Mmm, Cave Bacon: The Oregon Caves

Smith River, northern California

Smith River, northern California

Smith River is right along the California and Oregon border near the coast, along the Redwoods Highway.  The river corridor is a worthy spot to hang out, go fishing, rafting, hiking or pursue other outdoor options. We happened by there last weekend on our way back from California and enjoyed a brief sojourn.

The real destination for the day, however, was Oregon Caves National Monument, a gem hidden in the mountains of Southwest Oregon.  This is not a place you will stumble across.  The windy dead-end access road ensures that.  The trouble to get there, however, is well worth it.  The lodge itself, sided with the bark of Port Orford Cedars, feels like a mix of Timberline Lodge and a funky old lake resort.  It was cool enough that we actually debated spending the night even though we were running late on our trip.

The lodge at Oregon Caves National Monument

The lodge at Oregon Caves National Monument

When we got arrived at the lodge in the early afternoon, we realized we’d have to sign up for a tour.  We also realized that our faithful pup Jackie Chan couldn’t go in the cave.  There are too many steep stairs and even some that should be called ladders.  First, we had lunch in a vintage café in the basement of the lodge whose specialty seemed to be milkshakes.

I dashed out for the ninety minute tour with Ranger Mike and fourteen other tourists while Denise and Jackie took a hike around the cave and along the rocky ridge above.  It was a great place to explore.  The forest is more diverse than Northern Oregon Forests.

Denise and Jackie outside the lodge. The main cave entrance is right above them.

Denise and Jackie outside the lodge. The main cave entrance is right above them.

The cave had many of the classic features or cave decorations such as stalactites and stalagmites, columns, cave bacon, flowstone, and moonmilk. Hungry yet?  Apparently the latter can actually be eaten, since it’s bacteria.  Its form roughly approximates cottage cheese.

IMG_7404

Nice little column. Notice how the dripping formed an almost conical base.

The vaguely V-shaped whitish object in the middle is cave cottage cheese.

The vaguely V-or heart shaped whitish object in the middle is moonmilk.

I love the dark color of the marble coming through

I love the dark color of the marble coming through

The tour of the cave was well worth my time.   I was pleased that I remembered some geological features and was able to answer some of the ranger’s questions.   Caves are pretty amazing.  Just don’t try it without a light.  There were some big holes and tight places, and it would be easy to get in trouble quickly.

Funky formations.  Drapery, I believe it's called.

Mmm.  Cave bacon.  You’ll lose a tooth if you take a bite.

One of the most amazing sights was the formation where people had inscribed their autographs back in the 19th century. The group included the prominent  Thomas Condon, the first geology professor at the University of Oregon.  It surprised me that a scientist would leave his mark on nature like that, but it was a different time.  They didn’t even have Twitter (gasp!), so here was his version for later travelers.  The amazing part is the natural lamination that has occurred.  Mineral layers keep accruing.  Decades later, park rangers attempted to erase the writing, to no avail.  The formation continues to grow over Condon’s writing even as you can still see his words.

Autograph spot.  Weird that geological forces have lacquered over the autograph so you can see it, but not touch it.

Autograph spot. Weird that geological forces have lacquered over the autograph so you can see it, but not touch it.

It is funny  to think that a 19th century hunter who found the cave went into it without a flashlight while trying to save his dog from a bear.  You have to respect a guy who will go that far for his pooch.  Right, Jackie?  The Oregon Caves was a great destination.  The tour offered great geology lessons, and the area itself was a nice place to relax before the final leg of our journey home.

Jackie chilling in the lodge with the resident bear

Jackie chilling in the lodge with the resident bear

About Josh Baker

"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ― John Muir

Posted on September 14, 2013, in Adventure, Caves, General Hiking, Mountains, Outdoors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thanx – I’ve had to add this to the growing list of places I want to visit. You’re not helping me keep that list short!

  2. I’ve been here and it is very cool…..I actually thought inside the cave would be a great place for a wedding….so glad you had the chance to explore this wonder of Oregon.

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