Oregon Caves National Monument

We’d slept well after our dinner in the Dining Room of the Chateau at the Oregon Caves and woke ready for the final hikes of our vacation. We had reserved tickets for the 10am cave tour so we had plenty of time to eat breakfast at the cafe, explore a little of the historic district, and work on the puzzle sitting out in the Chateau’s lobby.
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We checked in at the Visitor Information Center at 9:30 and picked up our tickets. The cave tours are limited in size to 15 people and can fill up quickly during the busy summer months, but on this day there would only be 8 of us on the tour. Like the rest of the Siskiyou Mountains the area began as part of the Pacific Ocean seafloor that was later lifted by the North American Plate as it scrapped over the ocean bottom. The Oregon Caves are mostly made up of marble which was formed by the “skeletons” of marine organisms. Later the caves formed as rainwater from the ancient forest above dissolved the surrounding marble and created a special marble cave system.

The tour was led by a ranger who let us know that bats had begun to settle into the cave for the coming winter months and not to use camera flashes where bats were present. We passed several small bats near the entrance to the cave clinging to the rocks.
Bat above the path toward the right hand side of the picture.
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Harvester spider in the gray triangle (upper left) and a bat directly ahead and above.
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Lights in the cave made it possible to get some pictures without needing a flash so I experimented with and without using one with varying degrees of success.
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Our favorite part of the tour was a side trip up to a room called Paradise Lost which is only part of the tour when time allows. Luckily we were making good time and the ranger led us up the stairs and into the room.
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Near the cave exit we were asked if anyone was deathly afraid of spiders. Harvester spiders had also begun moving into the cave and forming clumps on the walls and ceiling.
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The tour lasts 90 minutes and covers about a mile including the .3 mile walk back down to the Visitor Center after exiting the cave.
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In addition to the cave tour the monument offers a number of other hiking opportunities and we planned on checking out the Big Tree Loop before leaving.
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The highlight of the Big Tree Loop is a 14′ diameter Douglas Fir, the widest known to exist in Oregon. The trail gains a good deal of elevation over a fairly short distance making it a moderate hike.
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As we climbed through the forest we spotted several birds including an owl that silently flew by and landed in a tree ahead of us.
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Big Tree may not have been as large as some of the redwoods we’d seen at the beginning of our vacation but it’s size was more emphasized due to the much smaller surrounding trees.
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After a little more climbing we began descending back down toward the Visitor Center. Just over 1.5 miles from Big Tree we arrived at a junction with the Cliff Nature Trail.
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We faced the choice of turning right and ending our hike back at the Visitor Center in .3 miles or taking the Cliff nature Trail .4 miles past a viewpoint and then down to the Cave Exit for the additional .3 miles to the parking area. We chose the nature trail. 🙂

We climbed to the viewpoint and discovered we were not alone.
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We were nearing the end of our trip and we’d seen an amazing variety of animals during the 7 days, but one we had not seen was any black-tail deer. We had expected to see at least one in the Red Buttes Wilderness but had not and we hadn’t even seen one while driving to our various destinations. As we were coming down the paved path from the cave exit for the second time at a switchback there stood a deer.
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It had taken over 80 miles of hiking but there in the last quarter mile were two black-tail deer. They looked up at us and then went back to grazing as we passed by.
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We headed home both tired and refreshed. It had been a wonderful trip full of unique sights and beautiful scenery and was a perfect way to wrap up our main hiking season for 2015. We’ll scale back to one a hike month for a while so Heather can focus on her running and I can work on next years adventures. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157660617381321

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