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Headaches and Neckaches (Oregon Caves NM and Redwood NSP)

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Monday, 25 July 2022

With no boat tour in the offing, we broke our Rogue River camp and headed southwest. Flush with time, we decided to make the 15-mile detour to Oregon Caves National Monument. We had seen it together ten years ago, but judged it worth revisiting. (On our drive south, I noticed a 'Share the Road' sign (with the image of a pedestrian and a bicycle on it). A creative local had painted over 'Road', and the sign now read, 'Share the Love'.)

The story of the cave discovery never failed to amuse us. In 1874 Elijah Davidson, a prospector working in the area, had his dog take off chasing a bear. When the bear and the dog disappeared into a dark hole in the ground, Elijah headed in to retrieve his dog. He had only six long-burning matches with him, so he ventured in as far as he could with the light from those matches. When his last match faded out, he had to fumble his way in the dark, wading through the creek that flowed out of the cave. Eventually the dog made it out, also - no word on whether the dog had any matches, either.

Today, the NPS tries to protect the cave from the white-nose fungus disease that is killing off bats in caves throughout the country. Since they have not yet detected the fungus in this cave, the rangers have posted signs saying that if you have been in another cave in the last few years, and wore the same clothes and shoes you are wearing today, please change them.

We had a good guide, with well-rehearsed humor sprinkled throughout his patter. "This is the River Styx we're standing over. No, I'm not your ferryman."

I know caves stay cold, but this cave beat most others with a year-round temperature of 44°. However, to make access easier, rangers had cut a new entrance to the cave. Soon the Law of Unintended consequences came in to play. The new passageway changed the airflow, and the cave got even colder - so much so that frost started forming. To restore nature's balance, rangers had to add a door to the new entrance, keeping it shut when not using it to bring tourists in.

I found the cave very wet. At one point, as I stood listening to the guide, several drips of water fell onto my shoulder. Small puddles abounded - and of course the River Styx ran through the cave. I asked the guide if this was a wetter time in this area. "Actually," he responded, "this is a bit drier than normal."

The guide explained that the original tour ended at the feature called 'Niagara Falls'. "People would celebrate here, write their names on the rock - those names are still visible, just under a thin layer of cave growth - and then take a stalactite as a souvenir." Sure enough, you could see the numerous missing pieces.

"The cave's original tour guide would bring people here. One day he felt a breeze behind him. So he came back a few days later with dynamite, and blew a hole large enough for him to slither through, discovering more cave." Yeah, it's always nice to have dynamite laying around for little projects.

Besides being a cold and wet cave, it was a short man's cave. Before beginning the tour, the guide had warned us to stay aware of the vertical clearance, and even had us practice a duck-walk to get around low-hanging obstacles. Despite the warnings, I still banged my head several times on the tour. Better grab the aspirin...

As we made our way through the cave, the guide pointed out several types of formations - cave popcorn here, cave bacon there.

What's next, cave chocolate cake? Just don't make it cave liver and onions!

Nearing the end, the guide mentioned how in the 80s they'd had to replace the asphalt pathways with the concrete-based surface here today. It turns out the asphalt was emitting toxic gasses. The Law of Unintended consequences again.

Afterward, we drove the same road back to US199. The 15-mile drive took over a half hour, as the first six miles were rife with tight curves and switchbacks. By the time we reached Cave Junction for a late lunch, the thermometer read 105°.

That didn't last long. As we drove the last hour-plus to the coast, the temperature steadily dropped, reaching 74° by the time we stopped. Our destination: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. An NPS ranger stationed at the State Park gave us the skinny on how the parks worked.

As northern California grew in population, and roads opened up the land, logging interests gleefully flocked in. With these huge trees, they could make a fortune! Conservationists, alarmed at how the loggers decimated groves of redwoods, worked tirelessly to save the trees. In 1923, the state set aside Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, followed later in the '20s by Jedediah Smith Redwoods and Del Norte Coast Redwoods (and others).

In 1968, the feds stepped in, saving more trees in Redwood National Park to the south of the three already mentioned. In the 1990s, they expanded the federal park's boundaries westward to include include the coastline, and northward to include the three state parks. In a unique arrangement, the NPS and California State Parks co-operatively manage the lands, now known as Redwood National & State Parks.

From the Visitor Center, the ranger urged us to check out the redwoods in the short (half-mile) Simpson-Reed Grove and the Peterson Memorial loop trails, a short distance down the road. As if the bumps on the head weren't enough, we now faced craning our necks to catch the immensity of the trees,

while gaping at the lush ferns at the base of the trees

(or taking over the downed trees, with roots that dwarfed us).

I'd driven though the redwoods once before, as Sue and I ended our Litterwalk nearly thirty years ago. However, she'd broken her shoulder earlier that month and suffered mightily, so we raced through with only one short stop. To now see the trees in all their grandeur... words fail me. (Kinda hard to speak when your jaw is dragging on the ground!)

We limited our first redwood exposure to those two adjacent groves,

knowing we had two more good days here. Onward to check into our Crescent City hotel and prepare for another park!

Since we'd had a very late lunch, Ron opted out of dinner, so I asked the hotel clerk for a recommendation for one, and she quickly replied, "Seaquake." I drove the half-mile to the restaurant, only to find crowds milling about and a one-our wait for a table. On a Monday at 7:00? Thanks, I'll find a place with no wait.

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