Bruno stopped in his tracks and turned around, surprising his human companion. His nose had caught wind of something interesting, and his legs carried him thither. Elijah Davidson gave up pursuit of the animal they had been hunting and went to see where his dog had gone. Somehow, Bruno had disappeared into the hillside. They were deep in the wilderness of Southern Oregon, and in 1874, it was truly a wilderness. When Elijah realized that Bruno had gone down into a hole in the ground, he went in after, thus discovering an extensive cave system.
Calling out to Bruno, he plunged into the darkness. He had three matches, and he lit them one at a time, going deeper into the cave. By the time he got to the third match he decided he should turn around, but by then it was too late and soon he found himself in total darkness. He kept exploring, hopelessly lost in the pitch dark. But as soon as he heard running water, he made his way towards it and followed it down. After what must have been a taxing journey, Elijah followed the creek all the way to where it exits the mountain, at what is now the main entrance to the Oregon Caves. To his relief, Bruno was there too, having made the same journey through the darkness.
I lived in Southern Oregon for about eight years, and never during that time did I make it out to the Oregon Caves. Just last March I happened to be driving through Cave Junction, and I concluded that it would be inexcusable for me to put it off any longer. So I took the long curvy drive out Highway 46, slowly making my way up the steep roads, dodging patches of snow that the trees had deposited as things melted. A good foot of snow was piled up on the side of the road, but the sun was out and the snow in the trees was melting. The road was somewhat dicey in those last miles, but at least it had been plowed.
I learned upon arrival that the park had only opened for the season three days prior, and opening weekend had been complicated by the late snows. Temperatures on the mountain were still such that the bats had not yet awaken from their hibernation, and a great cluster of them were hanging right near the main entrance. For this reason we didn’t get to take the complete tour, starting instead in a different entry point. The same one that Elijah and Bruno took, actually.
I bought my ticket at the visitors center, where they also gave out attachments that stretched over our shoes called Yetis. We had to walk up the hill a ways to get to the entrance the Yetis came in handy on the icy path.
We entered the cave through a gate that the ranger locked behind us after we were inside. We had about ten people in our tour, and our guide was quite knowledgeable. She told us the story of Elijah Davidson, and many other interesting bits of history regarding the cave. She explained that these caves were unusual insofar as the primary rock through which the caverns wind is marble, not limestone. The calcite deposits from the dripping water with high mineral content cover the massive chunks of marble, making smooth formations like curtains or flowing water.
We stopped at several notable formations such as the Banana Grove and Niagara Falls. The largest room on the tour was the Ghost Room, which was a popular spot for wild parties during the prohibition days. The sound of trickling water echoed off the walls, and the River Styx (the creek that Elijah followed out of the cave) flows gently through the room. Right off this room is a tall chimney tower called Paradise Lost, created when a sink hole broke open during a high water incident, very long ago. After climbing two steep staircases, we arrived at the top where amazing draperies and flowstones stretched out above our heads, far up into the hole above us.
Farther along on the tour we came to a glass box preserving the remains of an animal that died in the caves long before. We all took a guess as to what it was, eventually learning that it was a bear. A few other animal remains had been found, with the most remarkable being the complete remains of a jaguar, an animal that hasn’t lived on this continent since the ice age. It was dated at something like thirty to forty thousand years old. Those remains had been taken out of the cave, of course.
The tour took about an hour and a half, and while there were some low overhangs and steep stairs, it was fairly walkable for just about anyone with general mobility. Concrete paths and subtle lighting make the hike through this magnificent cave quite easy. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people coming down into those dark subterranean chambers one hundred years ago, with only a torch and with no pathway. Talk about guts! In one place you can still see several signatures, some of them dating back to the 1800s. They were done in pencil, but they can’t be removed now, as they have been naturally laminated by the calcite sheen of accruing minerals.
I enjoyed the hike back down to the lodge, through a wintery wonderland. I had to keep watch for falling clumps of snow, which occasionally thumped the ground around me. I returned my Yeti grips and retrieved my things from the locker. No bags allowed into the cave. Thankfully I was at least allowed to take my camera.
I have always been fascinated by caves, and I have many fond memories of my dad taking me to explore unmarked caves around Kentucky, often in very remote places. One adventure stands out in my memory - an epic day of cave exploring with my dad and Ludwig, our dachshund. We went into one cave that had neck deep water and a ceiling just over my head. We had to swim in, and Ludwig swimming along next to us like it was no big deal. Eventually we came to a room with a big beach and a whole bunch of side passages. Who knows how far back some of them went.
We went to a few other caves that day, many of them involving swimming, one with an underground river. We came out of the last cave around sundown, and I remember the walk back to the car was hard, with brush and brambles and a fast pace to beat the dark. At one point we heard a whole bunch of dogs barking not too far away, and my dad stopped to pick up a big stick, just in case. I remember thinking, thank goodness I have a dad to protect me. Not to mention take me to such cool places. Adventuring is in my blood, and it certainly is woven into my background.
I have been on a pretty long spree of traveling, generally publishing more adventure travel material than permaculture and agorism related stories. This is soon to change. More on that in my next post. My thanks to those who have come on this journey with me via these stories, and for those who thirst for more solutions-oriented alternative media, I can assure you that much more of that is to come. Permagora is a work in progress, and it is pretty much a one man operation. I’ve been practicing with different kinds of media for a couple of years now, doing a few interviews and videos about different projects that I visit, mostly putting together photojournalism pieces. I have plans for much more crafted pieces with slicker video production and such, but these things take time, and money.
I am committed to keeping Permagora ad-free, and I would prefer to not have to solicit donations. I took just under a year off from working so that I could produce Permagora full time, but since last fall I have been keeping pretty busy with some money making ventures, traveling a lot, and trying to spend time with my family when I'm home. This has made it difficult to find agorism related stories or visit permaculture sites and ecovillages. So much has been happening in my life that I haven't really been on the computer as much either. This is a good thing, overall, but I am determined to keeping the content coming, as Permagora is just getting started.
So stay tuned for much more! I appreciate all of you, who care enough for our world to want to make it better, and who actively seek out ways to participate in positive endeavors. May we all find our way into a life of peace and abundance!