EONS AND EONS: Saying that a place that's seen the eras and seen the ages and has weathered an eon or two has just had a birthday, a birthday in terms of in our human-span, manageable-time world, is always charming. The Crystal Cave of Sequoia National Park marked its 74th birthday on May 29, but, nope, it didn't spring into being in 1940. Rather, that's when tours of the subterranean wonder opened up. Some 15,000 people per year visited back then, says the Sequoia Natural History Association, and about 50,000 take a tour nowadays, each year, but that's still nowhere near the number of visitors the park itself gets over the course of twelve months.
DOES... this make Crystal Cave something of a hidden gem? Well, yes and no. "Hidden" is right -- it takes some effort to reach, and, yep, it is a cave, so "hidden" works by us. But people know about it, even if they don't visit as often as they like (or, sadder, postpone a tour for a later date, knowing that caves have a rather wonderful way of staying put). But could this be your year to wander among the stalactites and 'mites? To cool down during a summer Sequoia vacation, as the cave always clocks in at about 48 degrees? Yes, this is the year, but don't dally: The cave's opening dates run from May to November.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The not-too-far-off Wuksachi Lodge says "Crystal Cave is a treasure-cavern of ornate marble polished by subterranean streams and decorated with curtains of icicle-like stalactites and mounds of stalagmites." Yep, settings like that go beyond fantasy novels and into the real world, from time to time. To book your summer tour, or look into a candlelight or wild tour -- ohhhh -- read on, spelunker-at-heart.