Deschutes County is rich in caves, caves that are rich in themselves. Legend tells of a lost crystal cave somewhere between Bend and Pine Mountain. It is this tale and my own insatiable lust for treasure that drives me into the desert time and time again. I wander often, eyes to the ground, scanning for undiscovered minerals or ‘the nugget’ that will lead to early retirement. I’ve found eagle feathers, ancient tools, and (on my husband’s birthday) a meteorite. I’ve yet to find any convertible treasure, blaming only my lack of a horse.
A bevy of half forgotten caves can be found off China Hat Road, East of Bend. Some of the caves are closed seasonally, some indefinitely. Others may only be seen by paid appointment. Arnold Ice Cave is open year round, though not easily explorable. It is an eery lava pit, reminiscent of an abandoned ghost mine.The history here is palpable and a bit mysterious still. The trail down to the cave’s entrance is deceptively steep and grows cooler with each step. Peering into the depth of the cave one can see a collapsed ladder and bits of tangled wiring. It is not known how far back this particular cave goes, until recent years the cave was filled almost entirely with ice.
The footing here is a bit tricky and the drop down surely painful, even without ice. The ladder was constructed in 1963 by the Forest Service to help the public get down over the ice. The ice, however, engulfed and eroded the ladder so badly it had to be dismantled. The ice was so thick in 2010 that it nearly closed up the entire entrance to the cave. Today, in August of 2015, the cave is dry. Artifacts found in nearby Charcoal Cave (closed) date back 10,000 years. The ice from Arnold Ice Cave would have been a source of drinking water in the desert for nomadic tribes. The cave was ‘rediscovered’ by settlers of the Bend area in 1890. The modern name seems to have come from early confusion between the ice cave and nearby Arnold Ranch. The ice in this cave was harvested in blocks, transported via carriage to Bend and sold for refrigeration up until the 1930s.
There are several caves within the Arnold Ice Cave System, all within a short walking distance of one another. Hidden Forest Cave is an enchanting cathedral like lava tube located within a large depression. A mature Ponderosa grove marks the correct lava pit. The trail is a fairly easy amble down, large basalt cliffs guide the way to the caves entrance.
The interior of Hidden Forest Cave is large and open, like a stadium. Lava boulders rest in rows like seats. Sound here is amplified without an echo. Behind the last row of stone seats is a small flat area, it is lit by sunbeams passing through a hole. The hole is large enough to squeeze through and opens up to another lava pit.
Hidden Forest Cave was hit by vandals in 2011. Trees were cut down and burned in the cave, graffiti covered irreplaceable pictographs. The perpetrators were caught and fined over 20 thousand dollars. The money was used to restore the cave, however many of the pictographs were lost. The trail that leads to the cave was also vandalized in 2013. Hidden Forest Cave remains open year round, although it is closed to climbing/bouldering. My hope is that it will remain open and many more generations will have the opportunity to explore such a magical, timeless place.