Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sahalie Falls & Lava Tube Caving with Emily

This weekend Emily and I cooked up a plan to explore part of Oregon I still hadn’t seen yet, the Lava Tube Caves just outside of Bend in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument off of China Hat road. We first drove on Saturda to the McKenzie River off of 126 to check out Sahalie and Koosah Waterfalls. We also did a great hike up the Mckenzie River trail to the famous Blue Pool where the Mckenzie River resurfaces after traveling through a lava tube under the ground. The water comes up in the pool then flows downstream in a normal river. When I was there last year it was silent except for the water at the southern end of leaving the pool. This year the waterfall was active and water was pouring into the pool from rocks on the side. Compare the photos here to the photo taken in the fall of 2006. What a difference spring melt has! It was beautiful for sure, but I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t like it was supposed to be with the dried up waterfall.
From there we tried to find a hidden ice cave called “Sawyer Ice Cave” but couldn’t. We even asked a forest service worker but he wasn’t too sure himself either so we continued on towards Bend where we stopped at REI to pick up some fuel for my stove and firewood. Emily and I turned onto China Hat road which quickly became a dirt road and drove nearly 25 miles in the dark down the road into the high desert of the Volcanic National Monument. We didn’t see any signs for the lava tube caves we were looking for and the maps I had were simply drawings so it was definitely going to be tough finding them in the morning. We kept searching for a place to camp but we were truly in the middle of nowhere (the kind of scary “nowhere” that you see in horror flicks) so I aimed my GPS down the dirt roads towards rte 20 so we would be close to civilization if my truck died or something happened. About a mile from Route 20 I turned left onto some land called “horse camp” or something and found a fire circle among some small trees. It was about 10pm so we quickly set up camp and got a fire going so we could be warm while we cooked our Mountain House dinners. Emily is so adventurous and could tell she really liked camping out under the stars, although the howls of nearby coyotes definitely spooked her a little. On the drive to our campsite we drove around cattle, saw a rabbit and nearly hit a large owl. It was definitely cool to see in first person the wildlife of the high desert east of Bend. Camping out in the soft, dry dirt under the stars with a giant expanse of high desert around us was definitely a big change from the rainforest environment of the cascades and coastal range.
On Sunday morning after sleeping in we packed up and started exploring the lava tube cave systems. We had a lot of trouble finding the caves as the forest service has taken down signs, taken symbols off of printed maps, and basically tried to hide the caves to the public because of vandalism. Emily and I had found Boyd cave on the drive in and checked it out briefly. The access to Skeleton cave had been blocked so we didn’t hike out to it but with the help of some locals we were able to find Arnold Ice Cave (the cave used to supply all the ice for Bend back in the day), Charcoal Cave, and some others. I’m hesitant to list the ones we found on my blog as Emily and I definitely went into some that we were not supposed to be able to access (barricaded off but we found a way into them). I don’t want anyone of authority to google the name and find my blog. I don’t feel bad about entering them because bat hibernating season is over by now and she and I are very careful not to harm the environment and abide by the “leave no trace” mentality. We bumped into a bunch of others also looking for the caves and were able to help each other out in their locations which I thoughtfully marked on my GPS so I could return to them in the future.
In one of the lava tubes that was over a mile and half long (according to our drawn map) and about 50 feet in diameter we came across an amazing skylight as you can see in the photos. Emily and I were sharing a Petzl Tikka headlamp which she wore so we were hesitant to continue on into the darkness past the skylight and turned around there to find our way back out. I was wearing my Gore-tex windblocker running jacket with reflective stripes so the photos Emily got of me with her flash camera in the cavern were pretty cool. When you click on the title of this blog entry and look at the photo slide show make sure you have the big (i) clicked so you can see the description of each of the photos. We learned of the true location of Sawyer Ice Cave in Santiam pass from some of the people we met so we were able to explore that on the way home. Care has been taken to block off the parking lot to the cave and we almost missed it again. Inside the cave was amazing. There were icicles everywhere hanging from the ceiling and coming up from the cave floor as well, but each had a hollow center where water had been dripping down into them hollowing them out. The floor of the cave was covered in ice so walking was slippery but Emily and I were both able to walk into it and check it out. There is a large skylight in the roof of the cave where I was able to take some photos of Emily in the cave.
It turned out to be a very successful day of exploring and we found some very cool caves that are generally unknown to the public. I definitely plan on heading back to the caves with proper lighting to explore them further. Definitely check out the Flickr slideshow by clicking the title of this entry.