Kelso Depot Jail Mojave National Preserve

When you visit Mojave National Preserve (CA), it makes sense to stop by the Kelso Depot Visitors Center to get information on all the different places and activities at Mojave National Preserve. As you walk from the visitor center parking lot toward the visitors center, you will see a couple of fairly low tan cages sitting out in front of the train tracks. When you first see them, you will likely wonder “what the hell are those things?” and eventually assume they are some type of animal cage. In reality, these “cages” were at one time the Kelso Depot jail:

The Kelso Depot jail cages Mojave National Preserve

The two stalled jail was made out of metal strapping. When it was actually in use, a shade roof was built over the jail with corrugated tin walls added around the cage at a later date. The jail arrived at Kelso Depot in about 1944 which was a time when Kelso depot had a large number of drunk men wandering around from both the Kaiser (Vulcan) mine and Union Pacific railroad. The jail was mainly used to house these drunkards.

This must have been a pretty miserable place to be locked up, especially since the jail is less than 6 feet high. I’m not sure if the roof and tin walls would have helped relieve the heat or only add too it, but it certainly would not be a place that anyone would want to wake up with a hang-over.

Intro To Caving Tour Oregon Caves

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.

Candlelight Cave Tour Oregon Caves

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.

Cliff Nature Trail Oregon Caves

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:

Moss covered tree at Oregon Caves National Monument

Moss covered rocks at Oregon Caves National Monument

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:

The view at the top of Cliff Nature Train at Oregon Caves National Monument

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.

Exit Tunnel Oregon Caves

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:

The exit tunnel for Oregon Caves National Monument

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:

Exit view from Oregon Caves National Monument

It is then a 0.3 mile hike along a paved path back to the visitors center.

Angel Falls Oregon Caves

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)

Angel Falls under black light at Oregon Caves National Monument

You will then also get a chance to see Angel Falls bright white lengths in regular lighting:

Angel Falls in the Ghost Room at Oregon Caves National Monument

The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Exit Tunnel.

Paradise Lost Oregon Caves

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:

Stairs leading up to Paradise Lost at Oregon Caves National Monument

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:

Paradise Lost cave formation at Oregon Caves National Monument

The Paradise Lost cave formation at Oregon Caves

Close-up of Paradise Lost at Oregon Caves

The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Angel Falls.

National Parks Free Days 2011 & 2012

One of the great things about National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Preserves, National Seashores and National Lakes is that several times a year the ones that charge entrance fees offer free access days. The National Parks free days for 2011 are as follows:

Snow covered Bryce Canyon National Park in winter

January 15 – 17 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday weekend)

April 16 – 24 (National Park Week)

June 21 (The first day of summer)

September 24 (Public Lands Day)

November 11 – 13 (Veterans Day weekend)

The 2011 free National Parks days are good for entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees, but do not apply to other fees such as reservation fees, camping fees, tour fees, or concession fees. While national Parks are already a great value, National Parks free days make them even more so.

The 2012 National Parks free days have also been announced and as expected, they are quite similar to the 2011 free National Parks days with the main difference being the June fee free day which in 2011 was the first day of summer, but in 2012 will be on Get Outdoors Day in June.

January 14 – 16 (Martin Luther King Jr. weekend)

April 21 – 29 (National Park Week)

June 9 (Get Outdoors Day)

September 29 (National Public Lands Day)

Nov. 10 – 12 (Veterans Day weekend)

Grand Column Oregon Caves

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.

Grand Column at bottom of Spiral Staircase Oregon Caves

The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Paradise Lost.

Spiral Stairs Oregon Caves

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:

Ceiling above the spiral staircase Oregon Caves

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:

Spiral Staircase in Oregon Caves National Monument

The next stop on the Oregon Caves tour is at the Grand Column.