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!
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.
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?