Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oregon Caves

We are parked in a turn off
on National Forest Road 4611 (map), in the Siskiyou National Forest, not far from Oregon Caves National Monument.

As long as we were driving by on 199, we really wanted to make the diversion over to the caves for the tour. The monument's web site recommends against bringing RVs further up the road than the Grayback Forest Service campground, but we tend to disbelieve these dire warnings (more on this in just a moment). As I wrote in my last post, we learned that Grayback was not yet open for the season.

On our way in to Cave Junction, we found a visitor center for the monument across the street from a Forest Service ranger station. We checked in at the visitor center first, who informed us that there was a private RV park just a mile or two shy of Grayback, and that became our backup plan. They knew nothing about the forest, so we went across the street to inquire about dispersed camping and look at the maps.

As is not uncommon, the person staffing the counter didn't really know much about dispersed camping, but we at least got the skinny on a couple of the paved roads, and found out what gates were still locked. We figured we could find a spot to camp if we proceeded carefully, so off we went down OR-46, the Caves Highway.

At Grayback I pulled off the road in front of the locked gate, and Louise took her scooter out to scope out the parking options. I stayed with Odyssey, in case anyone needed to get through the Grayback gate -- clearly, the volunteer camp host was already in quarters there for the season. We knew to stay off the main highway, so Louise made a quick run up this road. It's a single lane, with periodic turnouts for passing, and this enormous turn-around just before the road crosses into a single section of private land. Nevertheless, it had good overhead clearance, no inflections, and reasonable turn radii.

She did identify one unpaved spur that was clearly usable (and well used) for dispersed camping, but it was rather steep and had a section of soft gravel. We did make a brief effort to squeeze Odyssey into it, but gave it up as having too much potential to get stuck at the inflection. Instead, we continued here to the paved turn-around, reasoning that we are far enough off the road to be out of the way. There is also a small clearing just east of here that would be a good spot, except that it has been used as an illegal dump, with several houshold appliances and other miscellaneous trash, and it appears from our map to be on private land (although unposted).

We only saw perhaps half a dozen cars all evening, and the spot was dark and silent all night. We are surrounded by lovely coniferous forest, and can hear nearby Grayback Creek. It was a great spot, and, of course, free, whereas Grayback campground would have been $15, had it even been open.

This morning we took the scooters up to the caves, arriving around 11:30. Of course, as soon as we pulled in to the lot we saw a pair of 40' tour buses, an MCI and a Van Hool, and so it would have been no problem to simply drive Odyssey up to the monument -- we were, of course, reminded of a similar discovery at Chisos Basin in Big Bend after even more dire warnings posted there, considerably lowering the Park Service's credibility on this issue.

There were even a number of parking spaces marked "RV," at least a couple of which were 40' long. That's OK, though, because the road to the park was really fun to ride on the scooters, and we were able to park right next to the cave entrance.

We got on to a 12:00 cave tour, which consisted only of us and one other couple, so we had a much more pleasant tour than the typical 10-15 people. The tour was 90 minutes long, and ranger Brian was very pleasant and knowledgable about the cave. Afterwards, we stopped in to the historic Oregon Caves Chateau on the property for lunch.

Unfortunately, this early in the season, the coffee shop was closed, and we had to settle for buffalo chili (homemade, though) in the gift shop. At least we got to see the historic building. On our way back down the hill, we checked out a couple of other forest service roads, and attempted to look at the closer campground, also still closed for the season.

In a few minutes, we will load up the scooters and head out, with Grants Pass in our sights for tonight.


  1. You are headed our way ... we are in Howard Prairie Lake Resort, 23 miles east of Ashland up Dead Indian Memorial Road. There are spaces where you will fit. If you prefer, I'll guide you to some boondock spaces. We are currently in space Y50 at the resort.


  2. Sean,
    Not to be a complainer, but bus # 2 is a Van Hool not a Setra. Close but not quite as nice since it is made in Belgium instead of Germany. And we both know that the Germans design and build the best buses in the world! BK

  3. @Bryce: You're right, it is, of course, a Van Hool. I have corrected it in the text.

    I was so caught up in snapping the picture that I wasn't really paying attention to the buses, other than to notice they were 40 footers. Looking now at the photo it is unmistakable. Apologies to the Setra fans....


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