Pluto Caves: Unexpected Openings Among Desert Flatlands

In January, on our way back from our breakaway to the Oregon Coast (Newport, 2 hours from Portland), we decided to take a 20 minute detour from the I-5 to visit Pluto’s Caves. I am not much of a navigator and even with my phone— I missed the street we were supposed to turn on. We took the long path to find caves in this flat landscape. The journey there was enjoyable as we drove on a rough dirt road path past Juniper trees, silver brush, and fenced off zones. The arid and remote landscape reminded me of the desert. We came upon three openings.

The big openings were beneath the surface of the horizon. How did these caves come to be? We were on a time crunch and were only able to survey these spots briefly. Later I learned that these caves are volcanic tubes and extend a rocky 1 mile distance. It maintains an upper 40 degree temperature despite the outside temperature. The deeper in you go the darker it gets. You absolutely need a bright flashlight or headlamps. These caves are named after Pluto — the Greek god of the underworld. That day the cave did feel 10 degrees cooler from the outside. There were signs of past visitors with a few colorfully tagged walls. Yikes. We did not even come close to exploring the dark underworld.

This was my first Californian cave I have visited. I have encountered some international caves: the steep Malaysian Batu Caves, the enchanting Thien Cung Cave (Halong Bay) filled with loud Chinese tourists, and few Yucatan caves with the even more mysterious cenotes.

Caves are bewitching to me. Despite feeling basically vulnerable (small and scared), there is a part of me that likes the idea of wading into the darkness. I enjoyed the drama these caves brought despite being in such a quiet area by the California border. My brain goes wild wondering what other secrets exist in seemingly mundane areas.

I look forward to visiting more California natural wonders this year. One of my hopes for 2021 is to feel more moments of sublime. This takes some effort as far as looking for unique destinations. It may also requires looking at even mundane moments and accustomed spaces with wonder. With the certainty of uncertainly of international travel brought on by COVID, it’s safest to hop into the car for adventures.

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