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Top 5s & 10s From California Camping California Camping

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1) Samwel Cave -
A hidden gem is locked away at famous Shasta. The name "Samwel" comes from a Wyntu word meaning holy place. The cave opens out from a limestone crag overlooking Shasta Lake, then enters the mountain, extending into an erractic series of multiple levels. The main attraction, one that's quite dangerous and eerie, is a 75-foot pit that drops off to the bottom level -- where an anthropologist once discovered a human skeleton. You can access the cave by boat, or on a short hike off Gilman Road (off Interstate 5). But note: There is a locked gate at the cave entrance; a key is available for free (with a $10 deposit from the Shasta Lake Visitor Center.

2) Shasta Caverns -
There is no place on Earth like the Shasta Caverns. Once inside, you'll see multicolored fluted columns; magnificent stone draperies; symmetrical folds, stalactites, and stalagmites studded with brilliant crystals; milky-white flowstone; and miniature waterfalls. It's as pretty as any limestone marble cave in America. The caverns are the hidden jewel of Shasta Lake, set high in a limestone wall on the east side of the McCloud River arm. Guided tours are available year-round; they typically spend about one hour in the caverns with a 15-minute boat ride there and back from O'Brien Inlet.

3) Ice Caves -
Here you will find a series of very strange-looking caves, some of them actually shallow, gouged-out hollows in volcanic rock. The caves are more like lava grottoes than tunnels or caverns. This is remote country in northern Siskiyou County, located near Medicine Lake amid lava flows adjacent to Lava Beds National Monument.

4) Subway Cave -
This hidden surprise is located just off Highway 89, marked only by a small sign along the road. The cave, created in a gouged-out lava flow, extends about 40 feet. It's best seen as a side trip while enroute to the Medicine Lake Highlands.

5) Subway Cave (Hat Creek) -
People often discover 1,300-foot-long Subway Cave by accident while camping and fishing at Hat Creek along Highway 89. For many, it turns out to be the highlight of a trip. When you first enter, you step into a massive cavern, Devil's Doorway; from that point on you'll need a big flashligh. The cave meanders to the right, where you will begin seeing Native American petroglyphs on the wall. Along the way you'll stop at Lucifer's Cul-De-Sac and Lavacide Lane. You exit the cave at a different point after about 45 minutes of exploration. Note that you'll need good shoes because the floor is made of bumpy, cooled lava flows. The whole venture is like taking a walk through geological history.

6) Prospect Tunnel, Black Diamond Mines -
Bring a flashlight with fresh batteries and you have the chance to explore 200 feet of mountain tunnel. This is the feature attraction of Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. The best destination is the Prospect Tunnel, which bores 400 feet in the side of Mount Diablo, with half of it accessible to the public. To get there, take the Stewartville Trail for 1.5 miles. The Prospect Tunnel was drilled out in the 1860s by miners in search of black diamonds, that is, coal.

7) California Caverns -
The delicate limestone formations are spectacular, especially the stalactites that hang like chandeliers and branch out -- a sight you won't see anywhere else. The walking tour lasts 80 minutes, a mostly level trek into the earth, extending through a maze of rooms, some of them quite large. The more ambitious discovery tour, or Downstream Circuit Trip, starts where the walking tour ends, continuing for four hours through a maze of underground tunnels, drops, and chambers, with some rooms over 100 feet tall.

8) Mercer Caverns -
A small opening in limestone rocks leads into a series of stunning caverns and extensive hidden passageways The adventure features an enormous variety of unusual crystalline formations of all sizes, textures, and shapes. These include columns and towers, where visitore are dazzled by superb artistry in a subterranean wonderland. All tours are guided, run 45 minutes, and explore 161 feet deep into the earth.

9) Moaning Caverns -
When you enter the earth here you will discover a huge cavern, 180 feet deep, with a spiral staircase that allows you to descent to its base. The portion of the cavern is lighted, so you can see a fantastic array of stalactites (formations that hang from the rock ceiling) and stalagmites (columns extending up from the rock floor), as well as pieces of ancient skeletons intact from unfortunate souls who made wrong turns. You can take an Adventure Trip, for which you are provided all equipment and instruction, descent 165 feet by rope, then explore deeper into linked caves for three hours using headlamps for light. You'll feel as if you are jumping off the edge of the world.

10) Bear Gulch Cave -
The Pinnacles is a fascinating place, a miniature mountain range in the San Joaquin Valley with two surprise cave systems. The Bear Gulch Cave is approximately four-tenths of a mile long, and the Balconies Cave extends for three-tenths of a mile. These are not subterranean tunnels, like the old mines, but talus caves. They were created in canyons and crevices where rocks have slipped or fallen, and over time, where rain removed volcanic material. The result is a series of completely enclosed spaces in a rock canopy. All of the cave walks are self-guided; you are advised to bring an extra set of batteries for your flashlight (though no skeletons have been discovered recently).

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