|Photo by Joe McGarity|
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Just to the north of Redding and Shasta Lake City lies one of the Northstate’s most unusual natural wonders, recognized as such recently by the National Park Service. But what exactly is being honored and why? The Fantom Penguin asked Matthew Doyle, General Manager of Lake Shasta Caverns.
“The caves themselves are approximately 250 million years old and there are two processes within the caverns themselves. The first, of course, is the hollowing-out stage, which is basically by the force of water. Water basically creeps in through the cracks and crevices of limestone rock, which this whole mountain range is made out of, and creates small cavities. There’s a reason they call it a cave. And then from there we have the filling-in stage. That’s where we get the most precious part of it, the speleothem or the cave formations. It is that calcite that’s precipitated throughout the cave that actually creates your stalactites, your stalagmites, helictites and about, well in this cavern we have about 32 different, separate formations that you can see on the tour.”
“This is a limestone solutional cave. The ones that you see out in Modoc County and over in Lassen County, those are volcanic caves, so there are different types of caves. We have ice caves. Of course, this one is a limestone solutional cave which is the most common and it doesn’t necessarily have to be limestone. It could be a number of different soluble rocks or sedimentary rocks that can create caves.”
“The designation that we received was the National Natural Landmark designation. That’s very important for us because of a number of reasons. Anybody can say they have the best hotel, the best restaurant or in our case the best caves. What this is actually saying is the National Park Service, a federal agency, has said we have the most extraordinary example of a limestone solutional cave within our region.”
“The caves and about 40 acres surrounding the caves are privately owned and run through a corporation called Lake Shasta Properties, Inc. Now our main gift store and our main picnic area, that is leased from the Forest Service but we do pay the Forest Service for that. Other than that, everything we do pride ourselves in is the fact that our customers give us the money. We do not take any federal grants, any type of grants whatsoever, whether it’s city, federal, state. We bring it back in from our customers. Everything you see from the buses to our boats to the handrails to the uniforms that we wear, that’s all from our customers. So, it’s very important for us to portray that to our customers and make sure that they have an educational and very informative visit to the caverns.”
“Although we do have the availability for grants from the government due to this NNL, we’re still going to stay away from that only because we do pride ourselves in being able to appease our customers and make sure they have a worthwhile visit. But the biggest thing about the NNL is that it’s going to spur tourism within Shasta County, not only Shasta County but Shasta Lake, Redding, the whole Northstate of California. For every family that comes up just to visit us because it’s an NNL, that means there’s more people that are going to be spending a night at a hotel, eating at a local restaurant like Jack’s, visiting some of the culture that Redding has to offer.”
“We’re actually members of the National Cave Association which is a very elite group of show cave ownership and managers. They have very strict guidelines as far as conservation and stewardship of the caves, so we’re very proud to be a part of that group. I actually sit on one of the boards there and a couple of committees of that. Now the big thing about caves is every single one of them is like a fingerprint. Every single one of them is different and every single one of them has something a little bit different to offer. So, we’re just part of a family that can add a little something unique to the whole thing. Of course here in the United States this is the only cave tour that has a bus associated with it as well as a boat. We are geographically landlocked. We’re not your typical, ‘the cave is right outside the gift store’. It takes actually about a half hour from our gift store to reach the cavern entrance.”
“A large reason that we have such large numbers coming through here at the caverns is because of the local economy, is because of the local word-of-mouth advertising that we do get. So of course we pay that back through a various number of events that we do throughout the year, anything from C.A.S.T. for Kids, which is Catch a Special Thrill for Kids put on by the BLM and it’s for special needs kids, whether it’s physical or developmental handicaps, we take them out on the boat, go fishing for a day. In a couple of weeks, we have a 3rd Grade fishing trip with the Forest Service. We take them out for a free fishing day; take them out and just have a blast, hot dogs and hamburgers, all the way to the ‘Tis Your Season event with Salvation Army where we have food drives. Last year we made I think it was 300 lbs. of fudge and doled it out to those who donated back to the Salvation Army.”
“It’s one of the unique areas, not only that -- it’s exploration. It’s getting back out there in Nature. We’ve all been tied to our Smart Phones, our PS3’s, a number of different technological devices. We need to get back out there and really explore a little bit more and be active. Get outdoors. Enjoy it. We have, as far as I’m concerned, one of the biggest gems here in Northern California that there is to offer and it’s right in your backyard.”
Lake Shasta Caverns is open all year. You can probably just show up and get on the next tour, unless it’s a busy holiday. To book in advance call 1 (800) 795-CAVE or go to the website at www.LakeShastaCaverns.com.