Lava River Cave

Once upon a time, I did my homework before taking a vacation. There’s nothing more annoying than discovering after the fact that there was something really awesome to see that was right near you and you missed it. (I’ve missed dinosaur tracks that way, to my everlasting regret.) Since there’s too much of the world for me to do “repeatsies”, I try to be thorough wherever I go.

I don’t know what has gotten into me lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally found a partner who actually enjoys travel planning even more than I do, so for the first time in my life all the pressure has been lifted off my shoulders. What a luxury! How lucky my former boyfriends were, to be able to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s kind of irritating, in retrospect. (Note to self: try not to be that irritating on future trips.)

Suffice it to say that I was utterly unprepared for central Oregon. I was expecting to see Crater Lake, and that would have been plenty. I didn’t realize there were a wide variety of fascinating volcanic features in the area, as well as an awesome museum, and the charming city of Bend. I’ll be writing more about those in future posts.

But today I’m going to focus on my favorite volcanic experience to date: Lava River Cave.

About 80,000 years ago, there was a volcanic eruption in what is now Oregon that caused lava to flow down an open channel. Eventually, the surface of the lava cooled and hardened, and the central part flowed out, forming a gigantic tube. Now you can walk into that tube, for about a mile. It’s a fascinating experience.

If you go, you should be prepared. First of all, the tunnel is about 42 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, so dress accordingly. I was glad to have my jacket and hat. Also, you can’t wear any clothing that you’ve worn into other caves that are inhabited by bats, because you could spread white-nose syndrome to the bat population that lives in the tube. (And no, we didn’t see any. There aren’t that many, and they’re shy and nocturnal.) We also made a point of taking a picture of what we were wearing that day, so as not to wear any of the same things in future caves. White-nose syndrome is insidious. The third thing to remember is to bring a high powered flashlight. If you forget, they’ll rent you one. Believe me, it’s needed, because the tube is black as pitch.

At the cave entrance, you go down a long flight of metal stairs that takes you into a large chamber. After that, you enter the tube, which is about 58 feet tall. Most of the walk is rather smooth, but you do have to go through a section that is most definitely not. In fact, I was amazed I didn’t break an ankle or fall flat on my face. Wheelchair accessibility is definitely out of the question.

If you make it past that section with your skeleton intact, it does smooth out. But for the claustrophobics who might be reading this, I have to say that the tube does get smaller and smaller and smaller. Knowing we’d have to retrace our steps, we didn’t get that far. We only went about halfway in. But it was fascinating, seeing the different layers in the rock formations, and shining our light on the sparkling ceiling.

Nature. Awesome. Check it out.

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