Skeleton Cave – Central Oregon Attractions

Skeleton Cave – the name immediately brings questions to your mind. The designation refers to the discovery of several animal skeletons that were found inside of the cave. This lava tube cave is located south of Bend off of the China Hat Road (also known as Road 18). To date, 690 caves have been discovered in Deschutes County and 577 of them are lava tubes.

IMG_0930There is currently a metal staircase leading down into the cave but in the past it was just like a large pit trap that animals sometimes fell into and then could not escape. Skeletons and fossilized remains of several species of animals have been found within the cave. These included horse, deer, elk, bear, fox, a large hyena-type canid, lynx, a small carnivore, and various rodents. The horse skeleton found in the cave was determined to be that of Equus niobrarensis. It lived during the Pleistocene era that ended 10,000 years ago.

IMG_0942The cave was discovered in 1924, although writing on the cave wall indicates it may have been visited in 1894. An old still was found in the cave. It was surveyed by Walter T. Perry and Phil Brogan. They measured the main cave at 3,036 feet long with a side passage of 1,734 feet. In 1971 Jim Neiland measured the cave more accurately at a length of 3,560 feet.

Lava tubes are tunnels that form when slow moving lava develops a hard exterior crust that thickens as the interior, faster flowing, lava continues to flow through until it drains away.

IMG_0948On the ceiling of Skeleton Cave you can see “lavacicles” which are a variety of stalactites. They form as the lava drips from the roof of a cave and cools and hardens.

The cave is popular with visitors and many people have enjoyed exploring it. The temperature inside the cave averages 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors can walk into the first part of the cave and explore deeper sections by climbing and crawling.

Unfortunately visitors are impacting the habitats within Skeleton Cave and other caves nearby. The number of recreational cavers (or spelunkers) increased as Bend’s population increased. The parking lot was located close to the cave opening and provided easy access. Skeleton cave was known as “The Party Cave”. Vandals spray painted graffiti and left their garbage behind. Some of the sport climbers left bolts and chalk lines that began to accumulate on the cave walls and ceiling. Bat populations in the caves were dropping since people were in the caves during their hibernation period. Unlike other mammals that hibernate, bats have very little body fat so if they are disturbed they may die. There are nine species of bats living in the caves near China Hat Road.

The Road 18 Caves Project Environmental Assessment was designed to “analyze effects of humans on wildlife resources (including bat habitat), recreational opportunities, geologic features, native vegetation, and cultural resources in nine SkeletonCaveGuideJuly2015caves in regards to past, present and future use” in the area located eight miles Southeast of Bend, Oregon. The findings were published in 2001. Some of the recommendations included gating some of the cave entrances, moving parking lots farther away from entrances, preventing entry during the time when bats hibernate, and limiting or removing bolts used by sports climbers. This was a controversial decision because people have a right to explore caves but the caves are also protected under the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act.

In order to protect the habitats within Skeleton Cave, it can only be accessed through private commercial tours. Wanderlust Tours has a special permit to access the caves. They provide helmets, lights, and a naturalist guide.

To learn more facts about caves, visit the Oregon High Desert Grotto website at http://ohdgrotto.caves.org/

Bowman Museum in Prineville – Central Oregon Attractions

Bowman Museum showcases the best of the West

If you are looking for something to do that isn’t too far away from Bend, consider a trip to the Bowman Museum located in downtown Prineville. The main part of the Museum is in what used to be the Crook County Bank building, built in 1910. You walk past bank teller cages and through the vault doors as you explore the Museum. Downstairs there are displays on the railroad, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Prineville Hotshots, local sports, and an interesting firearms exhibit.View of the Bowman Museum in Prineville Oregon

There is a great collection of books for sale near the Museum’s entrance. Many relate to regional and local history. There are also nature related books and several novels.

Bowman Museum in Prineville, OregonUpstairs, themed rooms show some of the ways people lived and the services they used. A dining table sits ready to feed a large family. A medical office shows what a typical exam room looked like. Be sure to pull open the drawers to get a closer look at some of the medical tools of the time. A tack room contains intricately designed saddles and bridles as well as more utilitarian chaps and lassos. A general store shows some of the items early settlers purchased.

Crook County History Center

In 2012, the Crook County History Center opened in an adjoining building. Displays along one wall focus on the local cattle business, the roles women played in the family and business, local businesses and events, and Native Americans. In one corner of this building there is a research library maintained by The Genealogical Society. Another room is devoted to the history of Les Schwab and his now thriving business. The company started in Prineville with the purchase of a run-down tire business.

Crook County History Center in Prineville, Oregon   The Timber Exhibit Hall has lifelike models of ponderosa pines shading parts of the exhibit. You will learn about the history of logging in the area and the process a log goes through in becoming usable in a variety of ways. Open the cabinet doors and look inside for a few examples of wood products.

Here are a few facts learned on a recent visit with Bend Park and Recreation District. Be sure to visit the Bowman Museum to see what new things you can discover.

  • When the railroad bypassed Prineville and decided to build the rail lines to Bend, the city of Prineville voted to fund their own line. They thought it would cost $100,000 but it ended up costing $300,000.Crook County History Center in Prineville, Oregon
  • Loggers who used the two-man whipsaw burned 8,000 calories a day.
  • Unlike some other North American tribes, the Northern Paiute were able to retain much of their language.

 

Chatter

Black and white and full of chatter. No, it’s not a newspaper; it’s a bird.

Distinctive black and white plumage and raucous calls make this bird easy to identify. Its unusually long tail gives it a unique silhouette. A magpie.

Their loud calls are often heard in the wild places they live in. They are also master imitators. Is that hawk you hear or is just a magpie?

Magpie perched in sagebrush by Siobhan SullivanFrom a distance they just look like a black and white bird. Look a little closer. Their plumage catches every little bit of light and reflects it back in an iridescent glow.

Some see them as smart opportunists while others see them as pests. Are they using their voice and brains to get ahead or get under your skin?

Not everything you see in black and white should be taken at face value. Look for colorful reflections. Listen beyond the chatter. Forgive those who use what they think will get them ahead to their advantage.