Oregon Caves National Monument
Oregon Caves may surprise you. Small in size, it is rich in diversity. That richness can be foundboth underground amidst narrow, winding passageways and above ground where old growthforest harbors a fantastic array of animals and plants found nowhere else. You will discover aland rich in conifers, wildflowers, birds, and amphibians. An active marble cave andunderground stream reveal the inside of one of the world's most diverse geologic realms.
As his last match flickered out, 24-year-old hunter Elijah Davidson found himself in the totalblackness of the cave. Davidson was chasing after his dog Bruno, who in turn was pursuing abear. One following the other, the dog and bear entered a dark hole high on the mountainside,Davidson stopped at the mysterious dark entrance. He could see nothing, but an agonizing howlpulled him into the cave to save his dog. Now the matches were gone and Davidson was in totaldarkness. Fortunately, he was able to wade down a gurgling, ice-cold stream and find his wayback into daylight, Bruno soon followed. It was 1874.
Later, other brave souls explored deeper into the cave, returning home to tell of its great beautyand mystery. In 1907, a party of influential men, including Joaquin Miller, the"poet of theSierras," visited the cave. Charmed by it, Miller wrote of the "Marble Halls of Oregon." Theensuing publicity alerted federal officials to the possibility of preserving the cave. In 1909President William Howard Taft proclaimed a tract of 480 acres as Oregon Caves NationalMonument. In 1922 an automobile road reached the park, and 12 years later a six-story hotel,the Chateau, was constructed. The very same year, 1934, Oregon Caves National Monument wastransferred from the Forest Service to the National Park Service, which still administers it.
Workers blasted tunnels and widened passages in the cave during the 1930s. They put wasterocks in side passages, covering many limestone formations. Changes in air flow patterns alteredthe growth of formations and caused greater swings in temperature. Freezing water now crackedrock layers. Lights in the cave promoted the growth of algae, which turned portions of the cavegreen and dissolved some formations. Smoke from torches and lint coming off visitors' clothingblackened other portions.
Since 1985 the National Park Service has removed more than a thousand tons of rubble in itseffort to restore the cave. Transformers, asphalt trails, and cabins were removed to preventsewage or oils from leaking into the cave from the surface. Thousands of formations buriedunder rubble were uncovered. Crystal clear water once again cascades over white marble. Somebroken formations have been repaired with epoxy and powdered marble. Airlocks have restorednatural cave winds by blocking airflow in artificial tunnels. Spraying with bleach keeps the algaeunder control. The new lighting and trail system will reduce evaporation and unnatural foods,which have attracted surface insects and driven out native species. Not everything has been orcan be restored. For example, the dissolution and formation of cave decorations are in delicatebalance with the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and water. A global increase of this gas inthe atmosphere, caused largely by deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, is affecting thisbalance. Still, one can now see a renewed cave, a valuable benchmark against which we canmeasure human impacts, now and in years to come.
Exploring the Caves
A tour through Oregon Caves is an adventure in geology and underground life. All six of theworld's major rock types and a myriad of calcite formations decorate the cave. You will findstriking parachute like flowstone at Paradise Lost and what appear to be giant ribs as you squeezethrough the Passageway of the Whale. Tiny rimstone dams resemble miniature waves on the sea.Minute mushrooms grow on the massive root of a Douglas-fir. Other cave creatures are oftensecretive but you may see daddy longlegs, crickets, moths, and bats.
It is the drip, drip, drip of water, though, that decorates the cave, building the bizarre and eeriesculptures. How the water moves-seeping, dripping, flowing-and how many crystals come out ofthe individual drops of water dictate the shape and size of formations made of calcite, the samemineral found in chalk, cement, and eggshells. As easily as formations are created, they can alsobe dissolved. Rising warm air condenses on the cold ceiling. Acidified by carbon dioxide in thecave, this water dissolves formations. "Cave ghosts," nubbins of former stalactites, are all thatremain.
Some formations provide information about the cave. Water evaporated by air flowing in fromoutside leaves a residue of bumpy cave popcorn. Just as hikers use moss on the north side oftrees, cavers use popcorn as a compass to find new passages or, when lost, their way out.Moonmilk is made of tiny calcite crystals but has the look and feel of cottage cheese. From earlytimes it was a folk medicine smeared on livestock to heal wounds. Because it cured infectionsalmost overnight, people called it "gnome's milk," a seeming gift from the nether world. Butsome folklore is true-moonmilk is created by the same type of bacteria used to make today'santibiotics.
Visiting the Cave
The temptation to reach out and touch can be overwhelming, but formations break easily and oilsin your skin will discolor them. Look, but do not touch. The cave is cool, wet, and slippery inplaces. Cave temperatures remain in the 40's F year round. Wear rubber-soled shoes and warmclothing. Waiting times for a tour can reach 90 minutes or more in the summer.
A tour of Oregon Caves has been a traditional activity for more than 100 years. Today, tours areconducted by staff with the National Park Service. A fee is charged. The tour routethrough the cave is about one-half mile of often low and narrow passages with more than 500steps and lasts about 75 minutes. Persons with walking, breathing, or heart problems shouldavoid the tour. Special regulations restrict entry to the cave and children must be at least 42 inches tall to attend a full tour. The first room of the cave is accessible to users of canes, walkers, andmanually-operated wheelchairs, as well as to families of children who don't meet the height requirement. Free family tours into the first room are available by request at the visitor center. Please do not bring tobacco, gum, food, drinks, canes, orflashlights into the cave.
Visiting the Park
Oregon Caves National Monument is 20 miles southeast of Cave Junction, Oregon, on Ore. . Thepark is 50 miles south of Grants Pass, Oregon, and 76 miles northeast of Crescent City,California, via U.S. 199. The road to the park, Ore. 46, is a narrow, mountainous road withsharp curves. Leave trailers at the Illinois Valley Visitor enter or at the Grayback Campgroundin Siskiyou National Forest.
In the park accommodations and food are available at The Chateau, a six-story hotel withindining room, soda fountain, and coffee shop. It was completed in 1934 and is an excellentexample of how buildings can blend in with nature through the use of local materials. It hasbeen listed on the National Register of Historic laces. The Chateau operates from mid-June toearly September. For information or reservations, visit www.oregoncavesoutfitters.com (phone: 541-592-3400; e-mail: email@example.com) or write: Oregon Caves Outfitters, 20000 Caves Highway, Cave Junction, OR 97523.
Camping - There is no campground in the park. The Forest Service, however, operatestwo campgrounds in the adjoining Siskiyou National Forest from late-May to mid-September. Grayback and Cave Creek campgrounds are located along Ore. 46.Cave Creek cannot accommodate large vehicles. Neither campground has showers or utilityconnections.
Hiking Trails reach most of the park. They are not maintained during snowy weather.Hiking trails at elevations of 3,800 to 5,500 feet require you to be in good physical condition.Check with park rangers before setting out.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication