I recently went on a two-mile trek to the center of the earth. Okay, not quite the center of the earth but the trail did lead underneath Highway 97 – the main North-South highway in these parts. I decided to visit Lava River Cave before it shut down for the season. This cave is located 12 miles south of Bend, Oregon in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument area.
I had heard that there was limited parking so I got there early. WAY too early! I forget that I only live a half an hour from many of these geological attractions.Check the operating hours and entrance pass requirements for Lava River Cave here.
It is a cool but creepy experience to go into some of these caves. When I say cool, I really mean cool. The average temperature inside this cave is 43° F so dress accordingly. You can bring your own lights but they rent high-power flashlights there for only $5. I chose to help support the site by renting their light. They have a donation jar near the exit so you can make additional contributions there.
At 5,466 feet in length, Lava River Cave is one of Oregon’s longest lava tubes. Lava from Newberry Volcano flowed down here about 100,000 years ago. As the lava drained away, it created this long tube. The lava was 2,000° F!
Lava tubes are often discovered when a part of the roof collapses, exposing the cave below. This cave was discovered in 1899 by stockman and trapper, Leander Dillman. The site was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1981 and was included in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument when it was established in 1990.
One of the unique features in this cave is the presence of “sand gardens.” Over time, sediment washes through cracks in the roof and it partially fills the cave. These sand gardens form as water droplets erode the sand fill away. They look a bit like very small badland formations.
The cave is about a mile long to the end. I only had to duck to avoid hitting my head in a couple of spots. Much of the cave has a roof that is high overhead. Wear good boots and watch your step.
It took me 50 minutes on the way in to get to the end as I attempted to take many pictures. On the way out it only took about 25 minutes since I was walking much faster. Note that you are required to listen to a very short talk on protecting local bat populations from White-nose Syndrome prior to going into the cave.
One last thing…I saw a group of several young mothers carrying infants in front packs. No, just no. When you start the walk, you go down a series of ramps and 55 metal stairs. Then you get into some rough ground for a short while. Though much of the walk is over fairly smooth ground, you will run into rough sections and you can stumble even when using a good light. Lava River Cave is a nice cave to visit but I would not recommend it for young children or people who have mobility issues. Just my two cents worth…
There are plenty of sights to see around here. See my posts on the following for more information: Lava Cast Forest, Lava Butte, Lava Lands Visitor Center, and Happy Bday Newberry! Note that the visitor center and some of the attractions close during fall and winter months.