The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

Go spelunking! Exploring Central Oregon caves

One of the great things about Bend is how many awesome things we have to do outside. If you are looking for an afternoon of adventure, grab a headlamp, muster your courage, bring your dog or drag a friend off their Facebook page and head south. China Hat road is the key to some underappreciated natural wonders of Central Oregon. Natural caves called “lava tubes” were formed by the eruption of Mount Newberry. So if you are an outdoorsy type looking to add to your local knowledge and outdoorsy resume, then this is the place to start.

1. Boyd Cave
Boyd Cave is the first on the list and is about a 1,900 feet long cave located roughly 12 miles from Bend. Be sure to bring your hiking boots. Scrambling over jagged lava rocks is going to be a requisite to get to the nicer areas of this cave. For the brave, there are several crawl spaces to explore here as well. My own fear of enclosed spaces has kept me from braving the narrow passages, but on the other side there is more cave to explore. Who knows what adventure you may find.

2. Skeleton Cave
Skeleton Cave was creatively named this when the first explorers who stumbled upon it discovered the fossilized remains of an ancient bear species from the Pleistocene era. It was identified as Equus Niobrarensis, according to a 1940 article in the Bend Bulletin. The remains were from a bear one third larger than a Polar Bear, which is the largest species of bear alive today. They are similar in size to a Grizzly Bear, which means it was a gigantic specimen.

The entrance to the cave is merely a collapsed portion of lava tube that created surface access. While people used to walk in at will, tours are now only available by appointment. This is to protect the bat species that uses the cave to survive the winter. It is well worth the wait if you decide to go. The floor is flat, and as far as caving goes, this is as close as a person will get to an afternoon stroll at the park, if that park took you several meters underground.

3. Arnold Ice Cave
This was the source of ice for Bend, back during the logging era long before refrigeration was available. If you have been near downtown then you may have seen the old Delaware Ice Company building. They used to make their own ice to sell, but prior to that, ice was cut from the cave and brought into town to sell. The cave itself collected underground water and due to it being underground, had residual ice formations that lasted most of the year. Prior to refrigeration, ice was a precious commodity and the locals got to enjoy ice cold beverages in a time where that wasn’t really a thing. Prior to about 2008, the entrance to the cave was completely sealed by ice. Whatever one’s stance is on climate change, the fact that we can now actually go inside this cave is absolutely awesome.

4. Pictograph Cave
Less well marked, this cave is a must see for anyone interested in local Native American history. The entrance is not well marked, so some research or a local guide might be needed, but it is well worth the effort. Looking across the horizon, all one sees is a step ladder that goes over a barbed wire fence. As one crosses it, another skylight appears as the collapsed entrance of another lava tube. While the cave itself is quite worth exploring, the real intrigue is at the surface. You’ve probably already guessed that the entrance is marked by Native American drawings called pictographs. While this cave takes a little exploring to find, it is well worth the effort to beat the crowds and get a true time travel moment as one gazes at the doodles and thoughts of people that lived here long before us.

Photo by Benjamin Enyart

That is my list of personal favorites, but there are many more waiting to be explored. The Lava River Cave is the most visited at the Lava Lands on the way to Sunriver. Wind cave is another local favorite. One must be part mountain goat to get past the entrance, but that is just a crowd deterrent and provides opportunity for crowd free caving. Derrick Cave, the Redmond caves and Bat cave are some others of notable interest.

As with all natural wonders, be prepared. Take some food, water and a flashlight. The caves are mostly open and airy, so even for those prone to claustrophobia, there is little chance of that in these natural wonders. Remember to be respectful and leave the caves as nice or nicer than you find them. Most people don’t litter, but picking up the occasional dropped item and depositing it in a trash bin keeps things nice for those who come after us. 

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