Fair warning, this is about to be the longest post ever...
Paul and I really wanted a vacation this summer. We spent two weekends at the beach in June, but that was for a class, and we spent a long weekend in Portland in August, but we were attending a wedding. This trip was just for us. We chose to go camping in a yurt at the Valley of the Rogue State Park in southern Oregon for three nights. Camping in a yurt is pretty luxurious. In addition to furniture, we also had heat and electricity!
We arrived on Sunday evening, unpacked, explored the campgrounds a little, and took a quick dip in the river, which was refreshing after a two hour drive with no air conditioning.
Our second day we went white water rafting on the Rogue River! I didn't get any pictures of the trip, but we went with a guide for seven miles, and hit class 1, 2, and 3 rapids. It was a total blast and surprisingly physically exhausting, so when we got back to camp around four, we took naps, made dinner, and went to bed.
We also had a great view of the harvest moon which was especially orange because of all the wildfires in the area.
Our last full day was amazing. We drove about an hour and a half out to the Oregon Caves National Monument, which is a two million year old marble cave. You can take a 90 minute guided tour, and we ended up being the only two people on our tour, so we got to chat with the ranger a lot and hear a bunch of cool stories. The cave is a series of narrow passages that kind of end in these little pockets or rooms, before narrowing into a hallway again. My favorite story had to do with this room here, the Banana Grove, where the only death has ever occurred in the caves.
So the story goes, in the 30's, pretty much only rich people could afford to explore the caves, and one such young, wealthy couple was Frank and Victorina (awesome name). Considering the camp ground by the caves was full of rich people, there were rumors that the caves were full of bandits hoping to steal from them. Frank was having none of this, so he took his gun, along with his lantern, with him in the caves. He got to the Banana Grove, tried to climb the walls, and fell because the walls are extremely wet and slimy. As he fell, his lantern shattered, and he accidentally discharged his gun. The bullet ricocheted off the walls four times. Victorina had one match, which she lit to see the bullet lodged in Frank's right eye. He died in Victorina's arms, and after a few hours, in complete darkness, following a string that lead her back to the entrance, she made her way through the cave and back to the campground covered in his blood.
Apparently, people see Frank's ghost all the time. Guests and rangers report seeing him, seeing light from the lantern, and hearing footsteps and voices. They don't tell this story when children are on the tour, but one time in the Banana Grove, a five year old girl asked the ranger who the man was, and when the ranger asked what man, she said, the man with the lantern who's been following us for the last two rooms. Spooky!
Also every morning, one of the rangers has to go through the whole cave system alone, making sure the lights work and whatnot. About two months ago, one of the rangers was just past the Banana Grove when he heard something, turned around, saw a man with reflective red eyes. Being a jolly older guy, the ranger waved and said something like, "Hello there sir!" but the man moved out of sight, and the ranger said something to the extent of, "Well have a nice day then!" The ranger did the rest of his rounds really quickly, got back up to the lodge, freaked out, and they actually closed the caves to the public that day to search for the man, but they couldn't find a trace of anybody. Because it was Frank!
On the left was my favorite part of the caves, a room called Paradise Lost. You had to climb up a two story ladder to get there and it's this tiny room (so the ranger let us go up by ourselves) with these crazy structures 360 degrees around all swirling up to a point that's so dark you can't even see. It's both the point of highest elevation in the caves as well as the furthest into the mountain. It was breathtaking. It reminded me for some reason really strongly of the catacombs in France, and apparently another visitor said the same thing just last week, so it's not just me.
On the right is a wall that had been signed by Thomas Condon, a famous geologist, in 1856 (although signing walls in a two million year old cave would be super frowned upon now). The University of Oregon even has a building named after Condon, a building I actually spend a lot of time in, so it was really funny to see his mark in the caves. They've tried to clean the markings, but it's actually part of the stone now. When water drips on the rock, it calcifies, so in the last 150 years, a thin layer of rock has grown over the writing, so Condon's not going anywhere.
After hiking through the caves, you're popped out pretty much at the top of the mountain. Then you can either take the 15 minute hike down one side, or the 30 minute hike on to the peak and then down the other side. We went to the top obviously.
The moral of the story is, watch out for ghosts, and Oregon is the most beautiful place in the whole world.
After getting back to camp, we made dinner. Both nights we had tofurkey hot dogs, baked beans, and corn on the cob. Classic camping food. Paul made this makeshift s'more with an onion cracker, a piece of crystallized ginger chocolate, and a toasted banana slice. He said it was interesting. I did not partake.
We woke up this morning, and started our drive home, but not before we stopped in Azalea, Oregon for a big breakfast. We saw this place on our drive down, and knew we had to stop on our way back up.
Here we attempted to eat the world's largest cinnamon roll. We did not succeed. We took it back home with us where it will serve as breakfast for the next week.