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Weekend - The Guides Behind Boyden Cavern

Laura Tsutsui
Valley Public Radio
Maria Baker holds 7-month-old Calvin at the Boyden Cavern gift shop, where he often hangs out while Maria and her husban Daniel run tours at the cave.

We recently told you about Boyden Cavern, which reopened for tours three years after damage from the Rough Fire made it inaccessible. But just who makes these tours possible? For that answer, we’ll go behind the stalactites to meet them. 

The cave itself is a multi-sensory experience: there’s a drop in temperature, and the sound of a creek. If you hang out long enough in the gift shop, you may also catch the sound of baby: 7-month-old Calvin.

“Sometimes he’s just kind of hanging out back behind the cash register,” says his mom, Maria Baker. “And people will come in and we’ll just be having a conversation and then he’ll make a noise or something and they go, ‘Oh, there’s a baby in here!’”  

Maria was pregnant with Calvin when she and her husband Daniel got the call last year: the concessionaire needed someone to reopen the cavern after the Rough Fire destroyed its bridges. 

“For what I was doing I was making good money,” says Daniel Baker. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave that with all the benefits, and just the good pay that I had.”

Daniel was a welder. Maria worked for Fresno County. Did they want to give up these 9 to 5 jobs, in exchange for running the only cave tour in the Giant Sequoia National Monument? They decided to take the leap. After all, the cavern was where they met in 2012. 


Maria had just moved to California from Illinois and taken a job as a tour guide. Daniel also worked there at the time. 

“Beside the manager, I was the first one down here because it was my second year and she was the first new employee hired,” Daniel recalls.

“I do remember my first day obviously, because it was the first day that I drove down here and the views are just spectacular, amazing,” says Maria. “Everytime I rounded a corner I was like, oh, whoa! Just amazed.”

Daniel says they had some trouble with bears that year; they would visit staff homes in the forest. 

“The second or third night, she called it the ‘tell-tale scratching.’ After that, I was just like, man she’s kind of goofy,” laughs Daniel. 

Maria calls it a “summer camp romance.”

They even wanted to get married here. 

“But unfortunately, when we came down in 2016 that was the first time we saw all of the damage from the Rough Fire, so we realized we couldn’t do it actually at the cave,” says Maria.

So they got married at the Fresno Courthouse, but Boyden was always in the back of their minds.

“We always used to talk about how cool it would be to run Boyden when we worked here and never really thought that it would be a possibility,” Maria says.

She calls it a dream job for a couple who met here, and now have a family. 

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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