If you are looking for a refreshing way to beat summer’s sweltering heat and you want to learn something new about Oregon, we may have found what you’re looking for at a place that’s more akin to a walk-in cooler. Head to Central Oregon’s volcanic landscape and explore the amazing Skeleton Cave near Bend.
Central Oregon’s High Cascades Mountains provide recreation heaven on earth with snow-capped peaks, deep green forests and inviting pockets of ponds, lakes and grassy meadows. Closer to ground, discover that it is countryside born of fire and where more than 400 buttes or cinder cones dot the landscape from a time when volcanoes were kings of the high desert landscape.
Nearly 7,000 years ago, volcanic lava exploded into the air, oozed across the ground or traveled underground for several miles around the Newberry Crater National Monument. The above-ground evidence is obvious at places like the Lava Lands Visitor Center near Bend, but if you want a firsthand and personalized tour of the underground volcanic system, Wanderlust Tours will provide you a helmet, a headlamp and an expert guide like Courtney Braun.
Braun will teach you much about a fascinating world that is hiding in plain sight. Courtney led our small party a short distance from the parking area to discover that a hike inside Skeleton Cave is perfect for the curious. “We enter a tube of lava that is more than forty miles from the Newberry Volcano,” noted Braun. “The lava flowed from there through here and it created this huge tunnel several thousand years ago. The river of lava flowed, then emptied and left behind this hollow tunnel.”
Skeleton Cave is nearly 2900 feet long and drops 100 feet across that distance. It is also a constant 44-F. And what about that name “Skeleton Cave’? It’s based on varied animal bones that were discovered inside nearly a century ago. “Varied animals became trapped inside – including a horse and a giant bear, said Braun. “The bear was 20 percent bigger than any bear that lives today and its bones ended up in the Smithsonian back in the 1930s.”
Access into Skeleton Cave is gated from the general public use. Wanderlust Tours currently holds the concession from the US Forest Service to run tours beginning May 1 and through the summer season. The access is limited because of damage to the cave interior, and was implemented several years ago to protect the fragile environment that gets pitch black in a heartbeat.
Doug and Bernice Hein and their three grandsons joined the adventure and each of them seemed comfortable with the caving experience. Doug Hein noted that the youngsters felt right at home. “Plus, it’s an intriguing and mysterious world,” added Bernice. “It is such a good learning experience for them too.”
It is eerie excitement to be sure – best enjoyed on a guided tour – which take place daily and will teach you much about a unique chapter in Oregon’s past.
“It is a part of history,” added Bernice Hein. “And we’re not able to participate in that very often so this is a great opportunity.”
about 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.
In this Grant’s Getaway
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