To enter the caves you must go on a ranger led tour. The tours are first come, first serve and the website said to come early in the summer. Since it is about an hour drive, we got up early (for us) and hit the road. The caves are about 20 miles of the main highway and the last part was the usual narrow twisty road gaining 2000 feet in elevation to 4000 feet but at least the road was paved. It was fun for Stuart following all the curves and switchbacks. Turn right, turn left, turn right constantly for 8 miles. Not so fun for Jennie who felt a bit car sick.
Also as usual we didn’t see another car on the road in. Since this was the Sunday of a long weekend I wondered if they were closed but when we got to the parking lot there were about 15 other cars. In the morning the tours run every 30 minutes and we had to wait 25 minutes. When we got out from the tour I estimated there were 150 cars in the lot and people had to wait 3 hours to get on a tour and by then they were running them every 15 minutes.
The tour is about 1 mile long, lasts 90 minutes and 15 people max. They give you a safety briefing and ask if you have been in any other caves recently. There is some bat disease going around and they are trying to stop its spread here. BTW the bats are only in the cave in the winter. The interior of the cave is a constant 7C so it was weird having warm coats walking up to the entrance but it sure was nice once inside.
It was a difficult hike on uneven ground and ceiling, passing through small openings, ascending or descending some 500 steps, looking up and down and all around to see various shapes and textures in the twisting passages finally exiting 4220’ above sea level . We are asked many times not to touch any of the surfaces, except the hand-railings, even to be careful not to allow our clothing to brush anywhere. At one point the light went out (not on purpose) and the guide had to hand out flashlights.
One of the steeper stairways. See the people below.
I took my large flash with me. I think it is the most powerful camera top flash Canon makes and I set it to high. I am sure I blinded some people but I was amazed I could get a decent picture of this large room lit only by the flash. The far wall is at least 80 feet away.
The only problem with the tour was that it was a little rushed and you didn’t get to spend a lot of time at each place. Maybe on a non holiday weekend it would be better.
After the tour we did a short hike to a viewpoint and then back to the Chateau for lunch.
Just last week we watched a PBS documentary on “Great Lodges of the Pacific Northwest”. The episode just happened to be on the lodges at Oregon Caves and Crater Lake (going there next week).
The rustic Chateau is set in a deep ravine with 3 stories showing on one side and 6 on the other. It was opened in 1934 and in mint condition today after being partially destroyed by a mud slide. The exterior siding on all the buildings are russet hued cedar bark with lots of character. The stairs are solid wood as is the panelling on all the walls and most of the furniture.
After lunch we went into the cafe which is also in its original condition, so retro and still serving food, floats, sundaes, etc., so we ordered a banana split.
After consuming all those extra calories, we decided to take another hiking trail. Unfortunately, due to Black Bear sightings, the “No Name” trail had been closed for the day. We ended up on a shorter trail to view interesting plant life.
The Madrone tree has a paper thin, scaly bark that when shed, reveals a mud brown coloured smooth surface, like plastic. Another unusual plant had a little cone flower and small orchid.
It was a tiring day so we left around 4:00 to head home.