The History and Mystery of Bower Cave

In Day Tripping, History, Local, Outside the Park

If you’ve ever read John Muir’s writings about his summers spent in the Sierra and the wonderful adventures he had then you’re probably familiar with the name Bower Cave. But what ever happened to Bower Cave? I’ve lived in this area my entire life and I’ve only heard faint reminiscing whispers of it. Did it just fall off the face of the Earth? The answer is no, it’s still there and if you get a permit you can go check it out too. Here’s a great article posted on the Sierra Mountain Times by Thomas Atkins about exploring Bower Cave and it’s history.

Sierra Mountain Times: “Of the hundreds of natural passageways leading into the underworlds of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Mariposa Counties, Bower Cave is by far one of the most unique and interesting caverns in this tri-county area. This magnificent marble and limestone hollow is rich in beauty as well as history and its chambers echo with Indian legends and as tales of tourists who once flocked to this underground wonder. However, over the past decades the grandeur of this cavern has faded into obscurity, and with the exception of the flocks of swallows darting to and fro from their mud nests clinging to the limestone cliffs, the cave seldom sees visitors.

Inside Bower Cave - the Orchestra Seat by The Sauer Family - Aaron & Nicole Sauer

Part of the reason for this is because of the high level of protection and the limited access to the cave that the Stanislaus National Forest Service allows. In fact, to visit the cave one must first obtain a permit from the Groveland Ranger Station in Buck Meadows, just inside the Mariposa County boundary. Upon receiving this permit, my friend D.J. and I began our adventure to Bower Cave. From Buck Meadows we followed a small back road, which twisted us farther into the colorful countryside of Mariposa County and a secluded section of the Stanislaus National Forest. Once known as the Coulterville-Yosemite Road, this now deserted road was once bustling with carriages and stagecoaches transporting tourists on the first wagon route to enter Yosemite Valley.

Yet like Yosemite Valley, Bower Cave was discovered long before white men ever set foot in the Sierra. For thousands of years the Native Americans of the Sierra knew about this cavern, and it is said to be one of the most significant cultural and spiritual places for the Me-Wuk people who inhabited the western slopes and foothills of the Sierra – including villages near the cavern and present-day Groveland. Me-Wuk legend tells us that the cave, known to them as ‘Oo-tin’, was the center for the creation of the world and its inhabitants and was home to the First People. Some still believe that the cavern is sacred passageway, and after death their sprits will return to Mother Earth through the cave.”

Looking up at the lofty perch where musicians once played while people danced on the long gone dance floor that was constructed at the bottom of the cave.

The cave is still considered a sacred site of wonder and awe, and because of the cave’s importance to the Native Americans a chain link fence now protects the subterranean sanctuary. After crossing the mellow waters of the Merced River’s north fork, we parked at a turnout and followed a short trail up the eastern slope above the river to the fence guarding the grotto. Veins of marble and limestone rock protruding from the ground were telltale signs that we were in cave country and we were eager to see what treasures awaited behind the gate. Unlocking the padlock with the combination code given to us with the permit, it was only a few more steps before we were staring into the monstrous mouth of Bower Cave.” (more…)

Photo by The Sauer Family – Aaron & Nicole Sauer via Flickr.

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