Have you ever seen the movie “The Descent”? If you haven’t, I am going to enlighten you. It’s a British horror movie where a group of spelunking women go on this expedition where everything goes horribly wrong and they’re also pursued by a maniacal predatory breed. It’s a blood bath encompassing claustrophobia, protruding bone fractures, humans as foodstuff, and scary monsters with humongous teeth that could dismember your head from your shoulders in a single chomp! I could go on, but I’m thinking that you get the gist. (If you would like to hear me wax more poetically on the subject, email me!)
This movie was what was running through my mind as I walked down a lovely tree lined path to the gaping mouth of the Newberry Lava River Cave. The Newberry Lava River Cave is located just outside of Bend, Oregon within Central Oregon’s lava lands. It’s a self-guided exploration of a mile-long lava tube. It takes approximately 1.5 hours to tour the entire cave. Initial access descends 55 stairs to a combination of flat boardwalk, uneven surfaces and stairways. I suggest wearing comfortable shoes, layers because it can be anywhere from a 20-40 degree difference from outside, and gloves if your extremities tend to get cold easily. I also had a headlamp and a flashlight with me. Be aware, there is a $5 parking fee unless you have a recreation pass. Please check what passes they accept before you have to choose between: do I want to pay $5 to park or do I want to keep the $5 for the strip club tonight? If you must ask that question, you may be a lonely person.
So, back to the caving experience! As I descended into the darkness, I was pretty jovial. Until it started getting darker and darker and darker. The smallest echoes sounded as if they were right next to me, even though I knew they could have taken place anywhere in the cave. There are bats that reside here. I was informed that the bat population is relatively small and my chance of seeing one was very unlikely. I had a better chance at hitting the lottery before encountering a bat, apparently. I was also grateful that I had gloves on. My hands tend to get cold easily and holding onto the railing while I descended helped immensely. Cold hands, warm heart!
As I traversed on, I couldn’t help but think of those awful creatures from that movie. I absolutely LOVE scary movies, but I have the imagination of a totally susceptible 2 year old. Black van with a sign on the side that says FREE CANDY! ? Sounds legit!
Now knowing these things about myself, what do I do? I stop somewhere mid-cave and turn my headlamp and flashlight off. That lasted for a hot NY minute as I quickly turned them back on. The darkness was deafening!!! It oozed into my ears, throwing me into an isolation tank of non-existence. As soon as I submerged myself into the blackness, I thought (see caption under the next photo). The light that bathed me in safety was a welcome relief and the urgency to pee my pants subsided.
(Why the fuck do I do this shit to myself?)
The majority of the cave exploration was uneventful. No indigenous creatures, either real or make-believe, jumped out at me. I enjoyed seeing the different landscapes as I explored this underground terra firma. As I journeyed on, the blackness that surrounded my peripheral vision acted as a black hole would, sucking out any light. I had to physically refrain from turning my head in order to dislodge the tunnel vision I was experiencing. Otherwise, I would have looked like someone watching an imaginary tennis match! I would be of the opinion that this may put other cave explorers on edge wondering when my cuckoo clock would strike midnight. Luckily, no one was around to see my errant behavior. In fact, I was on my own while I prodded through the baby fine dust, until about the last quarter mile. I started to hear faint intermittent noises, which I brushed off as musings of a scaredy cat. When I reached the end of the cave, I saw lights behind me. Others?! Huh…I felt strangely disappointed. I would have selfishly liked to have kept this experience of solo cave exploration to myself, all the way back. At least I felt helpful when I crossed paths with persons in the opposite direction asking me the same question: How much farther until the end?
As I got closer to the entrance and farther away from this netherworld, that movie, “The Descent” didn’t seem so scary any longer.
I was of this conjecture until I saw “The Descent 2” where there are above ground affiliates, like you and I, that would find victims to feed these things. Oh, great! Now it’s passive serial killers?
Much love and Aloha,
your VERY clueless wanderer