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Oregon's Hidden River Styx

Discover a wild waterway within a mountain cavern.

Sophia Bennett
a waterfall cascades over mossy rock in River Styx in Oregon, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy National Park Service
Photo caption
Find a waterfall near the cave’s entrance.

At Oregon’s River Styx, you won’t find Charon waiting with his boat or souls traversing murky waters to the underworld. Instead, you’ll find enthusiastic rangers eager to lead you over a clear stream and inside one of the Siskiyou Mountains.

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, near Cave Junction, owes its existence to the river. Chief of Interpretation George Herring explains that over the course of millennia, rainfall picked up carbonic acid from detritus on the forest floor. That mildly acidic water slowly carved a cavern in the mountain’s marble interior.

In 2014, Congress designated River Styx the nation’s first subterranean Wild and Scenic River. Herring says the waterway adds greatly to a visitor’s experience. “You feel like you’re in a living, breathing cave because of the creek,” he says. “It fills the senses. It ripples and bubbles and burbles.”

The rushing River Styx is visible during the first part of the 90-minute cave tour. As its sound recedes, ever-changing marble formations become the focus. In different spots they resemble curdled buttercream, drifting jellyfish, and foamed milk. In the sprawling Ghost Room, park guide Virginia Lauterbach points out blades of two-tone marble. “Cave bacon,” she calls it.

This article was first published in September 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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