My wife and I set off one early morning to visit the natural wonders of Lake Shasta Caverns. The drive was a mere 100 miles north of our home in Chico, CA, and a familiar drive, as well. I once visited these caverns in the mid-1980s and thought I was due another visit. My wife, whom is Thai, had never been to a cavern in our country, so it was also an outing for her.
The lake (this review dated August 2, 2007) was so low it amazed me. This time last year the lake was 29 feet below average, while this year it had fallen to 55 feet. It looked more like a mud hole than what I remember Lake Shasta to be. But I didn't come here to visit the lake, so my concern was only brief.
First, I would like to mention that the caverns are beautiful and amazing. Such natural formations are always a joy to see and ponder. Stalagmites and stalactites. I never could tell them apart, but now I remember...stalagmites start on the ground. I only wish I had researched them beforehand (like on Wikipedia) so that I could have learned something. I found very little help when on the tour. So, with all the beauty set aside, here are some issues (as I mentioned in the title) about this 'tour'.
Lake Shasta Caverns is a privately owned property and is not protected or managed by any government or geological entity. This cavern is here purely for the profit of the owners. And it is clear that the owners have not done much to make this experience worth the hefty $20 entrance fee. The gift shop and ticket booth are well stocked...with silly beaver pelt (real fur) hats, metal forged horse bits, hand-carved walking canes and every cheap (or, overpriced) gemstone you can find. Most of the 'Native American' sounenirs are fakes and also overpriced. Bottled water was $2, but thankfully they offer cold water fountains for your thirst.
The weather was over 98 degrees and the walk down to the ferry boat (that takes you across the lake in 10 minutes) is long and arduous as the lake level is so low. But once you do reach the ferry boat, we had to stand there in the heat to wait for the ferry to come back across. It would have been nice if the owners invested in some inexpensive shade covers and some plastic lawn chairs to keep us customers cooler. The boat was late, but once he docked, we boarded and we set off. The boat operator was pleasant and apologized for being late. No problem. We didn't dehydrate that badly.
Once to the other side, we had to walk back up to the buses that awaited us to carry us to the top of the mountain and the entrance to the caverns. I can remember in the old days, the buses were old dilapidated school buses. Back then it was an adventure in itself as we prayed the brakes would hold out! The new buses they have are wonderful, air conditioned and safe. A true addition to their tour.
The ride up was a mere 10 minutes and where we were greeted by our guide, a pubescent high-schooler. He crossed his arms when he was speaking and I could not help but think he needed to loosen up and relax, that we were not here to judge him, but did expect a nice tour. His canned speech was a bit much, but he was only doing what he was told to do.
From the moment we entered the mountain (through that modern steel door that our guide jokingly mentioned was not the original entrance) to the time we exited, we were inside for 40 minutes. How do I know? Because I set my watch as we entered. So much for their claim on their website that you will be in the cavern for one hour. Forty minutes is only 2/3rds of the time I paid for. And I paid alot...$20...each. When we regrouped down below to await the return bus ride, I could not help but notice that the bus came 15 minutes later...time we could have spent inside the cavern. And they also claim, on their website, to bring lots of film for this experience...but no need to, since you don't have enough time to take photos while the guide moves the group along quickly.
Here are some improvements I hope the owners consider for future guests:
1. Eliminate the 13-inch, 15-year-old TV rambling on about the lake and caverns. Its boring and too old. Ramp it up with a new version.
2. Bring the cost down to about $12 and you might get more people in resulting in overall more profits (ie: gift shop purchases not to be forgotten).
3. Warn people that there is no shade or place to keep cool when you have to wait for a boat...or buy some shade!
4. Warn people that the walk down to the ferry boat may take 15-20 minutes when the lake is this low.
5. Tell people the tour inside the caverns is one hour, and then GIVE them one hour inside.
6. Fix the ladie's bathroom door so it closes, so the next time people cannot see my wife's feet while she goes to the bathroom. That is just downright inconsiderate, if you ask me. I had to ask a woman to please close the door for her to give her some privacy and dignity.
7. Teach your guides some informative things about stalagmites, stalactites, calcite formations, splunking, the detailed history of the caverns...and don't spend too much time trying to show us formations that resemble Disney characters, animals, ice cream and nose totem poles. I think its okay occasionally for children, but I'm not here to see that, I'm here to see some natural formations and EXPECT to be informed about them, their history and geological bios.
8. People expect what you tell them you will provide. Your website should reflect what it is in actuality that you provide. Change one or the other.
Conclusion: The Lake Shasta Caverns are remarkeable, but I've seen better. Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Ohio are a true spectacle. They are an amazing cavern and the tour is remarkable. Meramac Canverns cost $16/Adults and $8/children as opposed to Shasta which cost $20 and $12 respectfully. And the Meramac guide is longer and they even give you a cool old-style lantern to carry to enhance your tour and the storytelling. Shasta cannot compare to the Meramac, and though they may not, their prices are not in line with larger, more respected cavern tours. If you think you'll find yourself in Ohio or other nearby states that boast great cavern experiences, I say save your money and spend it somewhere else, like Turtle Bay in nearby Redding, CA.
Until Lake Shasta Caverns matches their tour and exhibit to the high price, I think I'll keep my tour money in my pocket for a better adventure.
Which way do stalagmites form, again???
If you own or manage Lake Shasta Caverns, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.