Oregon Caves National Monument
And the Smelly, Growling Bear who stalked us in the Caves
Elevation: 4,000 Feet
We took a quick weekend trip down to Grants Pass, Oregon to visit Linda's newly arrived, and freshly transported back to Oregon, twin. I had been to Grants Pass when I was in High School for a football game when I played for Mazama High School my freshman year. I wasn't a fantastic player, but I started on defense and traded off being deep on kickoff and punt return. I remember arriving and marveling at their mascot: The Grants Pass Cavemen. Replete with club and animal toga. All I remember, past showing up, was getting the shit kicked out of me for four straight quarters of very painful and humiliating football. This was a freshman team, but I swear every one of them had full grown beards. And they were all taller than six and a half feet. It was like they grew them with horse steroid sludge glazed on top of uranium yellow cake. I don't believe we even scored a single point.
We drove over the Crater Lake Highway and got a glimpse of Mt. Thielsen and Diamond's Peak before they peaked off into the cloud cover. It was a pretty drive, but both Linda and I had had a few rough weeks in a row and a long drive wasn't what I wanted to do first thing after work. Contrary to my apprehension, it ended up being a nice, unwinding drive through the mountains.
The next day we got up at the early light of 10:00 PM and were out the door at the crack of 1:00 PM on our way for a trip through the Oregon Caves National Monument. I had been there as a child, not sure how old, but the only thing I could remember about the caves was a place called the "Ghost Room."
We drove up the extremely windy road from the Illinoise River Valley just west of Grants Pass. Once there, we dutifully signed up for the next tour. The Rangers weren't particularly friendly, but they were helpful. They seemed to say NO a lot. And it wasn't just no, but NO. Always NO. I felt like a small child visiting the rich relatives and being told to NOT touch anything. NO NO NO! We got into the caves and were told the story of the caves' founder and the circumstances therein. There was a dog, a dude and a pissed off bear. Amazingly, dog and dude pull through and get to skin a bear in the deal.
The basic limestone cave rainforest magic-combo basically goes like this: The rainforest above the caves has a layer of sediment water must filter down in order to get to the surface of the earth. As it does it picks up carbon dioxide and drips down into the cracks of the limestone cave, turning itself into carbonic acid. The carbonic acid mixes and eats at the limestone and produces calcite. The acid keeps moving down where it comes into contact with an open air cave and releases its carbon dioxide, turning it back into a liquid which either deposits the calcite onto what it is dripping off of (forming a stalagtite) or dropping to the floor and creating a stalagmite. After a few hundreds of millions of years, you get the beautiful caves in a corner of the state of Oregon.
The ranger we had giving our tour was a bit like myself; arrogant, argumentative and a through-and-through know-it-all. I loved him immediately. Because I had been on some other limestone cave tours, I was a fountain of information because they basically all ask the same questions. I popped out with the answers with glib smugness and high fives all the way around. I loved it. I was that hated of tourist; the sharp-shooter who appears to know more than the tour guide. He glared at me a lot and swiftly left once the tour was done looking back over his shoulder at me and shaking his fist. I thought they only did pussy-shit like that France.
The caves are extremely cool to take a walk through. It has some 526 steps and it sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet. If you are in decent shape it isn't an issue, but those of the more slothy persuasion were huffing and puffing most of the time and were tired at the end of the show. The dripping water also creates flowstone, draipery and all kinds of great formations looking alien and giant, gleaming wasp nests. There are some bats in the cave, but we only saw a single one hanging from the wall. Mice. With wings. Nothing more.
Somewhere inside the cave we started hearing a growling bear from the back, stalking the tour. Oddly enough, it always eminated from where my brother-in-law was, somewhere near his ass. And let me tell you! It was a foul smelling bear. A bear who has definitely been eating unbathed humans and kimchi, skunk feces and a dash of three day baked slug. I was thinking the bear must have slunk into the cave to get away from the reproachful looks of bears and other general wildlife. It must have been suffering a bit of the mange and had three foot long dingleberries trailing behind it filled with bracken and looking like he is the pelt for a "Just Married" train on a small, compact car. We tried our best to keep the children from being scared, but the constant growling, barking, shivering whining and pinched hugalumphs from the dark cave around us gave grave concern to all in the group. Interestingly, the bear seemed to follow us around for the rest of the weekend.