I had heard a whisper of an impressive cave in Southern Oregon. Considering caves are pretty hit-and-miss here, I was interested enough to take a wild shot at finding it.
Part of a series of large rocks, the cave could have been anywhere among the roughly 2.5 miles of ground perimeter. And that doesn't count if the cave was on other rock, which is entirely feasible. This would not be an easy find. This post encompasses 2 trips to the area. And this will be one of the few posts I've put up without any water in it.
This rock area is an ancient volcanic plug, with the volcano long eroded into dust. What is left is a huge rocky area with caves, holes, and all kinds of interesting features.
A fire blew through 15 years ago (from memory). The first trip, I was by myself and it was foggy. The fog added a magical layer of atmosphere that was missing on the second trip.
Drop the light intake and it looks a bit menacing.
Not everything was menacing, however.
This is an enormous rock. Well, series of rocks/small mountains. I headed down between two of the giant rocks without much to go on. I could go left or right and miss it by literally a mile. It would take a week to inspect just the ground of this whole area, let alone up in the rocks.
There is a path through the middle of that and it goes up to the left. One of my future trips will go back in there and see what's up there. Probably nothing, but you just never know up here. That's the beauty and the beast of it.
That small cave at the top right looks accessible but we decided against it on the 2nd trip.
On my solo trip, I ended up at a fork and guessed to go one way instead of the other and saw this:
There are a lot of smallish caves and/or overhangs in the area (I have since discovered). I wasn't sure if this was going to be a small one or not because the mouth looks a little deceiving. I wondered if this was it, honestly feeling a bit disappointed. Until I went inside.
That chunk of hanging rock is doing its best to hide some secrets. Once inside, this is what I turned around to see. This was the cave I was looking for and it's a huge one. By far the largest cave in the North Umpqua Forest (that I've ever heard of, anyway). This may be the largest cave in Southern Oregon other than the famed Oregon Caves. Unfortunately, without really good camera equipment, it may be hard to make out what's actually in the pictures.
The cave is 2 sections, Left and Right. The Right Section is broken up a bit by little benches in the rocks and a path that goes to the very back of the cave. There is also a separate room in it. I'm not being dramatic by calling it a "room", either. Inside the room is a table.
It's literally a table, sitting about waist-high. There are a substantial amount of bones in a few spots throughout the Right Section. In this room, there is the highest concentration of bones. I thought for sure I took a picture of under the table but I cannot find it anywhere. There are many other cave-ish structures in the general area. None have bones like this, so it is definitely an outlier. (The easiest theory is pack rats, but I've been in other caves since then and still seen nothing quite like this. The only thing they seem to be packing is the bones.)
If you were wondering, the stuff on top of that table is this:
The black gunk is a growth common to caves of this type.
To the wall-side of the room is this hole in the wall.
The bottom has been cleared of the larger rocks and is mostly sand or bedrock. It is probably large enough for a couple people to sleep in, as it goes back to the right of this picture about 8'.
Just above the table at head-height is this slit in the wall that leads to the main Right Section of the cave. I've been in this cave 3 times now and each time, I wonder how much of it was manipulated by people. Some of the benches, the slit, the table, on and on: how much was changed to fit human needs? A Native American hunting party using this as a seasonal home and carving meat on the table, then passing it through the slit would be very convenient and would be an amazingly coincidental find if natural.
Here is looking at the slit in the room wall.
Here's Duane Cannon as I come out of the table room. This is a huge cave. We are standing about half of the way into it.
This is the back of the cave. It's hard to make out but there is what looks like a carved seat up against the wall. The first time I was here, I was by myself, lost in thought, feeling the floor beneath me vibrate as I step or re-position my foot. I reached this portion of the cave and had a thought. "I better go because they'll be home any minute." This cave really is like a time machine that takes you back 500-1000 years. I don't think there is any question this was home to Native Americans for a long time.
On the floor of that furthest back area of the cave is this. When most people play with rocks, they almost always build rock cairns. This is just a simple circle (that is admittedly more obvious when there than in the picture). I've been in an uncountable number of locations with rocks and seen an uncountable number of rock cairns, for better or worse. I do not ever remember seeing a rock circle as shown above. I wonder how long this has been there?
There are a few formations that look a lot like benches.
In my best Church Lady voice, "How conveeenient..." I don't think there's any argument that many of the interesting aspects in this cave have been heavily modified by people throughout history.
There are a number of these smaller holes throughout the cave, all mostly clean inside.
I am no geologist but the walls have a lot of stories to tell. There are no petroglyphs on the walls, as there aren't any surfaces smooth enough to maintain the picture.
As difficult as documenting the Right Section of the cave is, documenting the Left Section of the cave is nearly impossible for me. It is mostly one big hole that opens to the Right Section about 15' off the ground. It is not difficult to climb up to the first ledge that sits between the 2 sections. While up there, this ledge is even more visible than from down below:
The ledge is fairly flat and nearly reachable from the first ledge. I've sat and studied how to safely get up there. I know I can get up without much issue. It's getting back down without much issue that is the tricky part.
There is also an interesting "rock blob" up there that you see in the center of the above picture.
Zoomed in on the blob. It appears connected to the rest of the ledge, but that's just a guess.
That orange spot is a small hole that goes back a ways, but is hard to see inside.
This Pacific tree frog was in the Left Section on a lower ledge. It became noticeably suspicious of my intentions. I left once it became agitated.
Okay, I tried... I'm not David Attenborough but I thought the best way to capture this amazing place...would be with a bouncy, clicky video.
This shows the two sections. The rock divider between them runs throughout the cave, though you can climb between the two once inside. There are a number of smallish overhangs in this area, so on the first trip, I didn't go into the Left Section because I thought it was just a small overhang shelter, not a real cave.
The second one is hanging by a thread from well-inside the mouth of the cave. On rocks like this, it is truly amazing to see how life fights to survive.
A good-sized overhang shelter just around the corner from the Big Cave.
The Big Cave is probably the most impressive thing I've seen since I started doing adventure hiking. This immediate area has many secrets left to uncover. I'm not sure how many times I'll actually come back to the cave, but I know I'll make many more trips to explore the area.