Last Week's Getaway:
Big Thicket National Preserve

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park ranger giving 2 boys demonstration
Come discover a marble cave, hike trails through ancient forests, and earn a Junior Ranger badge. (NPS Photo)

antique cars in front of A-frame lodge
“Cool cave, warm hearth.” Featured in Great Lodges of the National Parks, the Oregon Caves Chateau offers a serene overnight experience. (NPS Photo)

smiling female with protective gear emerging from cave
Smile spelunker! Experience the wonder of exploring the wild areas of Oregon Caves National Monument on the off-trail caving tour. (NPS Photo)

NPS.gov homepage photo: During summer weekends, the last tour of the day is by candle light. Visitors can see what early cave explorers might have seen as they went from room to room with just this basic light. (NPS Photo)

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A New National Park Getaway Every Wednesday

Oregon Caves National Monument

Seven years ago, while on sabbatical from a university faculty position, I revisited many of the parks I had taken my children to and recounted the wonderful bonds we had made through our many outings and campouts in the national parks. One afternoon, as I drove through southern Oregon to the coast, I made a spontaneous decision to make a turn and explore a park I had passed on previous trips. A scenic, mountainous road led me to a great find – Oregon Caves National Monument

My stopover for curiosity’s sake began with a ranger-guided cave tour – we followed a rushing creek up into marble rock, deep inside an ancient mountain. Within the darker inner-landscape, my apprehension and fears were abruptly replaced with awe and fascination as shimmering cave formations stretched incomprehensively from floors and ceilings, and then flowed effortlessly over walls. I felt nature was displaying its unique artwork at each turn of exploration’s winding paths.

Energized by the tour that ended in a lush old-growth forest full of sweet aromas and chirping birds, I hiked an assortment of beautiful, inviting trails. I learned that Oregon Caves is part of a pristine watershed in a mountain range that is home to some of the country’s most biologically diverse plants and animals. For me, the breathtaking views and exercise created a thirst for more.

I extended my visit, dining and staying at Oregon Caves Chateau. The hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (a National Park Service program) and was featured on the PBS television special Great Lodges of the National Parks; it motivated me to enjoy a radiant mountain sunset and star-gazing night. A ranger program by the hotel’s marble fireplace made the evening even more enchanting and provided me the opportunity to learn about visitors of the past.

Welcoming another day to discover and play, I began it with a physically and mentally challenging off-trail cave tour where I learned caving techniques, etiquette, and conservation while I slivered through concealed parts of the caves. Afterward, I squeezed in a ranger program and joined one last tour of the cave by candlelight. As my visit drew to an end, I fully embraced this place and considered my good fortune for making that spontaneous turn onto a mountain road.

Oregon Caves is astoundingly beautiful above and below the earth, and opportunities for stimulating adventures abound. What made this experience even more extraordinary for me was watching the many young families on their own adventures, talking with rangers and building special bonds. That turn I took seven years ago would extend my sabbatical and eventually prolong my visit – I became a member of the National Park Service at Oregon Caves National Monument, a discovery I’m glad I didn’t miss.

By David L. Thompson, outreach coordinator, Oregon Caves National Monument