Oregon Caves National Park: Can You Cave It?

Over a year ago I explored the Oregon Caves National Monument for the first time. A huge cave system that still has unknown tunnels today. This park gives you many different ways to explore the cave, a guided tour of well-marked trails, rooms, and formations; or your choice of deeper cave exploring trips.

My favorite part of this trip was hearing the story of how the cave was discovered. The ranger explained that when the cave was first discovered its explorers had only primitive equipment and lighting. The first known trip into the cave occurred in 1874 when a local man’s dog ran inside the cave after a bear. The traveler followed using the matches he carried with him until the last match ran out, and his dog was still missing. The ranger turned the lights out so we could get a sense for how it would have felt to run out of lamp fuel or matches inside the cave. It was pitch black and our eyes would never adjust. The traveler had to crawl out of the cave only to find his dog there waiting for him.

A variety of people have influenced the preservation, development, and later, restoration of Oregon Caves. After Elijah Davidson entered the cave in 1874, more people followed, and before long the caves were developed for tours.

After visiting the caves in 1907, Joaquin Miller, the “Poet of the Sierras”, wrote an article about his experience in the cave. This was the first nationwide coverage of the caves. Due to the urging of Miller, C.B. Watson, and other influential people–the caves were declared a National Monument by President William Howard Taft in 1909. – NPS

What I am most interested in when visiting a place like this is learning how it came to be, not just how the people came to protecting it, but how did nature create such an amazing place. The large cave chambers and cathedral rooms were impressive. Many feet below the Earth we were climbing metal stairwells surrounded by beautiful marble rock and mineral stalactites and stalagmites, and I can’t help but be a bit spooked out. We spotted a few bats, but were told there are many living here.

Nestled deep inside the Siskiyou Mountains, the caves formed as rainwater from the ancient forest above dissolved the surrounding marble and created one of the world’s few marble caves. The highly complex geology found on the Monument contributes to the unusual and rare plants and animals found nowhere else but here.

Truly the best way to experience the caves is on a deep tour and exploration journey, but I still love the idea of the way folks explored this area centuries ago. First a 12 mile hike to the caves from Williams, Oregon, the nearest town, then once having a chance to explore inside the caves they would make camp near the entrance.

While you’re visiting this site you will learn about the fragile ecosystem of bats living here, and how you can best protect these creatures. You may also stumble across the bones of a prehistoric animal. One thing I hope every ranger makes perfectly clear, never carve on anything in these caves even when you see that others have. Two young boys spent years in jail after being caught writing their names into the cave formations. Don’t do it!

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