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Weekend - Boyden Cavern Reopens After Three Years

Laura Tsutsui
Valley Public Radio
The entrance to Boyden Cavern is a up a short, steep hike, just off Highway 180 in the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

It’s time for the Weekend, and we’re taking you straight up Highway 180 to the Giant Sequoia National Monument. There’s the Kings River, and the beautiful trees that give the monument its namesake. But there are also caves up here, lots of them. While most aren’t easily accessible, one cave just reopened to the public - Boyden Cavern.


People have been touring it for over a hundred years now, ever since J. Putnam Boyden found it in 1906.


“He actually lived inside the cave for ten years,” says Maria Baker, co-owner of Windy Cliffs, Inc. She and her husband Daniel Baker have been running tours at the cavern for the last month since it reopened.


“[Boyden] would run tours for a nickel, and then because the times were so different back then, the word is that he would also allow people to take souvenirs from the cave, breaking off formations if they were willing to pay a little bit extra.”

Credit Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Past the cave's entrance, Boyden Cavern becomes pitch dark. Luckily, there are lights strung throughout the cave, and a concrete path for most of the trail. At one point, tour guide Daniel Baker turns out the lights to show just how dark the cave is.

Unlike Boyden, the Bakers don’t allow visitors to take souvenirs. Instead they operate a gift shop with postcards and snacks.

The cave had been off limits since 2015 when the Rough Fire ripped through Kings Canyon. The fire destroyed two wooden bridges and cut off access to the cave.

But the cavern itself was unharmed. Daniel Baker says the cave probably looks today like it did a hundred years ago.

“The cave never changes,” says Baker. “I mean it’s in a constant state of change that can't be measured in our lifetimes.”

It’s a quick, steep hike up to the mouth of the cave, and once we arrive, Daniel Baker begins a tour with 18 people. While the temperature outside is 80 degrees and climbing, it’s always 55 degrees Farenheit inside the cave. Stepping in, it’s kind of like opening a refrigerator; the cool air envelopes me. We even hear a cave creek running as we walk along.

Credit Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Calcite deposits drip from the ceiling, creating various forms. This is called a ribbon, but some might call it bacon because of the shape and colors the deposits create that are visible when light shines through the formation.

“In this section of the cave we can see some calcite formations, this one here is called a  drapery,” Baker explains. “This one here is what we call a ribbon, but if you ask a caver what they call that they might tell you it’s called bacon.”

Credit Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Tour guide Daniel Baker points out stalactite formations hanging from the ceiling, created by calcite deposits. These are called drapes.

When you shine a light on it, there are strips of color, like meat and fat. The path we’re on was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s.

“You can see our stalactites back there, we call that the upside down city. The ones that form on the ground are called stalagmites; those might reach the ceiling,” Baker continues, shining his light on formations as he speaks. “That being said, watch your step coming through here, and of course, watch your head. We're going round the corner to what we call the Headache Maker Hallway.”

At the back of the cave there’s a waterfall. We wade through a freezing creek to get there. The water is from snowmelt. It will be gone in a month, and so will the waterfall. But the cavern and its formations will remain a cool respite for those escaping the valley heat.

Boyden Cavern is open for tours seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets and more information can be found at the Boyden Cavern website.

Laura Tsutsui was a reporter and producer for Valley Public Radio. She joined the station in 2017 as a news intern, and later worked as a production assistant and weekend host. Laura covered local issues ranging from politics to housing, and produced the weekly news program Valley Edition. She left the station in November 2020.
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