Some of the best Oregon travel experiences happen at places that offer teachable moments through touchable history.
You'll discover plenty of history lessons that are both above-and-below ground level at the Oregon Caves National Monument.
When you trek inside “Mt Elijah” at the Oregon Caves National Monument, you must go through a locked gate, and it's just the other side of the gate that you discover a national parkland unlike any you’ve visited before.
“Imagine what it may have been like here in the 1870’s,” said NPS Park Ranger Sandy Gladish. “Elijah Davidson went into this cave to rescue his dog named Bruno. He thought the dog was in trouble because it had chased a bear into the darkness. So, Elijah did too and that’s how Oregon Caves was discovered.”
The half-mile long trail thru the Oregon Caves offers shadowy glimpses into a timeless world of mystery and adventure.
Park rangers like Sandy Gladish can teach you much about the place that - despite its century old national designation - remains surprisingly foreign to many visitors.
“It’s called 'Oregon Caves' because early explorers thought there were a lot of caves here,” noted Gladish. “The name just stuck even though there’s but one cave.”
“Visitors tend to think the cave is all there is but there’s a lot more – in the monument and the area around us,” added George Herring, the NPS Monument’s Chief Interpreter.
He said that the 480-acre national parkland – established in 1909 - offers miles of trails with stunning scenery of mountains, creeks and waterfalls.
“It really is an opportunity for folks to explore their own Oregon backyard and discover geologic complexity that parallels any other place on the planet. You also learn that a little bit of intellectual curiosity can go a long way toward experiencing a very different world.”
The adjacent “Chateau at the Oregon Caves” provides a base camp to launch your adventures. It is a five story wooden lodge built of locally milled lumber, plus massive hand hewn doug fir posts and beams.
The Chateau at the Oregon Caves opened to the public in 1934 and the lodge’s rustic simplicity (surprisingly, there are only 23 spacious rooms) provides a warm setting supported by down home family comfort that’s based upon a simple idea:
“It is a cool cave with a warm hearth,” chuckled Menno Kraai, the Chateau’s General Manager.
“When you walk in the lobby, see a fire in the fireplace and then gaze up to the large fir beams and posts, it all says Oregon!”
There are few distractions at the Chateau – no phones, radios or TV contribute to a sense of isolation, but that’s a good thing. The lack of distractions offers a wonderful chance to reconnect with your family or friends. It makes the time at Oregon Caves more fulfilling.
The Chateau also offers a super cool Oregon Caves Coffee Shop that will make you feel right at home.
“Our counter is like a huge S-shaped serving tray,” noted Laura Empems, the Chateau’s Hospitality Manager. “Each person can be served from behind the long counter – plus the knotty pine paneling adds up to an experience that’s a bit like stepping back in time. People love that – and they love the milkshakes too.”
Back down in the Oregon Caves, the temperature is a constant 44-degrees, so be sure you are prepared with a jacket, cap and comfortable shoes when you join the 90-minute tour.
Don’t forget a camera to capture stunning stalactites that drop from above and stalagmites that reach to the roof.
“These form drip by drip by drip, noted Gladish. “They can take anywhere from a hundred to a thousand years to grow just an inch.”
“The true adventure is coming up the highway, letting go of the present and spending time in the past,” added Herring. “You will relax here – nature doesn’t give you any choice!”