THE APPROACH TO CRYSTAL CAVE
The side trip to Crystal Cave from Giant Forest is one of the highlights of a visit to the park. The approach road completed in 1941, branches off from the main highway in the lower part of Giant Forest at an elevation of 5,500 feet, and follows a winding course across the beautiful Marble Fork Canyon through virgin forests of mixed stands of pines, firs, incense cedar, black oak, dogwood, and numerous low-growing species of flowering plants. In moist places, profuse growths of beautiful tiger lilies may be seen blooming along the roadside in the early part of the season. Through the lower part of this Transition Zone forest, the road finally descends to the cave parking area nine miles from Giant Forest, at an elevation of 4,860 feet. This is a meeting place of the higher Transition Zone and the Upper Sonoran Zone. The latter is so named because the vegetation here resembles that of the Northern Sonora District of Mexico. It is characterized by several species of brush or chapparral, certain species of trees such as interior live oak, blue oak and western sycamore. The beautiful Mariposa lily and stately Yucca also are representatives of this zone, together with dozens of low annual and perennial flowering plants which reach their climax in color and beauty in this section of the park.
From the parking area a half mile of hard surfaced trail descends on an easy grade to the cave entrance in the bottom of the canyon of Cascade Creek. The altitude at the cave entrance is 4,540 feet, or 320 feet lower than the parking area. This delightful nature trail is a fitting prelude to a trip through the cave. It affords excellent views of the marble outcrops and associated rocks. Fingers of vegetation representing the Upper Sonoran Zone extend upward along sunny slopes, while similar extensions from the Transition Zone cross the trail and descend into the canyon in more sheltered places, resulting in an interesting variety of plant and animal life. The trail crosses Cascade Creek over a rustic oak bridge. Above and below it is a beautiful series of waterfalls visible from the lower switchbacks on the trail. One of the interesting trees along the trail is the rare California nutmeg (Torreya californica). This tree is an evergreen with sharply pointed needles. It grows to a height of about 75 feet in cool canyons of the Upper Sonoran Zone, and its interesting seeds resemble nutmegs. The entrance to the cave is situated near the base of the lower waterfalls where a pleasant resting place has been provided in the shade of the alders. There are many caves that surpass Crystal Cave in size and beauty, but none of them has a more interesting and scenic approach.
Last Updated: 31-Jan-2007