One reason that I want to return to Oregon Caves National Monument is to take advantage of their Introduction to Caving tour. Unlike the regular Oregon Caves tour, the Introduction to Caving tour gives people the chance to explore the cave in the true sense of the word. This means using caving gear which will be provided, including a helmet, a headlamp, knee-pads and gloves. During the introduction to caving tour you will learn how to climb and descend over rocky slopes and boulders, crawl on your hands and knees, cross uneven surfaces, and belly slide within the cave. Be warned that you will need to bring an extra change of clothes because you are going to get muddy. It sounds exactly like something that I would love to try.
The tours are offered on Saturdays beginning at 12:30 PM from July 11 through September 5 for $30.00 per person and will take approximately 4 -5 hours total, including instructional time before entering the caves. The Introduction to Caving tours are available on a first-come first-served basis and are strictly limited to six participants. There is a minimum age of 15 years old. Reservations can be made by calling (541) 592–2100 extension 262.
The Introduction to Caving tour will take you to areas within Oregon Caves National Monument which are not accessible on the regular tour. This includes the Snake Room, the South Room, and Marble Crawl. If anyone manages to go on this tour before I do, I would love to hear about your experience, but just from the description of it and the enthusiam that the Park rangers talked about it with me, I’m sure it will be worth every penny.
If you are looking for a unique way to explore Oregon Caves National Monument beyond the regular tour, but not wanting to get dirty with the Introduction to Caving tour, the Candlelight Cave Tour may be the perfect options for you. Instead of the regular lighting within the cave, you will explore Oregon caves how it was explored long ago using a lighted candle in a wooden candle lantern which will be provided to you.
The 2011 summer season when the Candlelight Tours begin (you need to check each season as the candlelight tour days have changed over the years) is from May 28 through September 5. The Candlelight Cave tours are currently tentatively set for the last tour on Friday and Saturday evenings at 6:30 pm. You can call the Oregon Caves visitors center at (541) 592-2100 ext. 2262 to confirm these times.
I think this would be a wonderful way to explore Oregon Caves giving the entire cave tour a completely different perspective and I hope to get a chance to do this soon. I’d love to hear from anyone that has taken this tour and their first hand impressions of it.
When you exit the Exit Tunnel at Oregon Caves National Monument, you have two choices on how to return to the visitor center. The most common way is to take the 0.3 mile paved trail down the mountain back to the visitors center. The other option, which I would recommend, is to take 0.7 mile trail that goes above the cave called the Cliff Nature Trail. The Cliff Nature Trail leads you into him off the wonderland:
Eventually you will emerge from the moss covered trees and hit a ridge which will give you a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and Illinois Valley:
Although the Cliff Nature Trail is more strenuous than taking the paved path back to the visitors center, you should have no problem with it if you made it through the Oregon Caves and you won’t be disappointed with the scenery and views you get to see.
The last part of the Oregon Caves National Monument tour is up a long corridor called the exit tunnel. This is a man made tunnel that is fairly long and doesn’t have much in cave formations to look at:
This doesn’t mean that this part of the cave lacks interest. This is where you may get a chance to see the small bat population which hibernates in Oregon Caves over the winter. Although most bats at Oregon Caves roost under the bark of old-growth trees in the summer, some bats enter the cave during very cold periods. This is probably because their usual roosts under the bark on dead old-growth trees don’t provide enough insulation. There are also a few individual bats which hibernate in Oregon Caves during the winter. I was able to see one of these hibernating bats (although I did not get a photo since I didn’t want to disturb him). The most commonly seen bats at Oregon Caves are Townsend big-eared bats (especially in winter), Yuma bats, and long-eared myotis bats.
Once you exit the cave, you find yourself in a moss covered wonderland above where you entered the cave:
It is then a 0.3 mile hike along a paved path back to the visitors center.
One of the Oregon Cave’s imaginatively named formations is Angel Falls, a calcite flow located in the Ghost Room in Oregon Caves National Monument. When you reach it, you see it glowing in the dark under black lights which makes its fulvic acid-covered lengths of white rock shine an eerie blue (apologies on the photo — my camera did not focus well with the black light — it looked a whole lot better than the photo indicates)
You will then also get a chance to see Angel Falls bright white lengths in regular lighting:
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Exit Tunnel.
When you reach the Ghost Room, you will first go to one side where there is a long staircase that will take you up to Paradise Lost:
Before going up these stairs, the cave tour guide will explain that the room is still actively growing and quite wet with a lot of dripping water. You will then be told that if you don’t want to get wet, your shouldn’t go. Even if you don’t like getting wet, GO! Seriously. You won’t regret it. The Paradise Lost formation is a pretty incredible sight to see and even if you get a bit wet, you won’t regret seeing it:
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Angel Falls.
At the bottom of the Spiral Stairs in the Oregon Caves National Park is the cave formation named the Grand Column. Columns are formed when stalactites (formed from the cave ceiling) and stalagmites (formed from the cave floor) connect together.
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Paradise Lost.
Spiral stairs is a spot in Oregon Caves National Monument where water once leaked in through an opening from above ground. Above the spiral stairs is what remains of the opening (no closed) where the dripping water created flow stones with bacon strips around the edges of the shaft:
When looking down, the shaft doesn’t end, but continues to a level below. That shaft that now holds a spiral staircase to get to a lower level of the cave which you must descend to see other parts of Oregon Caves:
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Grand Column.
One of the many highlights of Oregon Caves National Monument is the flow stone formation named Niagara Falls. As might be guessed, the cave formation gets its name because the flow stone resembles Niagara Falls:
While the formation is beautiful, it also is a testament to what happens when caves aren’t protected. As you look at the bottom of Niagara Falls, you can see that many of the tips o the formation have been broken off and taken as souvenirs:
When you learn that it takes 100 years for one of these to grow the length of the tip of your pinky finger, you realise that the damage done erased tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of years of work, and it puts into perspective the important work that the National Park system does to keep these beautiful places intact for later generations to see.
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Spiral Stairs.
Oregon Caves National Monument is one of the few marble caves in the world (only about 5% of all caves are marble caves) having been created when acidic rainwater dissolved the surrounding marble. In fact, Oregon Caves has long been known as the “Marble Halls of Oregon.” As you walk through the caves, you can see the marble in the cave walls and this is especially evident when you reach the Dry Room
The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Niagara Falls.