Exploring the Mourning Caverns

Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Calaveras, CA, the Mourning Caverns is a historical site that lead many people to it . My idea of a cave which was very much structured by fictional movies and cartoons was a horizontal hole in the ground with plenty of footing to walk on and a huge hole on one side where you could walk in – this was quickly dispelled when I visited this cave.

Narrow vertical staircase at the entrance of the cave

The Mourning Caverns turned out to be a vertical cave with a horizontal drop so deep that the entire statue of liberty could fit in it! And imagine stumbling upon a cave like this before the 1800’s – the terror of walking into a dark hole and not knowing where you are stepping led a few innocents plummeting to their deaths… and that’s what makes the Mourning Caverns an important archaeological site as well.

The 2nd flight of stairs

Getting to the part about why it’s called the “Mourning” caverns – people reported hearing these distinct moaning sounds emanating from the cavern well before the 1800’s. These haunting noises kept many away in fear of what lived in the dark below.

Damp walls with formations of limestone, calcite

However, after WW1 when the spiral staircase was constructed, the moaning sounds got very faint as the metal from the staircase absorbed most of the sound. They then drew the moaning mystery to a close. It turned out that due to it’s original shape and constitution, the dripping glacial water echoed against the large cave causing the moans.

A funny looking bulbous cave formation


As archaeology advanced, the skeletal remains were dated to be over 12,000 years old and it was concluded that the cavern might have even been used as a burial ground by Native Americans!

More frilly cave formations

The cave is humid and is around 60 degrees throughout the year. Being a Solutional cave, the Mourning Caverns offers a lot of interesting formations to see some of which I captured in the images below. One of them is a gorgeous calcite precipitation pool with a lovely hint of turquoise green.

Water in the cave accumulated in a small calcite pool
This particular calcite formation is so thin and fragile that it absolutely looks like cloth
This one is known as an igloo. Don’t let your eyes fool you. It’s over 25 feet tall!

For the most daring of visitors there is also the option of rappelling down and while you are there you can also take a really cool zip line nearby. All in all, the unique experience of walking down a 165 feet long metal staircase made from a sunken WW1 ship is the most exciting!

Flimsy looking yet strong metal rails. Try not to look down!

The echoes from the clanking metal combined with the fact that you are over 165 feet up high can leave an unsettled taste in your mouth at-least for the first few minutes if you are afraid of heights. You can feel the vibration as people above and below you step through the staircase.

And finally, the famous spiral staircase that was built out of metal from a WW1 ship!

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