Ready, set, spelunk!

Looking for an excuse to get out of the city this summer? Oregon is knee deep in natural caves that are just waiting to be explored.

Oregon Caves National Monument draws visitors from all over the state with its unique limestone formations. Located in Cave Junction, the caves have been a national monument since 1907, according to the site manager for the city’s visitor center Dennis Strayer.

According to Strayer, the cave was once an ocean reef. Over millions of years tectonic forces pushed the reef up above sea level, where it now lies.

Strayer believes the caves are very unique because they are the only in Oregon which are made up of limestone. This process occurs when mineral-rich water dripping from the ceiling of the cave crystallizes. Also, marble was formed in the caves due to the extreme pressure the caves were under when they first formed.

“It’s a real good record of the geology of this part of Oregon,” Strayer said. “(It’s a) good indicator of things that have happened in the past.”

According to Strayer, the caves not only provide visitors with a one of a kind look into geologic history, they also have much to tell about the evolutionary history of the region. Several ancient animal skeletons have been discovered in the caves, including an ancient jaguar skeleton.

During the summer months, 90-minute cave tours are given about every half an hour. The price to visit the caves is just $7.50 per adult, $5 for children and free for anyone with a National Park Pass or Golden Eagle Card.

For those itching for a little adventure, the park service offers four-hour tours, which take visitors far into the caves and require a bit of crawling through some tight places. These tours run less often than the 90-minute tours and cost $25, but all of the equipment is provided by the tour guides. Just remember to wear some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.

According to Strayer, visitors should be ready for an out-of-this-world experience.

“It’s very dark and damp inside,” Strayer said. “It’s almost like going into outer space.”

For those who may not like tight spaces or just don’t like the dark, there are several hiking trails around the area suitable for hikers of any level.

For more information about the Oregon Caves National Monument, call the Cave Junction Visitor Center at 541-592-4076 or the National Park Service at 541-592-2100.