Bend’s Lost Cave

A couple years ago, I published a technical article in issue 29 of the Oregon Underground newsletter. It was about Brogan’s mention of a “lost cave” in Bend. It was thick with references and not easy to read. This blog post will take another approach in exploring the possibility of a lost cave in Bend. Phil Brogan, a historian of Bend among other things, wrote about a lost cave in a 1941 issue of the Oregon Journal. Here’s what he had to say:

“In east-side Bend, on or near the old L. D. Wiest property, there is a ‘lost cave.’ When Bend was a pioneer town, this cave had a big opening. Because such an opening was dangerous, it was closed with rocks and carefully covered with dirt, old timers say. And now, not even the old timers know the exact location of the cavern. But occasionally there is heard under the earth dull thuds, probably loose rocks falling from the roof of the lost cave.”

Now there is a tempting morsel! To my knowledge, this single paragraph is the only original documentation of a cave located on the east side of Bend. By the east side of Bend, Brogan is describing the Wiestoria property roughly between NE 2nd Street and NE 12th Street north of Greenwood Ave.  This historic Wiestoria is not to be confused with the new Wiestoria development property at the corner of 8th and Revere, though it does fall squarely inside the historic Wiestoria.

So Brogan says this lost cave is squarely in the center of good ‘ol Bend! Any cave in the vicinity of Wiestoria would be a part of the flow that created Lava River Cave, or a small lava flow that issued from the northwest flank of Pilot Butte. There is a small chance that the cave is related to the fault scarp that runs through Wiestoria, but typically these scarps are oblique-slips, which is to say, they are a combination of fault boundaries moving horizontally and vertically against one another, but it’s uncommon to have the boundaries of these faults shift away from another to leave a gap.

And what’s this about “dull thuds?” I suppose this cave periodically would have a rock dislodge from the ceiling and fall to the floor creating a loud booming noise. No one I’ve spoken with has heard this sound. I personally feel that the occasional “dull thud” being heard is too often an occurrence for a cave that has lasted around 100,000 years. At that rate, I would think the cave would have dismantled itself by now. Perhaps these rocks were falling off from an increase in water erosion caused by the settlement of Bend? In that case, it may be that in the next 100 to 500 years, this cave may open itself up again. If it exists at all.

There are a ton of anecdotal reports on caves on the east side of Bend. Too many to list here, but a few of the noteworthy ones include:

  • a cave off Brinson Blvd in the industrial section and since been built over (probably a fault cave) has been noted by two unrelated residents
  • a lava tube east of Pilot Butte Middle School near Cliff Dr (estimated to be about 100 feet long) has been noted by two unrelated residents
  • a possible cave underneath St. Charles hospital discovered during test drilling or excavation
  • a fault cave off Full Moon Dr that was used to funnel treated waste from the old treatment plant (hence the inside joke “Full Moon.”)
  • a dubious report of a cave underneath or near the intersection of Penn Ave and NE 12th St, but noted by three unrelated residents
  • a bootlegger cave reported south of East Hwy 20 near the intersection of Bear Creek Rd and Purcell Ave (more on this in a later blog)

If you have any information on caves in the city of Bend, especially in the historic Wiestoria area please contact me. Confidentiality is always respected.


Essential cave literature for the beginner

This blog post will focus on essential cave books that everyone new to caving should read or own. These books are primers for becoming familiar with central Oregon’s most popular caves. Anyone with a hint of curiosity about the area’s lava tubes will enjoy these books and find plenty of facts and history to absorb. The last section discusses harder to obtain guidebooks. They are usually handed out at regional caving events and paid for during registration. The camaraderie and good times had at these events are priceless.

Lava River Cave

Lava River Cave by Charlie Larson

Lava River Cave is a book dedicated to Oregon’s only commercial lava tube. It’s a slim book at 24 pages long, but Larson has undervalued his books so they are dirt cheap to pick up new at any retailer that carries them. Larson’s book on Lava River Cave is great for its history and old photos on the Sand Gardens, tunneling, and two maps. One map shows the entirety of the cave on pages 6 and 7. But the other map is segmented over the continuing pages and is described in great detail by Larson’s descriptive and methodical words.

This book is great for what it is, the only in depth literature on the cave, and a collection of history and photographs from decades past. Lava River Cave can be found for sale at the Deschutes National Forest office on Deschutes Market Road in Bend, the High Desert Museum and Lava Lands Visitor Center, both south of Bend on Hwy 97.

Central Oregon Caves

Central Oregon Caves by Charlie Larson

The other great book by Larson that is still available for purchase is Central Oregon Caves. Its main focus is on the public caves of the Deschutes National Forest with inclusions of a few BLM caves, a few caves from Willamette National Forest, and two privately held caves for completion’s sake. Like his other book “Lava River Cave,” Larson describes the caves in detail, but because of the greater selection included, each cave has a limited amount of space. This really isn’t a problem since you will want to explore and discover most of these caves for yourself. This book is chock full of goodies you shouldn’t pass up. Most of the caves have maps for them and those that don’t probably have a picture or two. Larson continues his geological review of the caves and you’ll find plenty to sink your teeth in.

Since the book’s creation, a lot has changed for the most notable caves of this book. Skeleton, Wind, Charlie-the-Cave, and Stookey Ranch Caves have all been gated in an effort to restore and manage the bat populations there. One thing that is not clear from the description of Stookey Ranch and Charcoal Cave no. 2 is that they are privately owned. Even though the gate design of Stookey Ranch is the same as others nearby, it’s still private property. If you find yourself staring at either caves without permission, you’re trespassing. Just an FYI!

Larson has had a huge hand in educating the public about these caves and having cultured more than a few cavers from his literature, including myself. His books are fantastic, cheap, and this book in particular should be your starting point. Central Oregon Caves can be found for sale at the Deschutes National Forest office on Deschutes Market Road in Bend, the High Desert Museum and Lava Lands Visitor Center, both south of Bend on Hwy 97. Pick this one up!

Geology of Selected

Geology of Selected Lava Tubes in the Bend Area, Oregon by Ronald Greeley

This little gem of a book is no longer for sale and hasn’t been for some time. It’s actually a geology book released by the State of Oregon’s Geology department in conjunction with the Space Sciences Division of NASA. This book can be read at the Central Oregon Community College’s library or accessed by inter-library loan through a public library. The book is meant as a study of domestic lava tubes for use toward lunar analogies, perhaps lunar bases in the future. But it reads fairly easily and has plenty of pictures and maps to entertain any cave enthusiast.

The book should not be used as a cave guide for exploration. Greeley has detailed a few caves from the Horse Lava Tube System that are on private property. There’s nothing like traipsing through people’s property to get in trouble with the law. So think of it as a vicarious look into those caves which are now out of reach. But fear not reader! This book has plenty of information on the Arnold Lava Tube System and other popular caves on public land like Lava River, Skeleton, Boyd, and South Ice Caves. Like Larson’s book, Greeley doesn’t note that some of the caves are on private property and this includes Charcoal Cave no. 2 and Stookey Ranch Cave.


Caves and Other Volcanic Landforms of Central Oregon by Lynne Sims and Ellen Benedict

This book was still available for purchase in some locations like the Deschutes National Forest offices only a few years ago but those copies may have been leftovers from the 1982 NSS Convention. Still, it’s easily acquirable through inter-library loan or perhaps even on Amazon, eBay, of from time to time. This book takes a different approach to exploring caves and the countryside. Most of the thrust of the book is on using car mileage to establish a route through the landscape to view volcanic features. Features reviewed in the book range from the Newberry lakes to Crack in the Ground to Derrick Cave. The book is illustrated with photos and artistic renditions of cave inhabitants like the elusive grylloblattid or harvestman to surface fauna like coniferous trees and chipmunks.

Harder to Obtain Literature (and some not so essential)


An Introduction to Caves of the Bend Area, Guidebook of the 1982 NSS Convention edited by Charlie Larson

This is the holy grail of local cave literature. The guidebook was specifically made for the 1982 NSS Convention that was held in Bend at the Mountain View High School. Most of the material was written by Charlie Larson, but credits also include Larry Chitwood for the geologic map and geology section, and Jim Nieland for the cartography though not all of the cave maps were done by him. Some contributions from Ronald Greeley and Craig Skinner are also included.

The 1982 guidebook is extremely difficult to come by now. It is sold out everywhere and has been for many years. A copy of it was available through the public library but it was never returned some time ago. The book doesn’t turn up on the auction sites or online booksellers. The best option currently is to know someone who has it and borrow it, or get a photocopied version.

Larson went all out on this book and packed in many caves found in his other book Central Oregon Caves and a whole bunch more, especially on less popular caves that you know are just nearby, but you’re not quite sure where. This book doesn’t help you find the caves since that’s not the intent, but it does give maps and descriptions for Button Springs, McKenzie Pits, Santiam Pit, the Matz Caves, Edison Ice Caves, Cleveland Ice, and many other caves that are sure to knock your socks off.

My personal favorite is the section on the Horse Lava Tube System which I have spent many a day studying and visiting with landowners. Aside from grotto newsletters, this book is one of the few sources of information on that system and the maps supplied sure do peel your eyelids back as you realize these caves are all near the city of Bend.


Guide to the Lava Tube Caves of Central Oregon by David Purcell

Okay, so I know I titled this blog post as “Essential cave literature…” but I couldn’t help but mention this little book. It predates all the other books by Larson and has much of the same format as his book but less finesse. You won’t learn much more from this book than you will from Larson’s books, however it does include a little bit of information on Malheur Cave and the lost Crystal Cave. Guide to the Lava Tube Caves of Central Oregon is no longer for sale either, and your best bet is to hunt it down online.


Pushing Passage at the Western Regional 2003 edited by Patti Williamson-Hughes

This guidebook was released in limited quantities to attendees of the 2003 Western Regional. Its intended destination was not for the public of course, but it’s worth mentioning to anyone who has more than a passing interest in local caves. The guidebook is slim and the production values are low, yet it packs a small punch with its collection of cave descriptions and maps. Most of the entries in this guidebook are not found in the previous books described above, and a few like Carburetor Cave are not found in any other book. For that alone, it makes it worth a look.


Undiscovered Country, 2010 NCA Regional Guidebook edited by Matt Skeels

Edited by who? That would be me. Now I get to play the part of a self promoter. This book was created for the 2010 NCA Regional in 2010. Roughly 80 copies were made and they’re all gone now and in the hands of cavers. Much like the 1982 NSS Guidebook and the Pushing Passage 2003 Guidebook before it, I attempted to make it a collection of cave descriptions and cave maps. Many contributors helped in making this guidebook come to fruition including Charlie Larson, Brent McGregor, Jim Nieland, Ella Rowan, Larry King, Ric Carlson and plenty of others.

The most unique contribution to the guidebook are the maps and I created this book to be the “one stop shop.” Brimming with obligatory cave maps, revised maps, and new maps the most noteworthy of which is Arnold Ice Cave. Revised maps of Lavacicle and Skeleton Cave are also included, as well as rare inclusions of such caves as P Line Ice, Upper Breezeway, Cody Borehole, Parker, and many others. One of the shortcomings of the book is the low number of articles, but the 74 cave maps included outnumber the total number of pages in the book!

The fabled 17 mile lava tunnel from Bend to Redmond

A few years ago, I stopped at a random house asking about caves in the neighborhood. The fellow I spoke to was a friendly chap and had no information to offer, but he did have a question for me. He asked “I heard that the military base east of Bend on Dodds road was built on a lava tube that runs all the way to the Redmond airport. Do you know anything about that?”

The military base he was referring to is the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program high school on Dodds rd. I don’t know if it is built on a lava tube, but it’s surely possible, just as it is for nearly any other building in central Oregon to unknowingly be built over a lava tube. There are plenty that are. But somehow that old rumor that Bend is connected to Redmond via a 17 mile lava tube had morphed into a secret military access route to the airport.

It’s suspected that the rumor began during the prohibition era when a few locals were known to have illegally distilled liquor in a few caves around the Bend area. Remnants of these operations were found in Skeleton Cave, Distillery Cave, and Moonshiner’s Cave. But only Skeleton Cave is of any sufficient length to be even remotely considered as the basis for this rumor, and as we know today, Skeleton Cave is not quite a mile in length.

An old distillery barrel in Moonshiner’s Cave.

News stories in the Bend Bulletin would later remark on the rumors. The first known mention “Tunnels Under Bend” (p. 4) occurred in 1940 after a fellow offered up a story of a 17 mile long tunnel used for shipping alcohol. The editor of the article, most likely Phil Brogan, rightly denounced the plausibility of such a fanciful tale citing no evidence. However, he does note that fissures underlie the landscape. Still, it’s hard to imagine an uninterrupted 17 mile long fissure running north to Redmond, when most of the faults in the area are not fissures but merely fault scarps and run generally SE/NW.

Another brief article made the front page of the Bend Bulletin, titled “Impressions of central Oregon visitors” (p. 1). A visitor asks the pervasive question about the two cities being connected by a cave the size of a subway tunnel. This myth is rebuffed too and the editor again suggests fissures, the odd cavern or two, and a subterranean stream. In 1958, another article “Cavern Explorers” (p. 4) briefly mentions the rumor that did not die.

The longest lava tube in Oregon is still Lava River Cave. A little over a mile long, it is the perfect example for when conditions are right, this lava tube still could not live up to the tall tales of the prohibition era. The city of Bend is underlain with the same lava rock that created the Lava River Cave and this flow nearly extends to the city of Redmond. Some caves have been found underneath, but there’s very little chance that these caves developed unbroken channels 17 miles long. Or that the roofs did not collapse and segment these caverns. If a cave of such mythical proportions did exist, it’d still be easier to ship the illegal moonshine on the surface even with the risk of being caught.