|About the Site|
|Oregon Caves National Monument|
Oregon Caves is one of three national parks or monuments in the state of Oregon. Located in the extreme southwestern portion of the state in the Siskiyou Mountains, the park features reknowned limestone caves, beautiful forested mountains, and historic architecture. At 488 acres, it is one of the smallest natural areas administered by the National Park Service.
One of the most charming features of the monument is its remoteness. The monument can be reached only by a twisting 19-mile drive from the town of Cave Junction, which itself is a ways from the southern Oregon town of Grants Pass. Although the monument itself is small, it is surrounded by beautiful forest land and the monument itself contains old growth coniferous forest.
The caves themselves were discovered by Elijah Davidson in 1874 when he followed his dog Bruno who chased a bear into an opening in the ground. In the following years the newly discovered caves were visited by a number of individuals. In 1907 these visitors included "poet of the Sierras" Joaquin Miller, who dubbed the caves the "Marble Halls of Oregon." The popularity of the site was confirmed in 1909 when president William Taft created the Oregon Caves National Monument.
In 1922, the automobile road up the side of the mountain to the monument was created, greatly increasing accessiblity. The Chateau was built in 1934.
The centerpiece of the monument is the caves themselves. Formed by groundwater dissolving marble bedrock, the passageways lead through tight tunnels and large, magnificent rooms featuring stalagmites, stalactites, and other formations.
Cave tours are available which lead from the cave entrance in the building complex up to the exit higher on the mountain. The cave exit and the trail which leads from that point back to the Chateau complex are pictured below.
Years of visitors, tours, and enhancements in accessiblity have taken their toll on the cave. Beginning in 1985, a major restoration effort was undertaken, including removal of artificial walkways and large amounts of rubble which had been deposited in the cave.
Although the monument is most well known for its famous caves, the architecture is equally noteworthy. Near the entrance to the cave is a complex of three buildings--the Oregon Caves Chateau, the Chalet, and the Guide Shack. This area is situated at approximately 4000 feet, and is particularly scenic in the winter when it receives an average yearly snowfall of 14 feet.
In the first picture below the rear (uphill) portion of the Chateau can be seen. Built of wood in the Swiss alpine style of architecture, this building is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. The six story structure contains a hotel, dining room, coffee shop, and additional facilities for employees of the Oregon Caves Company, the private concessionaire which runs the hotel and cave guide service.
A small stream called Cave Creek runs out from the cave and through the building complex. Below, on the left is the position near where it leaves the cave; on the right is a view of the fish pond and the creek (on the left) cascading into it.
The fish pond sits directly outside the coffee shop at the Chateau. It is drained by Cave Creek which actually runs right through the dining room in the Chateau, eventually running down the mountain toward the Illinois Valley. On the right, the road into the building complex at the monument is shown, with the Chalet in the background.
The picture below provides a closer look at the front portion of the Chalet. This building contains a gift shop (in the lower right hand portion of the picture), a cave tour registration counter, as well as lodging facilities for female employees of the monument on the second and third floors.
A portion of the back of the Chalet can be seen below. This view looks through the arch of the building down towards the Chateau, seen in the background. The picture is taken from a postion where Big Tree Trail leads away from the building complex.
Oregon Caves National Monument is located in a scenic and beautiful area in the Siskiyou Mountains. The building complex is situated on the side of Mt. Elijah; there is little flat land on the monument itself. An impression of this setting can be seen below. The building at the top is the Guide Shack where male concessionaire employees live during the summer months. The larger building whose roof can be seen in the bottom portion of the picture is the Chateau, pictured above.
After the caves and the historic buildings, the third attraction at Oregon Caves is the scenic wilderness which surrounds the monument. Beautiful views of the heavily forested Siskiyou mountains can be obtained in a number of places. The picture below, showing a northwestern facing view of the Siskiyous, was taken at the cave exist.
The steepness of the slopes which surround the building complex can be appreciated in the two pictures below. Both look southwest across the complex area. In the picture on the left some of the clearcutting which has been done in Oregon forests can be seen on the mountain in the background.
The monument area around the caves is surrounded by ancient forests which tower above the buildings, as can be seen below.
The beauty of the monument lands can best be appreciated by hiking on one of several trails. One of the most popular is Big Tree Trail, which can be hiked as a loop up the mountain and back. The trail is fairly steep and strenuous but provides beautiful views of the monument area. A view of this trail can be seen below.
The trail leads across the mountain well above the monument's complex of buildings. In some places breaks in the trees allow beautiful views of the mountains and valleys, as in the picture on the left below. In other places the trail leads through beautiful meadows, as on the right.
The trail runs through forests containing a variety of species of trees. Below a grove of cedars lies next to the trail.
The meadows along the trail also contain a variety of plants and wildflowers, some of which can be seen in the picture below.
The highlight of Big Tree Trail is, not surprisingly, Big Tree. This specimen, pictured below, is the largest Douglas fir tree in the state of Oregon. Estimated to be somewhere between 1200 and 1500 years old, it has a circumference of 41 feet 3 inches, is 13 geet 1 inch in diameter, and is 160 feet high.
The animal which most visitors to the monument would probably remember is the golden mantle ground squirrel. These feisty little creatures scamper around the entrance to the cave, hoping people waiting for a tour will drop some food or give them a handout. Handouts to wild animals are prohibited by National Park Service rules at Oregon Caves and other national parks and monuments.
On the left below is another shot of a ground squirrel, while on the right is a picture of the animal with which it is often confused, the chipmunk. The presence of stripes on the face indicates its species.
There are a number of birds around the monument as well. The bird below perched on a pole is a stellar's jay.
The monument area is also full of many varieties of wildflowers and other plants. On the left below is a moss covered rock, a common sight in the shady, moist forested parts of the monument. On the right is pink (or coast) rhododendron.
More wildflowers can be seen below. On the far right is subalpine lupine (bluebonnet), commonly seen throughout the western national parks. It's actually a member of the pea family.
Below is a closeup of another wildflower, the columbia tiger lily, also known as the Oregon lily.
On the left below is what appears to be Sitka valerian. The red flowers on the right are red or Sitka columbine
Oregon Caves References
Information about Oregon Caves National Monument has been drawn from personal experience, data available in the park itself, and a number of other sources, including:
- Manning, Harvey, Spring, Bob, & Spring, Ira. Mountain Flowers of the Cascades and Olympics. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1979.
- National Geographic's Guide to the National Parks of the United States.. National Geographic Society, 1992.
- The National Parks: Index 1993. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1993.
- Oregon Caves. Portland, OR: J & H. Sales Co.
- Oregon Caves Underworld, 1, 1995.