Given that my blog's title is a Tolkien quotation, I couldn't resist using Frodo's assumed traveling name for this posting.
Our next stop was Oregon Caves National Monument. The morning included an exciting drive through the Siskiyou, and an even more exciting drive up seventeen miles of extra-twisty mountain roads to arrive at the caves. We were staying at the historic Chateau, so once we got there, we weren't driving again for the whole day!
I arrived just in time to catch the 10:30 tour into the caves (Tom did not go in with me). You have to go with a tour, which is sad for those of us with explorer tendencies, but good for preserving the site. My group was fairly small. Two couples, myself, and a father with three boys ranging from probably four to seven at the oldest, although my first instinct would be to put them all close to 5. Very inquisitve. Well behaved, but an impressively incessant barrage of questions.
I tried to stick to the back of the pack, to give myself the opportunity to linger just a hair and experience the place without being surrounded, but one of the couples seemed to have the same idea and we spent time jockeying back and forth to the rear.
These were easily the most impressive caves I have visited. Lots of three-dimensionality, pretty formations, having to duck and twist along the pathway, and the advertised 500 stairs that led us through the marble cave. I was particularly aware of the temperature (44 degrees!) and the fact that the caves were constantly dripping. Of course, it's that dripping that causes the formations, but I was pretty impressed that it managed to drip on my eye, especially given that I was wearing my glasses.
Once outside, I took the trail up to a viewpoint on the ridge, hiking up over where I'd just been spelunking. There was a beautiful view. It was quite warm, but it didn't bother me too much. Later, after lunch at the 50's style cafeteria, Tom and I took a short trail hike. I had seen an advertisement for a hike with a ranger starting at 4:00, and thought that sounded neat. Leaving Tom to read in the Chateau, I tracked down the starting point and met Ranger Mike. As I was the only person who showed up, I had a personalized hike with him. I learned about trees--did you know that Douglas firs aren't real firs, and no trees in North America are real cedars, despite us calling them so?--plants, and animals. We had some animal sightings as well, including a skink with its bright blue tail, springtails, which are strange little bugs that launch themselves huge distance with, well, springloaded tails, a snake (spotted by me), and a hobo spider. My third hike of the day, and it was quite educational.
Tom and I had dinner at the Chateau. It was very fancy and HUGE. Way too much food, but quite tasty.
With no internet at the site, we spent some of the evening sitting in the main lobby reading and watching tiny bats flying around outside the windows. A pleasant day, and a definite highlight of the trip for me.