On our recent summer camping trip in Oregon one of the best parks my brother and I explored was Silver Falls State Park. As in so much of this beautiful state, the campground is forested with huge pine trees. It also has something that you just don’t find much in the southwestern U.S. where I live: waterfalls. If I remember correctly, ten are located along the hiking trails enclosed in this relatively small park. We didn’t have the time (or energy) to hike to all of them, but there was one waterfall that really stood out to me. The South Falls is not only the easiest to reach, but the tallest of the waterfalls. It also has some rather unique features.
The hiking trail approaches the falls from above and then curves sharply down and actually passes behind the waterfall, providing a viewpoint you don’t get with most natural falls. We were there during an unusual heat wave for Oregon, but the temperature dropped dramatically and the humidity rose as we approached the flow of falling water. If I were a plant, I think this is where I would want to be rooted. Colorful lichens along the rock wall are constantly bathed in the mist.
Behind the falls I also found a patch of some sort of strange looking mushroom (toadstool?). I’ve never come across this species before. They were shaped like small cups as if to catch as much of the mist as possible.
The most intriguing discovery behind the waterfall was a series of small caves. I realized right away that these weren’t your usual caves. The region of central Texas I call home is littered with limestone caverns carved out by dripping or flowing water. These narrow caves in Oregon, however, were not formed from smooth weathered limestone, but hard jagged volcanic rock. But what makes them truly different is the fact that they are vertical.These caves go straight up.
In spite of the abundant water cascading just beyond the caves and misting my camera lens, it was obvious that they were not formed by water. Looking up into one of them I could see the opening narrowed as it poked some unknown distance into the solid rock.
There was no sign explaining the phenomenon at the falls site, but back at camp I found the explanation in a pamphlet that we received upon entering the park. Long ago this area was formed by two huge lava flows, separated by a period of several thousand years. During that peaceful in-between era, soil formed and a dense forest of huge trees grew just as they do today above the falls. During the second volcanic eruption, the trees were engulfed in deep molten lava. The tall trunks of these trapped trees either burned completely or rotted away over time. Either way, each tree blocked the lava long enough for it to harden around the trunk, forming what appears today to be a cave that goes straight up. It is a stone mold of the ancient tree. The stream and waterfall we see today in fact had nothing to do with creating these wonders of nature.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.