Not far from the California border is one of Oregon's more secret places. It's Oregon Caves National Monument. The nearest city is Grants Pass. The Monument land is steep, folded deeply into the heavily-forested Siskiyou Mountains. The 4,000 ft. elevation means that deep snow closes the Monument each winter.
The cave interior is beautiful marble, immense, placid, and very chilly, with temperatures hovering just above 40 degrees. Water is the architect of the Cave, and frequently the deep quiet is broken by faint sounds of underground water as you move through the passages, vaults and chambers. Oregon Caves are formed of a different rock than most of the World's famous caves, which are made of limestone rather than of the harder recrystallized limestone of Oregon Caves
My family and I toured the Caves, and then were quite surprised at the conclusion of our Tour when the Ranger took time to give everyone on the Tour a thorough mountain lion safety talk before he departed, leaving folks on their own to hike back to the parking lot on the densely-vegetated trails. When asked, the Ranger had stated that the last lion sighting was just two weeks previously, on one of the Monument's trails. He didn't offer any details.
With heightened senses and hefty rocks in our hands, my 7 yr old son and I hiked alone back to the parking lot, where we noticed an information kiosk. One of the the panels dealt with bear and cougar dangers, and stated that here were some "life and death" safety tips and procedures should you encounter a cougar or bear.
Of course, hunting is forbidden in both National Parks and National Monuments, so cougars around Oregon Caves are likely to have nearly zero fear of Man... At the other end of the Siskiyou Range, the bustling, artsy town of Ashland, famous for its Shakespeare Festival, has recently added a new attraction--- a large population of cougars right near the town. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife states that the Southwest Oregon region has the State's highest density of cougars, about 20 animals per 10 x 10 mile square block of territory....Meanwhile, in Central Oregon, near Warm Springs and Madras, I noticed a "Sign of the Times" in my hotel room at Kahneeta Hot Springs Resort. The Visitor's Guide in each hotel room, under the tab heading of "Security," had a section about "Cougars and Bobcats," which outlined five excellent safety guidelines about what to do during cougar encounters; plus a smart sixth one-- to immediately report any and all sightings to the Front Desk of the Resort.
Our Ranger-Guide reported that a fossilized Ice Age jaguar had been found deep within the Caves, having died there about 30,000 years ago. That find had forced revision of the theories of paleontologists about when/how Big Cats arrived in Oregon! If an ancient cat was able to find and enter the Caves many thousands of years ago, one can wonder if the Caves were ever found and maybe used by Oregon's first residents 8,000-10,000 years ago. Such use would clearly predate 1922, when the Grants Pass "Cavemen" innagurated their Club's existence with a fur-bedressed ceremony deep within the Caves.
The Oregon Caves Monument is home to Oregon's largest Douglas Fir tree. At 12 1/2 feet diameter (dbh) there is no doubt it is huge, but it is also astonishingly ancient at 1,200 to 1,500 years old... It has a name, simply "Big Tree," and is reached by a 3 1/2 mile loop trail from the parking lot... it is located near a permanent spring at 4,800 feet elevation, and you'll probably encounter snow on the trail until late May to early June..... Big Tree is not Oregon's largest tree in terms of diameter, that award goes to a Coastal Sitka spruce tree near Seaside and Hwy 26 which is an amazing 16 1/2 ft. in diameter and 56 ft. in circumference..... That Sitka spruce is thicker, and perhaps taller, but is only about half the age of Big Tree. Click here to find out more about this Sitka Spruce.
Oregon has so many of the nation's largest examples of various tree species (28 in all) that maybe the State Legislature ought to consider nicknaming Oregon "The Big Tree State." To see the complete listing of Oregon's record-holders and their locations, please consult "Oregon Blue Book," which is published yearly by the State of Oregon (www.bluebook.state.or.us)......If readers have additional information about big/old/tall trees in Oregon, please Contact me.