October 10, 1863: Pluto’s Cave
October 10, 2013
Camp 156 [This] morning we went to visit a cave about three-quarters of a mile distant, just discovered, and of which extraordinary stories were told. It was, indeed, quite a curiosity. It is called Pluto’s Cave. The surface of the country is a gentle lava slope, very rocky, with but little soil and with stunted cedars and bushes, the lava rising into innumerable hummocks a few feet high. Under this the cave extends. It looks as if the surface of the great lava flow had cooled, but that the crust had broken somewhere lower down and a long stream of the fluid had run out, leaving a long, empty channel or gallery. The roof of this gallery is beautifully arched—in places it is at least fifty feet high and as many broad. The bottom is of broken blocks of lava, and the sides are occasionally ornamented with fantastic shapes of stone, where the melted or viscous fluid has oozed through cracks, sometimes in a thick, black stream, like tar, then cooled, in others like froth on the surface of the molten mass—but all now cool enough, hard, rough, black rock. We went in near a mile, to the end, or at least to where the fallen fragments blocked up the way. Multitudes of bats lived in it, even to the very end. Near the entrance the roof had broken in in several places, and there were many skulls of mountain sheep that had got in and perished. These are the chamois of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra. They are nearer a goat than sheep, and have enormous horns, hence some hunters call them the “big horn.” On one of these skulls the horns were 14 1/2 inches in circumference at the base and 33 inches between the tips. In the afternoon we rode to Yreka and camped in a field near town. Our way led across the volcanic plain. On the north side rose an innumerable number of small, sharp volcanic cones, the highest but a few hundred feet above the plain. On the south was the majestic form of Mount Shasta, the grand feature in the landscape, the one I never tire in writing about, although you must be tired of the repetition.