When some ignoramus trashes one of our natural or historical treasures, it's an insult to us all. That's what happened recently at Hidden Forest Cave, one of our more unique natural features in the Deschutes National Forest. They all but ruined it.
Like most of the lava caves we have in this part of Oregon, Hidden Forest Cave was formed so long ago that geologists count the time that's since passed in eons. It began when pahoehoe (meaning "smooth, unbroken") lava flowed over the top of another lava flow. The surface cooled, but beneath the smooth crust the interior was still molten. As more lava surged through the lower surface, it eventually drained out at the toe, leaving a tube in its wake.
Water and ice seeped down into the tunnel again and again. At some point, the ceiling of the tube collapsed, leaving behind a large hole open to the sky. Soil eventually formed - including ash from the magnificent eruption of Mt. Mazama where Crater Lake shines in the sunlight today - and grass, shrubs and trees began to grow in the bottom of the hole, among them some magnificent ponderosa pines.
That was about the time when man, that wondrous creature who's been wandering around on the face of our lovely Earth for quite some time, probably discovered Hidden Forest Cave. The first human who approached the cave was probably startled by seeing the tops of pine trees at eye-level.
The place was so special that the first discoverers left messages on the flat surfaces outside the cave in the form of pictographs. Today, they are beautiful rock art. But they also represent significant historical value.
Luther Cressman, discoverer of the 9,000 year-old sagebrush sandals in what is today Fort Rock Cave and who is known as the father of Oregon anthropology, stopped to take a look at Hidden Forest Cave back in 1938. He thought it was so special that he passed along the discovery to the Oregon Historical Society and then went back to searching for new sites of old things.
In 1987, local caver Charlie Larson put together a splendid caver's handbook for Central Oregon in which he gave Hidden Forest Cave its first public place in the sun, complete with an excellent aerial photograph showing the collapsed lava tube segments. He wrote: "Hidden Forest Cave is the westernmost segment of the Arnold System so far identified. It is entered through a majestically impressive collapsed trench so deep that only the tops of large trees that grow in it can be seen from a distance.
Soon, cavers from all over the NW heard about Hidden Forest Cave, and cavers, who follow the code to "leave nothing behind but footprints and take nothing but photographs," left the cave as they found it. Not so with some rock climbers, however, who drilled 139 climbing bolts into the lava rock face to suit their purposes.
Larry King, a caver from Portland, discovered the rock climbers' paraphernalia defacing the walls of the cave entrance and became very upset, so much so that he cut the bolts out.
The incident, however, pales compared to the most recent desecration that occurred in late April when an unknown person or persons ventured out to the Hidden Forest Cave with a different agenda. They sprayed painted the walls at the entrance to the cave with crude symbols. To say it was crass is an understatement; it is also illegal. The vandals also damaged rocks and trees in and around the cave site and lit fires that destroyed some of the caves "ecological and cultural" resources, according to a Forest Service press release.
The cavers who discovered the disfiguring stroke of vandalism were shocked and angered and initiated a series of actions to rectify the damages and apprehend the culprits. One of the most significant moves was getting Forest Service law enforcement involved and now an investigation is underway and a reward of $1,200 has been established with the help of local businesses and individuals, caving federations and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and the Klamath Tribes, for the capture and redress of the perpetrators.
From this point on, all future donations will be used for the restoration efforts of the cave, removing the paint without harming the ancient pictographs beneath it will be difficult at best and perhaps impossible at worst.
Here are some websites you can visit to get a better idea of what happened to Hidden Forest Cave and what is being done to correct the mess:
Crime Stoppers: 1-887-876-TIPS, email@example.com
Reward donation site: www.ohdgrotto.com/reward.html or donate to the
reward fund at any Bank of the Cascades branch.