Community Gems: An Underground Adventure

Explore the Oregon Caves!

Have you ever wanted to explore a mysterious cavern? The Oregon Caves are one of the most popular attractions in Josephine County, and are one of four national monuments in the state. Of these monuments, which include the Cascade-Siskiyou Monument, the John Day Fossil Beds Monument, and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the Oregon Caves were the first to be officially recognized, earning their protected status in 1909 by President Taft. Tourists and expert spelunkers flock from all over the country to wind their way through miles of dark cave tunnels beneath Southwestern Oregon. And of course, hundreds of daily tourists mean business for the city of Cave Junction. Cave Junction, home to nearly 2,000 residents and possibly Bigfoot, has been recognized by most of the nation as the “Gateway to the Oregon Caves.” Thirty-nine years after the caves received monument status, Cave Junction became an incorporated city, and since that time, it’s been welcoming tourists far and wide. If you’ve ever been on a visit to these rare marble solution tunnels (formed by underground water and naturally occurring acids), you’ll agree: the Oregon Caves are a unique and exciting adventure.

Currently, the Oregon Caves are offering a selection of tours to choose from: ranging from intense off-trail caving tours, to kid-friendly activities. For the wild at heart, the challenging Off-Trail Tour takes agile visitors over boulders, under low ceilings, and even requires cavers to belly-crawl through squeezes as small as 11 inches high by 19 inches wide. If that’s not your cup of tea, the Discovery Tour and the Candlelight Tour are both more doable, though still moderately strenuous adventures. The Kids and Family Tour is intended for younger visitors, though children must be able to walk through the caves on their own, due to narrow passageways and low ceilings that prevent visitors from carrying children. Even if you choose not to go into the caves themselves, the visitors’ center offers a variety of exhibits and educational information for anyone curious about the area’s rich social and natural history.

Even the rivers in the national park are congressionally recognized, such as the River Styx, which became the first totally underground stream to be added to the protected list of Wild and Scenic River Systems in 2014. This hidden river continues to enlarge the Oregon Caves from below the surface. Because the caves are solution (also known as dissolution) caves, they are formed from acids in this river that later evaporate. In addition to the river systems, a wide assortment of animal species live around the Oregon Caves, including amphibians, birds, and mammals, like the cave bats that are susceptible to White-nose syndrome (which is why the Oregon caves doesn’t allow visitors to wear gear that has been worn in other possibly-contaminated caving spaces).

During the summer months, the tranquil Illinois Valley comes alive with explorers, thanks to the steady call of the underground caves. The end of March marks the beginning of spring season, and tours of these fascinating caves opened up to five days a week. Beginning in May, tours run daily (check the website for official dates and times). When the cold weather begins to set back in, the caves revert to the spring/fall schedule, and then close down for the winter in November. So if you’re planning on getting in some spelunking and seeing these natural wonders for yourself, don’t wait: head out to Cave Junction right now!

 

Additional Sources:

City of Cave Junction. (2018). “Welcome to Cave Junction.” Website: https://www.cavejunctionoregon.us/content/welcome-cave-junction

National Park Service. (2020). “Oregon Caves.” Website: https://www.nps.gov/orca/index.htm

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