We started our day by sharing some sugar monstrosities with our host, Brian: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cupcakes, which I’d purchased at the grocery store in Crescent the night before, after being warned that we’d better stock up on supplies because eclipse crowds might leave shelves bare in Bend.
Our host is quite the outdoorsman; he likes caving, dirt biking on national forest land and snowshoeing, for example. He had a few suggestions for us, and after flipping through a guidebook he had, we settled on exploring a lava tube called Boyd Cave. We’d wanted to check out a lava tube at Lassen but we hadn’t been in the right part of the park, so we wanted to make up for that now.
First we had to stop at a mailbox store to mail two iPhone chargers I’d accidentally taken from our home exchange back to their owners. The folks at the packaging store warned us that the envelope might be delayed due to eclipse-related traffic. Like everywhere, the talk in the shop was all about how crowded things already were elsewhere. Before we got to Bend, people were saying that Bend was being crushed by eclipse tourists, but now that we were here, people were saying the real crowds were to the north in Madras, on the centerline of the eclipse.
We drove through town, noticing again what a charming area it is, with the Deschutes River running through the middle, a lot of appealing-looking restaurants and a ton of people riding bikes. Soon we had driven out of town — and there was still a cyclist riding along the road. The vegetation around us abruptly shifted from forest to scrubby desert. The palette of different greens and browns made the area look like a beautiful low-water landscaping job out of the pages of Sunset magazine. We pulled onto a dirt road, near a sign about the XX lava tube cave, which we were about to explore. Apparently Deschutes county has like 1,000 lava tubes to explore!
There was a metal staircase descending into the cave through a hole in the ceiling, and once you got down there, there was a circle of bright sunlight on the rocky ground.
Then, the tube continued off into darkness. It didn’t have stalactites or stalagmites like a limestone cave created by water would. Lava tubes are created from a flow of lava out of a volcano; the lava on the surface cools and hardens into rock, but the lava below keeps right on flowing, until it’s gone, and you are left with a hollow tube. The floor was covered with rubble: some big boulders and lots of small rocks. There were a few seed hulls on the ground, which mice or something had dragged in. There were also a few food wrappers and cans, with jerks or something had dragged in, and which we picked up and carried out with us.
It felt cool of course, since we were underground, and we had brought our jackets to protect from the chill. Our younger kids wore the bicycle helmets they’d brought along on the trip (because we’d brought their scooters), and our host lent the rest of us caving helmets and work gloves. Holding flashlights, lanterns and the lights on our cell phones, we made our way forward.
It quickly became apparent that, like most things, the Miles Kids had varying enjoyment levels regarding caving. Toth was fascinated, and he stuck close to our friend and guide, listening with fascination to everything he had to say about the cave and how it had formed. Erik and I loved it too, but we had to take turns hanging back with our daughters, one of whom was unenthused and the other of whom was terrified that a bat or something was going to attack her in the dark, or that the ceiling was going to cave in.
We explored for an hour or less; we hadn’t progressed too far before we came to a part mostly blocked by boulders, necessitating some crawling to get through. On the other side of this block, you could walk upright again, but crawling through traumatized the girls. The next time we came to a similar block, they refused to crawl through, so, after peeking through to see the other side, I let the boys go ahead while I made my way back with the girls.
By the time we had been walking for 15 minutes or so, most of us took off the coats we’d brought and tied them around our waists. This struck me as funny because the guidebook had claimed that we shouldn’t attempt this cave without serious winter gear. But everyone knows that underground is never too cold nor too hot; it felt like sitting in the basement on a hot summer night.
Once everyone had gotten back to the opening, we fetched our lunch from the car and sat on the rocks around the bottom of the stairway, eating. The girls were so spooked by the cave that they wanted to eat outside, but it was pretty hot by then and there was no shade outside.
Next time, I’ll tell you about the rest of our day, wherein we tube down the Deschutes River and visit the first McMenamins property of our trip.