on October 11, 2008
Caves were an unexpected bonus of our trip into the Sierras. I’d read about Boyden Cavern in AAA’s California TourBook as we planned our trip. A subterranean exploration sounded good to my daughter, so as we drove up Kings Canyon, we pulled off into a parking area that barely fit between the river and the mountains.This cavern lies in Sequoia National Forest, between the two sections of Kings Canyon National Park. To get there from Sequoia NP, you exit out the northwest corner, and then make a giant U-turn on Highway 180, which eventually dead ends in the middle of Kings Canyon NP. It’s almost 15 miles from ‘the Wye’ intersection just south of Grant Grove in the section of Kings Canyon that protrudes off Sequoia’s NW corner like a horn (part of this piece was originally General Grant NP). You can only get to Boyden this way, so if you haven’t paid the $20 entrance fee to Sequoia/Kings Canyon, you’ll have to do so on your way through the park. The cavern itself is a concession within the National Forest, and a relic from another era. The entire area is a huge change from Yosemite’s crowds and the lesser but still substantial throngs in Sequoia. Few people make the drive into Kings Canyon, and we found only a handful of cars in the lot. We shopped in the gift store for a while, waiting for the next tour to begin, which reminded me of the souvenir stores of the sixties and seventies I visited as a kid. Our group was six: the two of us, a young couple, a guide-in-training, and a vet who was observing him. The cave’s entrance is up the mountainside from the parking lot, a five to ten minute climb up a paved path. The nearly round, 10-foot wide entrance is closed with a padlocked gate that guides unlock. It’s a recent addition, added to protect against vandalism (a theme I’ve heard at far too many other caves, especially in my native, cave-riddled Ozarks).Boyden is part of a 5-mile-long network, but your tour won’t take you quite that far. We went back about 800 feet, more than enough to awaken my usually dormant claustrophobia (which I was able to subdue). The passageway is fairly broad, with the exception of one neck that isn’t too tight of a squeeze.The geology here is marble, and the formations in the cave range from ordinary to nearly spectacular. Curtains descend from the ceiling, layer cakes rise up from the floor, and drip castles are everywhere. It’s impressive to see what erosion can carve out of marble: I was surprised to learn that this cave is just one of many that riddle the mountains either side of Kings Canyon, and dot Sequoia as well, which holds over 200 caves.Like most caves, it’s a comfortable 55 degrees or so, making a fleece a nice option to have along. The walkway is paved, and there’s a handrail wherever one is necessary. The lighting is adequate, but not overbearing. At the back of the cave, our guide asked everyone’s assent before dousing the lights for a while to experience the cave’s natural darkness. That was a neat experience, but I was glad to have the bulbs come back on again.This cavern was carved by a ‘river’ that runs down into the rock, and drains out through the cave’s entrance. On the way back, the guides offered us the option of hiking back along the largely dry riverbed, which all four of us did. This required a little more ducking and care about placing your foot, but nothing serious.All in all, Boyden seems like a reasonable substitute for Crystal Cave, the highly popular attraction in Sequoia NP, for which tickets must be acquired in advance at one of the park visitor centers. You can just roll up to Boyden, and even if you’re just coming for the cave tour, the drive will be worth it.
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