"Lost In a Lost Cavern"
by Tom Massie
I was on the morning crew of the #2 dredge team and our shift was over after our afternoon lunch hour. One afternoon I noticed an 1800's map nailed to a tree that had all the placer deposits which were found in the area in the 1800's. Looking at the area around Pine Log on the map, I noticed a stream marked "Marble Caves." Wondering if there were really caves there and were they might be, I figured their general location and decided later that afternoon to hike out and look at them.
I went up the side of the hill, following the creek bed as it twisted and turned through the gully. As I walked, I cautiously ignored two rattle snakes perched beside a small pool of water in the bottom of the stream bed. The stream had dried up but there were pools of water large enough for me to put my pan in and test some of the bench material. Further up, I was tempted by two or three colors here and there... but my main thought was to find the caves.
I hiked all the way to the top of the ridge but still didn't find any caves-or anything that resembles caves. I knew the California and the Moaning Caved were located in this general area but the map was vague and I knew my chances of actually finding the Marble Caves were getting pretty remote.
From the top of the ridge, I could see a gully that ran down the other side of the ridge. Thinking that I could find the caves, and possibly do some prospecting in the process, O started down the gully. I came across an area with outcroppings of quartz so I picked and took samples. I worked my way across the hillside and noticed a small cave opening. It was maybe two feet high and three feet across. Equipped with a flashlight and lots of batteries I was prepared to find the caves, any caves...a cave! Low and behold! I did. I shone the flashlight through the opening into the darkness but couldn't determine just how deep the cave was.
After seeing the two rattle snakes previously, I was real cautious. The opening was too small for me to enter so I had to lie on my back and inch my way in feet first. If there were snakes inside I would rather be bitten on the leg instead of the head. I threw some rocks in ahead of me hoping to scare anything that might be inside. Nothing stirred, So I decided to proceed. I scurried in and shone my light around the cave which seemed to run in a downward slop. As I advanced, I noticed that... yes indeed... this was not just a cave but a rather large cave!
I thought to myself, "My gosh, I've really found it." I went farther into the cave to see stalactites hanging from the roof, and stalagmite deposits on the floor. I could see large columns and chambers. Sometimes I had to crouch down to barely squeeze through a gap or opening; whereupon I'd fond myself in a large room. Shining my flashlight up into the air, I could see nothing but darkness, not even the roof. I came across small pools of water, And though this was summertime and the dry season, I could see areas where there had once been water.
Moving from room to room, climbing up and down, and around each corner, not knowing what was there or what I would find, I went deeper into the cave and found some rock crystals and column after column of different rock formations. In one room, I began to notice that the air was getting a little heavy. I could feel that I was getting short of breath, even though I had not been exerting myself very much. At this point I checked my watch - six o'clock. Oh No! I decided that I had better turn back. As I turned to leave it hit me - like I'd been shot by a heavy caliber rifle - that in the excitement of my actually finding the caves, I had not been marking them as I explored. Now looking back at this task before me, I know I was in trouble.
I carefully started trying to retrace my steps, exactly as I had come in. It was easy at first but the further I traveled, the harder and harder it became to make the right decisions about my direction back. I knew that one wrong decision would mean not being able to get out. At one particular junction, I couldn't make up my mind. I stopped, turned off my flashlight to save battery power and sat in the dark. Using all the memory power I could muster, I tried to remember which way I had come.
I came up with a plan. I'd been playing poker the night before back in Pine Log and my pockets were full or change. I decided that I'd drop quarters and nickels and face the heads in the direction I was traveling so that, if I should return back to an area, I would know it by the coins on the floor. I got up and turned my flashlight on. I dropped a nickel on the ground, pointed the head forward and started out. Checking my watch, I estimated that I had entered the cave approximately three o'clock. It was now six o'clock so it should take me about the same amount of time to get back out.
I had been traveling about two hours when I came across a pool of water that I was sure I'd seen on the way in. I ran across particular land marks that were familiar so I knew I had to be getting closer and closer to the end of the cave... I finally reached it!
As I climbed out of the small hole into the moonlight, I was relieved. I had made it. I had finally come out. I staggered back down through the darkness to the camp. On my way down, I thought about were I could find some fishing line to drop behind me for my return trip.
Article by Tom Massie, host of Gold Fever TV.