Exploring Plato’s Cave and forest slime mold


Recently, Brian Newton, 67, retired school teacher, and Roy Kendall, 68, real estate broker, decided to increase their education, hike cross country  and explore the caves at the south end of  the Mineral King valley. Just for fun, Roy named the first cave they explored “Plato’s Cave.”

It was an education to go into this black cave with flashlights and go back in time to 514 AD and remember the Greek philosopher Plato and his cave in “The Republic.”

What is the meaning of Plato’s Cave? It is “to compare the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.”

In Plato’s Cave, the prisoners are chained to the wall. However, we did not find any  prisoners chained to the wall of this cave.  Maybe they had all escaped?

An interesting historical fact is that prior to contact with white settlers, the Mineral King valley became taboo to the Wukchumni Yokuts tribe and no humans had inhabited it for some time. Why the Mineral King valley was taboo is known only to the Yokuts.

In 1862, an Irishman, Harry ”Parole” O’Farrell, was the first explorer of European descent known to have visited Mineral King.

Did “Parole” O’Farrell escape from Plato’s Cave? And how did he get his nickname?

In 1872, silver was discovered in Mineral King below Mineral Peak and Empire Mountain. Again in 1878, silver was discovered. Over time, the minerals were found to be unprofitable to extract from their ore, and no significant mining ever took place. 

Recently, Brian and Roy explored the abandoned mine on the southwest side of the valley near Plato’s Cave. It is assumed to have been a silver mine.   

From the mines and the caves, Brian and Roy hiked over the mountain at the southern end of the White Chief area’s  subalpine glacial valley to Ansel Lake.  They camped there and Brian successfully fished for dinner.

At sunset, the alpenglow illuminated the surrounding mountains with reflected sunlight off the atmosphere and against the hills.

The next day’s hike was out of the Ansel Lake basin and over the mountain to the north to Eagle Lake. Again, the sunset turned on the alpenglow against the mountains on the east side of Eagle Lake.

Getting slimed— At Eagle Lake, we got back on a beautiful trail and while hiking in the forest came across an unknown brilliant yellow slime mold. Upon return home to the computer we discovered that it was Fuligo septica, the “dog vomit” slime mold. Not to be confused with slime bacteria or molds.

Slime mold is an informal name given to several kinds of unrelated eukaryotic organisms that can live freely as single cells, but aggregate together to form multicellular reproductive structures. 

When a slime mold mass or mound is physically separated, the cells find their way back to re-unite. Studies on the Physarum genus have even shown an ability to learn and predict periodic unfavorable conditions in laboratory experiments.

Professor John Tyler Bonner, who has spent a lifetime studying slime molds, argues that they are “no more than a bag of amoebae encased in a thin slime sheath, yet they manage to have various behaviors that are equal to those of animals who possess muscles and nerves with ganglia — that is, simple brains.”

It was bright yellow and looked just like F. septica. When we first saw it in the forest we had no idea what it was and still do not claim to understand what it is. Interesting though.

Risky business— After three nights and four days of exploring mines, caves, alpine lakes, and yellow slime mold, we made it out to the parking lot and embarked on the most dangerous part of the entire trip: the 25-mile, 600-turn road back to Three Rivers. This adventure was an education and an experience not soon to be forgotten.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.