Derrick Cave hike, aka. Skimming Bill Sullivan nearly strands us in the desert

During the Central Oregon Roadtrip, KP and I headed to the Fort Rock, Oregon area. According to Bill Sullivan, there are several “mysteries” nearby, including lava tube caves, a wandering forest of Ponderosa Pines and a giant crack in the ground. I figured, we’re probably not coming this way again for a while, might as well see one of them and Derrick Cave seemed like the obvious choice.

Unfortunately, all I’d managed to do was skim the section of the book that talked about the Derrick Cave hike. I knew it was a cave formed by cooling lava that at one time had been a nuclear fallout bunker for Central Oregon. I retained a surprising amount of information, considering I’d blanked out on the warning: The shortest route [to Derrick Cave] is rough and poorly signed.

Derrick Cave, Oregon

No sh*t. And whatever route we took wasn’t much better. It was probably 20 miles from Fort Rock to Derrick Cave, but it took us hours to get there. And as we’re driving through BLM ranch lands with loose cows, boulder strewn desert washout “roads” and barbwire scraps, I’m thinking… we’re going to die out here. How long before I go Donner Party on KP? 3 hours — tops. Tension was high.

I should tell you that I drive a Honda Civic with about 4 inches of clearance. We decided we made a wrong turn as we pulled up on a (garbage dump/ranch?) and had to actually backtrack several miles, but somehow made a few right turns and found an unmarked parking lot that looked about right on the gazetteer. Mind you, the BLM had put up signs back 15 miles for “Derrick Cave” when we were still on a paved, named road — but nothing at the actual parking lot.

Once we parked the car at the unmarked lot, we walked about 1/2 a mile to where the trail dead ended into a series of game trails. We didn’t see the caves until we scrambled over the rock pile perpendicular to the trail. No signs.

The cave was pretty cool — kind of two caves really. KP and I were walking down the longer one when a bunch of loud people crammed up the cave behind us.  WTF? We’re in the middle of nowhere — and these people are coming up right here…?

Derrick Cave, Oregon

Walking out of the caves I felt a little bit better. These jokers had some super sweet off-road vehicles, and my little civic was there first. Small victories.

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About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
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5 Responses to Derrick Cave hike, aka. Skimming Bill Sullivan nearly strands us in the desert

  1. manofwar says:

    Have you talked to the FCC about blanking the word “shit” because if so I’m deeply upset. The word “shit” has been around for ages and we shouldn’t just start taking out the “i” in it because it’s getting old. We have laws that protect the elderly.

    Remember that the next time you’re going to use a profane word that has been around longer than you.

    DW

  2. Caver says:

    Regarding the UNMARKED parking lot, a Derrick Cave BLM sign was right there when I helped construct the parking area in 2005. I can only assume vandels have since removed it. Incidentally, the stone-walled parking lot was constructed to discourage visitors in vehicles and ATVs from driving right up to the cave and using it to dump trash or for target practice. I guess we don’t all swim in the same gene pool. Glad to hear you found the cave, had a good time, and chose to share your experience.

  3. Chris P. says:

    Nice report. I was one of the loud people that walked up on you that day! We were on a trail ride with our International Scout club. We had no idea you guys were in the cave until we were right on top of you. Sorry about that! Your civic must really kick ass — as we had just been on a 4 hour trip cross county from our camp site to get to the cave.

  4. rob says:

    My buddy and I just did the little tiny cave just to the left of that area at the end of the trail… if you crawl on you belly, squeeze around a corner and then another smaller squeeze around another corner, the cave opens up a little and you can crawl for quite a ways. we got pretty far and then decided to turn around before our lights ran out of juice… but talk about claustrophobia!

    Then we also got stuck on some ridiculous ranch road, that originally said “dead end” at the gate of some ranch, but our GPS said to keep going and we did… an hour later after some barb-wire gates and scratching the bottom of the car to pieces, we finally made it to Christmas Valley.

    Crack in the ground was freakin awesome… you should go there. Bring lights and extra gear if you want to climb down some of the tubes there… 1 in particular that kept going before we were too scared to continue.

    Oh, and I like the lack of signs… keeps city slickers from finding the place and ruining it. Not a lot of travelers there when I was visiting, very clean, very quiet.

  5. wreckless says:

    This was brilliant and thank you for the warning before I headed out alone . In a Camry. Built in 1991. 🙂 I’ve done the whole “Oh, S#!&, what was I thinking” thing in the spirit of adventure as well as felt sure that my poorly planned and equipped journey was going to end in certain death. 😉 Here, here, to adventure!

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