1972 Boyden Cavern tour operation leased by Stephen Fairchild as a family partnership
1976 Incorporated as Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation
1977 Acquired Moaning Cavern & opened walk tours
1980 California Cavern purchased and Jungle Room rediscovered. Wild caving trips only offered
1982 Walk trail in California Cavern completed
1983 California Cavern designated a State Historic Landmark
1984 Moaning Cavern Rappel opened to the public & began Adventure Trips
1996 Black Chasm Cavern, National Natural Landmark purchased
1998 Black Chasm Cavern opened to wild caving Discovery Trips only until walk tour trail construction begins
Black Chasm Cavern partial walk tour offered on weekends only
2001 Black Chasm Cavern walk tour trail into the Landmark Room completed & tours offered daily, year round
2001 Sutter Gold Mine's walk tour leased and opened for daily underground tours year round.
2002 Completion of major overhaul of visitors center & completion of gemstone mining flume construction at Sutter Gold Mine.
2003 Black Chasm Cavern's new 3,000 square foot visitors center completed.
2004 New 6,000 square foot visitor center completed & new showers installed at California Cavern.
2006 Adventure Trip offered at historic Gold Cliff Mine
2007 Boyden Cavern tour lease turned over to outside operation
2007 Gold Cliff Mine Adventure Trips begin
2007 Twin Zip Lines launched above ground at Moaning Cavern
2011 Labyrinth Tour at Black Chasm Cavern introduced.
2011 Sutter Gold Mine Tours officially closed September 12th. Last tours given September 11th, 2011.
Stephen Fairchild had always been fascinated with caves and their exploration when the opportunity to lease the Boyden Cavern tour operation presented itself to him in 1972. Fairchild operated the Boyden Cavern tours as a sole proprietorship until the purchase of Moaning Cavern in 1977 when Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation (SNRC) was formed. At that time, walking tours were the only tours offered at Moaning Cavern. However, being an avid caver, Fairchild decided to introduce a common wild caving technique for the general public to enjoy at Moaning Cavern. This would be the first time a rappel into a public showcave would be offered in the United States. Since it hadn't been done before, Fairchild pioneered the technique and on January 14th, 1984 offered the nation's first rappel into a showcave followed by a guided 2-hour caving expedition called the Adventure Trip.
Interestingly, Moaning Cavern's famous moan had, by the time of the SNRC purchase, disappeared. In articles dating from before 1922, the moaning sound made by the cave was always mentioned, but by the time the spiral staircase was completed and the cave was opened for walk tours, the moan was considered a mere myth. This mystery intrigued brothers Stephen and John Fairchild, who researched all of the archive material they could find in the hopes of discovering the answer to this riddle. Finally, a cassette recording of an obscure radio interview of some early owners of the cave offered some tantalizing clues not only to the demise of the famous moan, but also to its origins. Stephen and John investigated inside the cave and found that what had been hinted at in the interview, was indeed the case. Construction of the spiral staircase in 1922 had left debris in a part of the cave that was essential to the moan. Beneath the massive flowstone formation known as the mushroom patch, bottle shaped holes had been formed by dripping water. These were now filled with bits of steel and concrete. Once excavated, the brothers discovered another problem; construction of the staircase had altered the path of water dripping into the cave. Once the path was reestablished, water could once again drip into what were now known as the "moaning holes." The sound this released into the cave reverberated against a translucent drapery formation known as the "Angel's Wing" 100 feet above, making the trademark moaning sound. It had taken 50 years, but the moan was finally restored to Moaning Cavern.
Meanwhile, an interesting piece of property located in Mountain Ranch, just 45 minutes from Moaning Cavern, was purchased by SNRC in 1980. Initially, it seemed the land contained two caves: Mammoth Cave and Quill Cave which were opened for spelunking trips almost immediately. Soon after purchase, a room which had been closed for twenty years was rediscovered - the pristine Jungle Room. Steve & John Fairchild knew there had to be a connector to the two caves and eventually, a passageway that led out of the Jungle Room was found that did indeed connect the two. Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation renamed the entire cave system: California Cavern. To this day, the entrance of the cave through to the Jungle Room entrance is known as Mammoth Cave, the second cave as Quill Cave and the section that connects them: Middle Earth.
California Cavern was designated a State Historic Landmark in May, 1983 due to its early discovery and opening as the state's first showcave, the historic Signature Hall and famous early visitors including Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and eminent early naturalist who wrote about the cave extensively in his "Mountains of California."
A challenging expedition known originally as the Downstream Circuit is still available at California Cavern, although it is now known as the Middle Earth Expedition. A shorter, simpler expedition perfect for novices to caving techniques and very popular with scouting groups was first offered in 1986 and is called the Mammoth Cave Expedition.
A 5500 square foot Visitor Center was completed at California Cavern in 2005, including 2900 square feet of gift shop. A prehistoric cave bear skeleton is now on display there.
In 1996, SNRC purchased Black Chasm Cavern, which had been designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1976. This cave had never been visited by the general public, since it was vertically oriented and required advanced spelunking experience to navigate. As such it was well known by local speleological societies and there was interest in spelunking still being made available. For that reason, a very challenging Discovery Trip was offered until work began on developing a walk tour route into the cave.
September 30, 2000 saw the opening of the walk tour - early guests had the chance to see the innovative platform, stair and walkway system being built into the cave using non-biodegradable materials. This was completed by April 16, 2001 when the 50-minute Landmark Tour was offered, taking guests through to the Landmark Room which contains masses of rare helictite crystals.
The cave system has been extensively explored and mapped, and some extraordinarily beautiful photos taken by cave photographer Dave Bunnell. Many of these areas will never be accessible to the public because they are just too delicate and easily damaged.
December 2003 saw the opening of the new 3000 square foot visitors center at Black Chasm Cavern, filled with nature and science merchandise, Black Chasm souvenirs and displays from its connection to the Matrix movies (the Zion Temple was researched there).
In 2001, Stephen Fairchild was approached by US Energy Corporation to run their guided underground mine tour operation. The mine had ceased gold extraction in 1989 due to low gold prices and had established a guided tour open to the general public, which had run into logistical problems. SNRC leased the operation and opened its first tours of Sutter Gold Mine on May 12, 2001.
SNRC had always been known for cave tours until this time - since its founders were avid cavers who thrilled in cave exploration and delighted in making these beautiful natural environments available to the general public to see and enjoy. A mine is a very different prospect - the environment has not taken millions of years to evolve - it is carved out of the earth over a very short period of time by heavy machinery. There would be no speleothems, no delicate, fragile decorations. However, this underground environment proved equally fascinating. Slicing as it did through the historic Mother Lode, the mines cross-cuts showed veins of quartz crystal and for much of the walk tour, guests walked through a tunnel, or drift, of greenstone from which the quartz has been excavated allowing them to actually walk through the quartz vein. Visitors didn't walk in, they boarded mining vehicles called Boss Buggy Shuttles and tagged in at the top in their hardhats. Guests loved it, and SNRC did too!
For a while, a Deep Mine Experience was offered at Sutter Gold Mine, which was an extended exploration through the furthest reaches of the mine. But as the mine equipment degraded, that operation was ceased. The very popular 1-hour family tour continues to be available daily, year round.
The safety chamber underground was re-concreted, and new seats installed in 2001. Gemstone mining flumes, and a picnic area were installed on the property at Sutter Gold Mine in 2002, the gift shop overhauled and construction completed on improvements to the Visitors Center.
In 2006 SNRC was afforded the opportunity to develop a mine adventure trip in the historic Gold Cliff Mine in Angels Camp. This was an opportunity to present a caving style adventure in a gold mine with a strong emphasis on Gold Rush history incorporating archive material from the original mine operation. The first Adventure Trips were offered in February 2007.
In 2007 the Boyden Cavern tour lease was turned over to an independent operator enabling us to concentrate fully on our Gold Country properties.
In keeping with the company development philosophy to bring more activities and adventure to SNRC properties with a focus on the natural environment, twin zip lines above ground at Moaning Cavern were opened on July 28, 2007. Over the next year, two new styles of zip were offered: the tandem, which allows parent and child to zip on the same trolley for a maximum combined weight of 280 lbs, and the Super Style which requires a different harness setup allowing the zipper to fly head first, in a horizontal position like Super Man. A year after installation in July 2008, SNRC could confidently announce that the 1/4 mile long zip lines had surpassed all other activities to be the most popular in the history of the company.
In July, 2008, Stephen Fairchild received the Innovations in Tourism award from the Calaveras Visitors Bureau, and an acknowledgement of his significant contributions to business in the region by Dana Jorgensen on behalf of Senator Dave Cox.
In July 2011, Black Chasm Cavern introduced the 3-hour above ground Labyrinth Tour.
In September 2011, Sutter Gold Mine tours closed.