I stumbled across a rocky area on the map and decided to check it out. When I got there, I found much more than I expected.
I had fairly low expectations about an obscure area in the North Umpqua drainage but went to check it out. Judging by the topographic lines, I was expecting a forest that rolled down into a tiny unnamed creek with the hope there was a cave in the rocks. When I drove up, I saw a opposing sheer cliffs hundreds of feet tall with spires, crags, and caves everywhere. Of all the places I have been, the topographic lines here are the most misleading. While they show some steepness, the terrain in here is sheer.
This post is the accumulation of 5 trips into the area.
Yeah, this is worth checking out...
I headed up the south set of rocks with the idea that I'd turn around and hit the north set on the way back.
Shortly after I started up the creek, I looked up and saw a large cave peeking through.
On top of the cave, you can see a tall spire poking into the sky.
What are the dimensions of the opening? I did not bring a measuring device, so here's my scientific method: in the above picture, you see my dad, Duane Cannon, who is about 6' tall. Aaaaand here we go...
It's about 5 dads tall and about 5 dads wide, making it 30'x30', give or take. It's still a really huge cave and definitely in the same size-category as The Big Cave. As it is a lava tube, it was labeled Tube Cave.
Inside the cave, nothing much interesting was going on. At the very back, there are an incredible amount of rat feces. There is so much, the dust from it is inches thick. That is disgusting to the point of being impressive.
We ventured further up and I checked out another cave, this one much smaller.
Scale is so key with this picture. It may look just a few feet tall, but it was around 8' or so.
This black growth was all over the place.
Cave crickets are called that because they...live in caves.
This solitary vesper bat was just hanging around and led to this cave being called the Bat Cave.
At this point, the rocks along the south side of the creek sort of dried up, so we skipped across to the north side. From up above, what appeared to be a monstrous cave sat a ways further west.
This interesting formation has 3 tubes all in a bunch. Its name became Triple Cave.
This became known as Maw Cave, as it is just a gaping maw of a hole.
Looking at it from the other side. I did not climb up into it. It is definitely doable, but slightly risky and I didn't feel like the risk was worth the reward at the time.
Right next to my left arm while I took that picture was the rock, dangling out of its hole.
More rat poop. What's interesting is that we saw this scene in multiple spots. A pile of dung and some fresh leaves on top. My guess is that those leaves are what they use as air freshener for one reason or another.
Below the Maw Cave was a smaller one and some smallish overhangs nearby.
We headed back toward a structure that I found on my initial trip in. This area is a lot to take in, especially when you're not expecting it. On my first trip, I was heading along the north wall and my head spinning a bit from all I was experiencing. I happened to look up and saw this:
In the picture is is a little tough to make out, but it is a rock arch. Outside of the Oregon Coast, there are 5-known inland rock arches in the state of Oregon listed at this website and 4 others I stumbled across online, (though many of those are not very substantial). This makes #10. But if some of those others count as arches, so does this one from this post. Out of that list, I would only classify about 4-5 of them as actual "arches", as the rest are simply smallish holes between a rock and a ground. My Google Earth measurements (not exact at, though it gives an idea) put this arch at ~110 across from post to post, ~30 tall, and ~20 feet wide. Compared to the others, this certainly appears to be the largest. Arches like this are former lava tubes where the rest of the tube collapsed, leaving just the opening. This appears to potentially be the largest arch in the state. Interestingly enough, this former tube is directly across from Tube Cave, the opening of which is similarly-sized.
If you drop closer down to the creek, this is what you see:
Getting up to it is another story. The rock wall directly in front of it is prohibitive. It looks simple enough, but it is ~20' tall, weeps, and all possible hand holds over the top half of the wall are all smooth and slant down. Without climbing equipment, this is pretty difficult. There is also nothing immediately above it to grab onto, like vine maples.
We first tried to climb up a western gully, hoping to get above it and come back down in. It was wet, steep, and there were places where we struggled to see whether there was solid ground under the vegetation leading to a 100' drop. This was really difficult and very dangerous, so we turned around. On the next trip, dad and I headed back down the rock and looked for a way to scoot up to the top.
Eventually, we came to the most eastern point of the large rock wall.
I'm pretty sure that's connected, but it sits there as a reminder that these can be dangerous places.
We found a path of sorts between the rock wall on the left and the rock sticking up on the right. It was steep but not as dangerous as going through that other gully.
We saw this cedar tree along the way that was broken off just above the ground. I'd guess that it happened after the tree had died, other wise it would take a tornado to fling something hard enough to break it at that spot.
Lots. Of. Fun. This was difficult at times, but wasn't really that dangerous, so we plowed on up to the top.
Dad looking towards Diamond Peak.
Here you see Diamond Peek poking up on the right dozens of miles away. Off in the clouds to the left, you can see South Sister dozensers miles away.
On top, it is actually fairly flat and moving around isn't too terrible.
We started to look for the arch. On my GPS, I had a fairly accurate waypoint for it, but it was a little too far west.
Looking down into the hole, we assumed the arch was to the left of the stack straight ahead. Instead, the stack is just about dead center on top of the arch, sitting only 175 feet away from us. To get this picture, I had to climb down a little. To go much further down without climbing gear would be very ill-advised.
So to review: the arch is not visible from the nearby road, not visible from above, and only visible from right where the earlier photo was taken due to the geology around it and the huge fir trees directly in front and behind it.
From this vantage point, you can see the arch stack down a bit.
To the right of this, I found an interesting view:
This is the gully we tried to ascend the prior trip and in the center is where we turned around. At the time, there was one tricky spot ahead and we couldn't see much further than that, so we bailed. As it turns out, that was the only tricky spot and we'd have been just fine. In the end, it really wouldn't have gotten us any closer to a full view of the arch and the other way we found to climb on top of the rocks was much easier than that gully.
This picture shows how some of these caves form. As the rock deteriorates, so long as the bottom rock is sturdier than the collapsing rocks, it will hang on while the other eventually tumble out. A similar occurrence can be seen in the photo of the small cave beneath Maw Cave above.
On the other side of this ridge and west just a little sits another set of rocks. These rocks share many of the same Google Earth features of the rocks I had been to. Since I knew what they looked like in real life, I could compare the GE images of those rocks to the other rock images and come up with expectations based on a sort of mathematical proportion. In other words, there was a good chance at finding more interesting stuff over there.
We headed over and stood on the nearest rock, then looked up to this:
More trees down there, but lots of big rocks and some walls. It's not clear by the photo, but looking straight ahead, we could see 2-3 large caves. Another thing I realized is that beneath many of the tall spires are caves. This side is a little structurally different, but it should carry similar results. It is also quite a bit larger. The downside is that it appears that it is also harder to get into, so it will be an adventure to explore.
With that, we began the trek back to the car.
Looking down over the ledge, we could see a bit of snow which was right next to the old road we walked in on. Here's the view looking up from right next to that bit of snow:
I think I found most of the interesting places in this set of rocks, but the other set should yield more. If anyone else has explored this area, please shoot me an email.