, the bathroom was dismantled and several tons of concrete removed from the cave walls. The task of moving this rubble up the steep half-mile trail to the cave parking lot by hand was an enormous chore. Once the snows came, access to the parking lot was closed for the winter. By the time the cave opened for the summer tour season in May of 2005, a huge pile of rubble, rotting wood and pipes sat in the parking lot with many more tons of debris still remaining in the cave.

Crystal cave tours are operated by the non-profit education partner of the National Park Service, the Sequoia Natural History Association or SNHA. The organization has supported education and the protection of the natural resources in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks since 1940. SNHA is known as a cooperating association. Sixty-five of these organizations of these organizations partner with approximately 400 National park service sites to support and promote visitor education. Cave interpreters and naturalists employed by the SNHA are required to develop their own tour programs. According to SNHA's Executive Director, Mark Tilchen, although every cave tour provides basic history and geology, each tour is unique in that the staff must develop a special theme for their program. The theme places special emphasis on a particular topic during the 50-minute program along the half-mile trail within the cave by taking a piece of concrete that needed to be removed and sent up the trail.

"The park is very impressed and very pleased by the efforts of the Sequoia Natural History Association staff and park visitors to help restore Crystal Cave. Their efforts to remove rubble from the demolished bathrooms inside the cave have made a huge difference in the success and timing of this restoration project. Their work will have long-term positive effects on the cave that will exist as long as the cave does," said Joel Despain, National Park Service Cave Specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Walter Fry, a former Park Superintendent, led the first exploration part into Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park in 1918. Fry later wrote, "It is in this cave that nature has lavishly traced her design in decorative glory." Spectacular and varied formations are found throughout the cave. Crystal Cave operates from mid-May through late October, weather permitting. The sequoia Natural History association offers a regular 50-minute tour, an in-depth two-hour Discovery Tour, and a challenging Wild Cave program. Tickets must be purchased at either the Lodgepole or Foothills visitor centers at least two hours in advance; tickets are not sold at the cave. Tickets cannot be purchased by phone.

Visitors often say that the half-mile walk along Cascade Creek, down to the Spider Web Gate cave entrance, is worth the price of admission. The best time to visit this beautiful cave is during the months of May, June, September and October when tour sizes tend to be smaller.

Crystal Cave is operated by the Sequoia Natural History Association, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to supporting education, interpretation, research and the natural and historic preservation of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Devils Potspile National Monument and Lake Kaweah. The Association is committed to enriching the experiences of visitors and promoting public awareness of the significance of national parks and public lands through educational programs, publications and financial support. The association operates the Sequoia Field Institute, the pear Lake backcountry ski hut, and bookstores in Sequoia-Kings Canyon visitor center bookstores.

Membership is open to the public. Members receive a 15% discount on publications sold in Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, discounts on educational field seminar, a 50% discount on Crystal Cave torus, a discount on books in visitor centers inmost other national parks, and a $13.95 per month unlimited internet access. For cave, membership, program, and mail-order information, call 565-3759 or online at www.sequoiahistory.org.

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