06 May Central Oregon Lava Tubes
Central Oregon is a place that was blasted by numerous volcanic eruptions creating various lava tubes. Unlike the majority of the journals on Pacific Northwander I chose to not disclose the location of this particular cave. Not to preserve it as my secret location, but to protect it from those with malicious intent, those who share the intent of recent vandals. This small lava tube segment hidden in the high desert is not alone either. Many other caves have been heavily vandalized, harming bat populations, and destroying cave ecosystems.
This particular cave is only 250 feet of uncollapsed lava tube that slowly dwindles into a passage too small for anything larger than a blind chipmunk to fit through. The majority of the venture is done climbing down into the depths of this ancient ice mining operation while trying not to trip on the remnants of an old stair case.
So I was stuck in Bend in early spring without anything to have fun in the snow and I really did not want to see the high desert museum or go to the outlets at the old mill sight again. I sat there asking myself, this is Bend, aka the outdoor capital of Oregon, there has to be something else to do, right? There is, they are called lava tubes and they are everywhere. Some are relatively easily accessible like Boyd Cave, and others require going on a tour to see their rocky innards and even others are completely closed down to protect bat populations. This cave is one of the ones that is slightly sketchy, but can be accessed by anyone with two legs and a dream.
Central Oregon’s caves have been on my list for a while and there are tons of others I need to see, but this one has always captivated me. One of the reasons for this is the lack of recent records online of the cave’s current condition. So my friends and I, we decided to go. After a drive into desert near numerous small we turned onto the rocky, rutted road that leads you near the entrance of the caves. After parking and wandering around aimlessly looking for a hole in the ground for longer than I’d like to admit, we discovered the entrance was at the bottom of a depression in the earth. A small trail leads down with rock walls surrounding you to another, smaller hole that goes vanishes into the darkness.
We come up to the edge of this hole and feel cool air meet our faces, but it isn’t cold. There was something wrong, the stairs that old photos had shown in tact were missing along with the ice even the name claims was there. You see, starting back in late 1800’s and going until the 1950’s there was a lucrative ice mining operation that provided Bend with a supply of ice year round. Rubble from the stairs, that men brought their product out on, litters the huge rocks that take you 100 feet deeper into the lava tube. The slick but dry rocks makes you wonder what it’d be like ice skating down to the bottom had there been ice.
After a short scramble and one lost lens cap we make it to the bottom and hurriedly try to find the rumored passage way that had once been iced shut, but are only met with a passage ever decreasing in size. We settle for eating a few granola bars and taking some sweet photos with the aid of our headlamps and then made our way home. All the while though, I couldn’t help but wonder what in the world had happened down here to make these stairs turn to rubble and the ice disappear. I guess that is what makes this cave so memorable, is the mystery, the memories lost along with the ice.