After moving to Harney County we had several people ask us if we’d been to Malheur Caves. One day when we had company, we decided it was time to check out this cave only five miles down the road from us.
Never have I been some place that my writer brain started zapping ideas so fast and furious!
But to start it off, I felt my character Isabella Mumphrey in her first book Secrets of a Mayan Moon. I have a fear of bats. Yes, just like my character. And the first thing my brother-in-law said as he entered the cave, “Look, a bat.” But I wanted to see this cave so bad, I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up and followed the beam of my light on the floor. Twenty feet in, it no longer smelled like bats and I looked up because everyone else was ooing and awing.
The ceiling had streaks of sliver running jagged across it like lightning bolts. When I did research on the caves, I discovered the silver was cave slime. But I have yet to learn what the cave slime is made of to make it shine silver in the beams of the flashlights.
The cave is a 3000 foot lava tube. The entrance is 8 feet high and farther in it is 20 feet high with a 1300ft long lake that is 23 feet deep.
According to local historians the first people to find and use the lake were the Paiutes of this area. Two or three families of Paiutes used the cave to live in during the winter. When word came to the Paiutes that the Bannocks were on the war path and after women and children for slaves. The whole Paiute band carried all their belongings and as much food as they could gather quickly and moved into the cave. Then they rolled rocks in front of the entrance. When the Bannocks discovered the hiding Paiutes, they decided to wait them out not knowing there was a fresh spring running in the cave and that the Paiutes had food. Eventually, the Bannocks left but not before firing many arrows at the rocks in front of the Cave.
|Size of the cave|
It took many decades before the cave was discovered by the White man. The cave is situated in such a way that unless you are approaching the entrance you would never know there was a cave. And the entrance was still mostly concealed by the rocks the Paiutes had rolled in front to protect them. They discovered many arrow heads at the entrance of the cave and as more and more archeologists came to the cave they found many useful artifacts.
The cave is 68 degrees year round. Locals who knew of the cave would venture out on weekends. In 1924 there was a resort that led excursions to the cave. Row boats were docked on one end of the lake in the cave and people could row across to the other side and back.
|Entrance from the inside|
In 1938 the masons started using the cave for a yearly meeting. The land was owned by an old man who said they could hold their meetings. They built bleachers in the widest part of the cave and later installed electric lights that could hook up to a generator. When the man died the Masons continued using the cave. The relatives didn’t live in the area and let the taxes lapse. In 1952 the Masons paid the back taxes and purchased the land from the old man’s relatives. It is now the property of the Masons, but they allow the public to enjoy the cave all year except the last weekend of August when they hold their yearly meeting.
|On top of the cave.|
While traipsing through the dark, looking at the walls, the ceilings, and the rocky floor my mind came up with an idea for a book with the Paiutes, a book about outlaws, and a book about a stranded family during the 1800’s. Yes, this was a wonderful place to get so many ideas!