Saturday, January 21, 2017

Oregon Caves National Monument

This post is part of my series on the National Park System. One of my goals while the kids are still at home is to visit as many of the National Parks and Monuments in the Western United States as we can.

One of my earliest and favorite vacation memories is from 1984, when we went houseboating on Lake Shasta. While many things were fun, I particularly remember touring Shasta Caverns. I believe it was the first cave I had been in, and it was marvelous. When I revisited the cave later with the kids, it was smaller than I remembered it - although still beautiful.

I never have lost my love for caves. If I find myself in the vicinity of one, I want to go see it. If memory serves, I have been in Shasta, Black Chasm, Moaning, California Cavern, Boyden, Crystal, and Packsaddle here in California, Grand Canyon in Arizona, Natural Bridge in Texas, Tuckaleechee in Tennessee, and now Oregon Caves National Monument.

Oregon Caves is notable for being a fairly wet cave, more like an eastern cave than the sort we get here in California, which may have drips but not usually streams. It also has some crazy stairs, interesting geological formations, and what I consider the most beautiful single room of any cave I have been in.

The geological scale of time that caves represent is always fascinating. Our lifetimes are puffs of vapor compared to the life of a cave, and the larger formations patiently grow over time measured in tens of millennia.

The Monument is rather out in the middle of nowhere, in southwestern Oregon. Fortunately, this means it isn’t all that crowded.

We didn’t do it, but they do a candlelight tour, using vintage-style lanterns. That sounds rather fun.

We only had an afternoon to explore, as we visited while traveling between Redwood National Park and Crater Lake. Had we had more time, we could have done a longer hike. There are miles of trails in the Monument, which sits on the flank of a fairly large mountain. There are mountain lakes which look intriguing, either as a strenuous day hike, or as a backpack.

There is no camping inside the monument, but there is a National Forest campground just outside which appears to be fairly empty during the week, at least. We stayed at a private campground since we needed to do laundry, but if you don’t mind boondocking, the forest campground is beautiful.

The Paradise Lost room, the single most amazing cave room I have been in. Pictures do not do it justice.

A formation called "Cat Stuck in a Chimney."

One of my favorite shots from inside the cave.

 There are a whole lot of stairs in this cave, so they give a warning about heart conditions, etc.

 These millipedes were pretty common in the forest.

There is a lot more to the monument than just the cave. Less than a mile of hiking takes you to this viewpoint to the west.

 Me with a bunch of goofy children.

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