Some of the best travel experiences across Oregon happen at places that offer teachable moments through touchable history. This week we visit an iconic site in southwest Oregon that will put you in touch with geologic history that reaches back 250 million years.
It’s an above and below ground adventures at the Oregon Caves National Monument. When you trek inside “Mt Elijah” at the Oregon Caves National Monument, you must go through a locked gate. It’s just the other side of that gate that you discover it’s a national park land unlike any you’ve visited before.
The half-mile long trail thru the Oregon Caves offers shadowy glimpses into a timeless world of mystery and adventure. Park rangers like Sandy Gladish can teach you much about the place that – despite its century old national designation – remains surprisingly foreign to many visitors.
“It’s called “Oregon Caves” because early explorers thought there were a lot of caves here,” noted Gladish. “The name just stuck even though there’s but one cave.”
“Visitors tend to think the cave is all there is but there’s a lot more – in the monument and the area around us,” added George Herring, the NPS Monument’s Chief Interpreter. He said that the 480-acre national parkland – established in 1909 – offers miles of trails with stunning scenery of mountains, creeks and waterfalls.
The adjacent “Chateau at the Oregon Caves” provides a base camp to launch your adventures. It is a five story wooden lodge built of locally milled lumber, plus massive hand hewn doug fir posts and beams.
The Chateau at the Oregon Caves opened to the public in 1934 and the lodge’s rustic simplicity (surprisingly, there are only 23 spacious rooms) provides a warm setting supported by down home family comfort that’s based upon a simple idea:
There are few distractions at the Chateau – no phones, radios or TV contribute to a sense of isolation, but that’s a good thing. The lack of distractions offers a wonderful chance to reconnect with your family or friends that makes the time here so fulfilling.
Back down in the Oregon Caves, the temperature is a constant 44-degrees, so be sure you are prepared for the 90-minute tour with a jacket, cap and comfortable shoes. Don’t forget a camera to capture stunning stalactites that drop from above and stalagmites that reach to the roof.
“These form drip by drip by drip, noted Gladish. “They can take anywhere from a hundred to a thousand years to grow just an inch.”
“The true adventure is coming up the highway, letting go of the present and spending time in the past,” added Herring. “You will relax here – nature doesn’t give you any choice!”
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.