Oregon Caves National Monument – A Rare Marble Cave!

Did you know that only 5% of the world’s Caves are made of marble?  And we were lucky enough to visit one of them on our trip to Southern Oregon!

One day of our trip was devoted to a visit to the Oregon Caves National Monument.  I have been wanting to visit for a long time, but when we made our way through the area on our California Road Trip in March 2013, it was too early in the year, and the cave tours hadn’t started yet.  And when we passed through on our way home from our California Marathon Road Trip in December 2013, it was too late, and cave tours were done for the year!  Tours run April through October.  This time I was finally going to see it!

I was so excited about our visit to Oregon Caves National Monument!

I was so excited about our visit to Oregon Caves National Monument!

Oregon Caves is actually just one big cave, but they didn’t know that when it was named.  Although the cave was likely known to Native Americans in the area, they didn’t live inside, or really use the cave at all.  It was “discovered” by Elijah Davidson in November 1874, after he chased his beloved bear hunting dog into the cave as the dog was trying to corner a bear.  He found himself plunged into absolute darkness for several hours, and could only hear the sounds of his dog and the bear.  Eventually he found his way back out, and so did the dog, none the worse for the wear.  No word on how the bear made out…

The cave itself is made up of about 15,000 feet of passageways.  The stone was original limestone that formed about 190 million years ago; gradually the limestone metamorphosed to the marble that it is today.  Although the rock is old, the cave itself is thought to be only between 1 and 3 million years old.  I say that like I have any concept of something that is over 1 million years old!

Like many “explorations” of the time period, a cave exploration in the 1890s created a significant amount of destruction, breaking off stalactites and stalagmites, widening passageways by destroying cave formations, and sometimes dynamiting new passageways altogether…  Add to that the numbers of early tourists who wrote their names on the cave.  Ugh…  Fortunately, the carnage mostly stopped in 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt designated the forest around the cave as a National Forest.  On July 12, 1909, Oregon Caves National Monument was protected by President William Howard Taft.

Because of the caves isolated location, only about 1,800 people visited in 1920.  After roads were constructed, tourism increased, but it wasn’t the easiest place to get to.  In 1934, the Oregon Caves Chateau was constructed, a six story, 23 room hotel built into the side of the mountain.  The chateau allowed people to stay at the site, rather than having to travel all the way from Grants Pass to the caves and back in one day.

I'll tell you about our tour in my next post!

I’ll tell you about our tour in my next post!

Even so, Oregon Caves National Monument is still relatively isolated, about an hour from Grants Pass and up a long, winding and often narrow road.  It is 20 miles east of the small town of Cave Junction, Oregon.  The monument is open all year long, but cave tours don’t occur in winter, and the road is occasionally closed due to snow.  As a result, annual visitation is only estimated to be 80,894.  I’ll tell you about our visit and cave tour in my next post!

Have you visited Oregon Caves National Monument?  How did you enjoy your visit?


Coraline loves the Christmas tree.  She loves running under it, running away from it, batting at the ornaments, and lying underneath.  She has mellowed out a bit, as this year there have been no ornament decapitations (knocking on wood now…).

This picture is of Coraline lying underneath the tree, peering out from between the branches.


Coraline peeks from her favorite spot

Coraline peeks from her favorite spot

Christmas will be here before we know it!  Happy Wednesday, Peeps!


Long Weekend Kickoff!

Jon and I prefer vacations with variety, and who doesn’t love a little shopping?  I have to admit, I don’t shop for clothes very often, but I was able to start out our August long weekend with a little shopping at Oregon’s Woodburn Premium Outlet Mall.

Jon and I got a jump start on our vacation by driving down to Woodburn after work on Thursday evening.  Our final destination was Grants Pass, Oregon, so driving to Woodburn allowed us to get more than halfway there.  We stayed at the La Quinta nearby, which is frequently our home base when we go wine tasting in the area.  After getting some breakfast with Jon’s parents (they ended up at the La Quinta too!), we made our way to the Outlet Mall.

The Loft was having a clearance sale and I spent awhile there, exploring the clearance rack and trying on several things.  I made out like a bandit, getting two dresses, several pairs of shorts and tops, and two sweaters.  I topped off my shopping with a new pair of Naturalizer wedge sandals with cork soles, and a cozy Columbia fleece.  Jon found a couple of things for himself as well; a jacket, a long sleeved running shirt, and a new watch.

After the outlet mall, we had a quick lunch at Subway, and then continued on towards Grant’s Pass.  We wanted to stop along the way at a few wineries that we had never tried before, ones that were reasonably close to the freeway.  I found one that was right off the freeway in my Oregon winery book, Sienna Ridge Estate.  The Sienna Ridge tasting room is located in a historic home built in 1906.  Sienna Ridge’s vineyards are also unique, as one of the only individual vineyards to be designated as its own AVA, Red Hill Vineyard.  We made the short detour, only to find it… closed for an event.  Foiled!

Sienna Ridge Estate - Closed!

Sienna Ridge Estate – Closed!

We got back on the freeway for a few more exits while I consulted my book again and decided we would try out Palotai Vineyard and Winery.  Neither of us had ever heard of it before, so we weren’t sure what we would find.  The winery is a tiny little place tucked down at the end of a long gravel driveway with four acres of vineyards on either side.  The tasting area is the front of the wine production facility and warehouse, with a small covered area in the front with barrel tables.

Palotai Vineyard and Winery

Palotai Vineyard and Winery

The server ran us through a tasting of four wines.  I didn’t take notes, but they were all good.  The winery was owned by a Hungarian gentleman who had fled Communist Hungary in the 1980s.  He started out training horses in Sacramento, and then eventually began making wine using European methods. He made small batches of wine that are drinkable right after bottling.

I had their white blend, the Bianca, the 2012 Pinot Noir, the 2012 Dolcetto and the Bull’s Blood – named after a traditional Hungarian wine, it is their most popular wine.  Curiously, the Bull’s Blood was my least favorite, but still pretty decent.  In speaking with the server, we learned that the owner of the winery had decided to pursue other goals, and had recently sold the vineyard.  The plan was for the owner to make one more vintage of wine in fall 2014 for the new owner and the new winery name.  We purchased 4 bottles of Palotai wine, knowing there won’t be more…

We stopped for some groceries and then found our rental for the weekend and got settled in.  The house was huge, with a hot tub and a pool.  We enjoyed a steak and salad dinner on the front patio overlooking the river, and watched the Canada geese flying back home from their daily feeding grounds.  And we got to check out the jet boats on the river!  It was a great end to a wonderful first day of vacation!

Canada Geese Hanging Out on the Rogue River

Canada Geese Hanging Out on the Rogue River

Wine, Water and Caves

What do caves, deep blue lakes and wineries have in common?  We visited each of them on our August long weekend getaway.

Jon and I rented a house with his parents for a long weekend down in Southern Oregon.  Our home away from home was a large house right on the Rogue River in Grants Pass, Oregon, complete with a pool, game room and hot tub.  The home itself was dated, but the location and the amenities made up for that.

We had a wonderful long weekend visiting the Oregon Caves National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, wineries and the historic town of Jacksonville.

I can’t wait to share the details with you in my upcoming posts!

Sometimes You Just Need a Break

Some posts are difficult to write.  A few make the tears come to my eyes as the words come to my fingers.  But in every dark day, there are moments of joy, and I choose to hang on to those.

My father and I visited the Santa Monica Pier in August.  It was the first time that I had ever been.  We had been down in California visiting my Uncle Richard, and one evening, Richard declared that I wasn’t having enough fun on the trip.  He in no uncertain terms told us that we should do some sightseeing that evening – I guess when you are the older brother, you get to make demands like that, even when your younger brother is old enough to have grandchildren.

The Sign at the Top of the Santa Monica Pier

The Sign at the Top of the Santa Monica Pier

Richard sent us on our way with vague instructions about a burger joint on the Santa Monica Pier that had the best burgers in the area.  We will never know if we found the right one, but we each had a fabulous burger at PierBurger, with a homemade beef patty, fries and delicious iced tea.  My dad had a yummy chocolate ice cream cone as a dessert treat.

Perhaps this was the burger place my uncle was talking about?

Perhaps this was the burger place my uncle was talking about?

After dinner, we strolled along the pier, seeing the sights.  Carnival rides, neon lights, souvenir shops, and tons of people, both tourists and locals.  We were lucky enough to be there on a beautiful night when there was a concert, and we were able to stop and listen to the music for a little while.  I purchased a few Route 66 postcards for my collection.  We watched a beautiful sunset, and shook off the stress of the last several days.

The Ferris Wheel at the Pier

The Ferris Wheel at the Pier

The end of Route 66!

The end of Route 66!

The rest of the trip was more somber.  My uncle’s cancer had progressed significantly.  We interacted with a seemingly endless parade of doctors, nurses, social workers, and home health care coordinators.  We checked off the many details of hospice, home health care, home medical equipment and power of attorney.  There were still some opportunities to talk quietly, and we treasured those.  We collapsed into bed each evening, spent.

My uncle died a week after I flew home, with other family members by his side.  I will always be grateful that I had the chance to visit and say my goodbyes, and hopefully make things a little easier for him at the end.  And I will always fondly remember that evening I spent with my dad at the Pier – the most simple of respites when it was desperately needed.  Rest in Peace Richard – you are missed.

A beautiful California sunset

A beautiful California sunset

A Visit to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Imagine for a moment, a farm on a floodplain.  Not a foreign concept, as many farms are located where the land is most fertile.  The Brown Farm was no different.  After establishing the 2300 acre farm on the Nisqually flood plain in the early 1900s, the Browns did what was all too popular at the time; they built a dike.

The Brown Farm Dike got rid of that pesky problem of tidal surge and seasonal flooding, but the consequence was loss of critical salt marsh habitat for fish, birds and marine mammals like harbor seals.  Over 700 acres of estuary were eliminated, and the saltwater remained cut off from the freshwater for over 100 years.

The Browns grew crops, raised dairy cows, poultry and hogs, and prided themselves on a farm that was completely self-sustaining.  For a period of time the farm was successful enough to even have its own box factory onsite.  Unfortunately for the Browns, World War I took its toll on their fortune and Alson Brown was forced to sell the farm to pay his creditors.

The farm then changed hands a couple of times before it was sold to the federal government to create the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.  It wasn’t until 2009 that over four miles of dikes were removed to restore a significant portion of the estuary.

The huge, twin barns of the Brown Farm remain, a visible reminder of the land’s history.  There is a peaceful grassy area there and a few picnic tables for visitors.

The barns speak to the refuge's farming history

The barns speak to the refuge’s farming history

My mother and I visited in mid-July on our way home from an antique show.  Admittedly, it was a terrible time to visit, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the day, on a day when the temperatures were above 90 degrees.  Temperatures that high are rare in Washington, so most of the birds that would normally be there mid-summer were staying hidden in the shade.

Although there wasn’t a lot of action, we did enjoy a walk on the estuary boardwalk, and we found several frogs in the freshwater marsh that were willing to pose for pictures.

The perfect camouflage!

The perfect camouflage!

We also watched a mother duck with her older ducklings foraging for some good eats in the marsh.  They weren’t bothered by the attention.  Plenty of songbirds flitted about, but they were notoriously difficult to capture on camera.

The vegetation is so thick that it coats their feathers!

The vegetation is so thick that it coats their feathers!

We did find a happy colony of wasps making their home within the boardwalk railing, but they weren’t aggressive or flying too near to us.  I took a few pictures, but didn’t want to stick around for too long.

Even wasps make their home on the Refuge

Even wasps make their home on the Refuge

I am hoping to return to Nisqually NWR soon; fall is the best time to see migrating waterfowl, and there are several species of birds of prey there in the winter.  Jon and I actually planned a weekend visit in November, but canceled when the forecast called for super-heavy rain.  I hope there is dry weather for Jon’s next weekend off!

Oscar Flips a Bird

Oscar doesn’t typically get top-billing on my blog, because he is more reclusive than the others.  I can’t blame him really; he was found in a garbage dump as an older kitten and didn’t get much socialization until later.  Jon has a soft spot for lost causes, and when he saw Oscar at the no-kill shelter and heard his story, he brought this pretty, young adult boy home.

Oscar promptly crawled under the bed and spent most of the next year there.  When Jon and I met and married, and blended our kitty family, I think Oscar started to realize that people aren’t quite so scary.  And he learned how to play!  Oscar will probably never be a lap cat, but he does beg for pets, on his own terms.

And if you see him sleeping on the bed, don’t disturb him, or he will give you a dirty look and flip you the bird!

Oscar says, "Don't Mess with Me..."

Oscar says, “Don’t Mess with Me…”