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Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California (1862) by James M. Hutchings


“Nature—faint emblem of Omnipotence!
Shaped by His hand—the shadow of His light;
The veil in which He wraps His majesty,
And through whose mantling folds He deigns to show,
Of His mysterious, awful attributes
And dazzling splendors, all man’s feeble thought
Can grasp uncrushed, or vision bear unquenched.”

Street’s Poems.

After the visitor has lingered long among the scenes we have just described, he will feel that he

                “Could pass days
Stretched in the shade of those old cedar trees,
Watching the sunshine like a blessing fall—
The breeze like music wandering o’er the boughs,
Each tree a natural harp—east different leaf
A different note, blent in one vast thanksgiving.”

Yet he may entertain a desire to look upon other wonders that

“Are but parts of a stupendous whole,”

and pay a visit to the natural caves. These caves are situated on McKinney’s Humbug, a tributary of the Calaveras River, 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 mid-day 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 cojointly commenced to explore it.

But let us not keep the reader waiting; and as the following excellent description from the Pacific is so truthfully descriptive of this curiosity, we transcribe it for this work.

“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 doorway, 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 walls are dark, rough, and solid, rather than beautiful. Descending a little to the south-west, 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


“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


“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


“Descending through another small opening, we entered a room beautifully ornamented with pendents 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 scolloped 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, pendents, 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



“Immediately at the back of this, and connected with it by different openings, is another room, now called


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 pendents properly, all the musical tome, 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.

“Here the present exploration of the cave terminates, at the distance of about one-sixth of a mile from the entrance.”


In 1853 it was taken up, under a pre-emption right, by Messrs. Magee and Angel, who erected a large and substantial hotel adjoining the cave, for the convenience of the public, at a cost of about four thousand five hundred dollars. This hotel is commodious and comfortable, and we shall long remember the enjoyment of our visit, and the personal attention we received from the agreeable and enterprising proprietors.


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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management