Thursday, October 23, 2014

New Melones Lake Recreation Area, CA

Where are we? Highway 49; between Sacramento and Yosemite National Park; the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just southwest of Lake Tahoe; between the towns of Angels Camp and Tuttletown.
We stop for a few nights on New Melones (rhymes with cajones) Lake to explore more caves and gold rush territory, although most of the gold mines in the area no longer give tours. We are near Placerville, which I think was the birthplace of the California Gold Rush. New Melones Lake is a reservoir and you can again see how low the water is - the brown grass on the far side would normally be underwater. Our campsite has a view of the bridge from the other side.
A strange sight. Since lake levels are so low, and this is a reservoir, the remaining boats have to dodge the trees that once filled this valley but are now long dead. We're amazed there are any boats in this lake at all!
Moaning Cavern

Nearby Moaning Cavern is a cave 165 feet deep accessed by this dramatic spiral staircase. When it was built in the early 1900s, the staircase was the main attraction as it was built using the newly developed arc welding technology. For $72, you can also rappelle vertically into the chamber - nope!

The chocolate waterfall inside Moaning Cavern lies directly beneath the opening in the ground, therefore rainwater dripping down causes this buildup of minerals. The colour comes from iron in the soil.

A lovely example of drapery or bacon at Moaning Cavern again caused by seeping water.
Natural Bridges

This fantastic spot called Natural Bridges lies in a canyon near the cavern. The creek flows through a cave which we can't walk through because, not only is the water freezing, but it gets deep towards the back and our wetsuits are back at the trailer. We do cool our feet after the approximately one mile hike down, and admire the formations. The bright light on the ceiling is the reflection of the sun outside the cave - I wish you could see it dancing on the rock.

Looking out of the cave at the overhang.
We hike up over the top of the cave heading upriver and slide down a dry waterfall back down to the creek to find the entrance to the cave. This end is totally different with much higher ceilings.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park

We climb the mountains to Calaveras Big Trees State Park where giant sequoias grow (elevation around 5,000 feet, temperature about 15F cooler than at our campsite). This giant stump, the remnant of the "Discovery Tree", is a reminder of man's exploitation of nature. In 1852, five men took 22 days to cut down this tree after it was discovered by Augustus T. Dowd. Sections of the bark and part of the trunk were put on display in San Francisco, then later by ship around Cape Horn to New York. The show was unsuccessful, and the pieces were destroyed by fire while awaiting shipment to Paris. What a waste.

These massive "Sierra Redwoods" can reach heights of 325 feet and a diameter of 33 feet. Sequoias are the largest living thing on earth. They are beautiful, impressive and dwarf everything around them.

Brad says these trees make me look thinner. I'm not sure if that's a compliment! The one and a half mile walk through this beautiful forest fills our senses with the sweet smell of warm, dry wood.

Pioneer Cabin Tree was created (in the mid-1800s?) in direct competition with Yosemite's sequoia which allowed cars to drive through it. Sadly, the carving of this arch has almost killed the tree.

This is "Mother of the Forest". In the mid-1800s, she was stripped of about 60 tons of her bark up to a height of 116 feet. The bark was sent east and abroad for exhibition. Unfortunately, Mother of the Forest died without her fire and disease-protecting bark. She was skinned alive, but her corpse is a solid reminder of our past mistakes, from which mankind can hopefully learn.
We have two other experiences in this area for which I have no photos. We visit Columbia, an historic town now designated as a State Historic Park. Unfortunately, it is late in the day and many shops are closing, but we do walk Main Street and I find a great cup of coffee. We hope to have dinner in town, but can't find a restaurant or bar serving food - very disappointing! It really is off-season! This ain't no Tombstone.

On our drive up to Big Trees, we stop in the town of Murphys where we go to a taste-testing. Yes, this is wine country, but it's not wine we taste. Instead, we test olive oils and balsamic vinegars of all flavours at Marisolio's Tasting Bar. Very yummy and great staff! We purchase several after this highly enjoyable hour+.


  1. Oh, what beautiful and diverse surroundings. And, man, those trees!

  2. you two find all the best places!

  3. Yeah Sue, but it takes a lot of research!

  4. i know, trust me. and research gets tiring. case in point: Alaska this summer :)