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Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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So could the crystals have been something else? Ice? Opals? Maybe, but that wouldn’t explain the sheepmen’s having brought quartz crystals back from their journey.
So, what are we left with? Not much. But, there is a third possibility. What if the cowboys were actually on a drive from somewhere other than Burns? What if they were coming into the Bend-La Pine area from, say, Baker City or John Day, and somehow — by accident or by design — the story got altered?
When the original version of this story was first published in the Redmond Spokesman, back in 2010, I got a phone call from a gentleman from Pendleton. I didn’t catch his name, although he did throw it; it was just as well, since I know he wouldn’t have been OK with being mentioned by name in this article. Judging by his voice, I would estimate he was 75 to 85 years old. In any case, he was mostly interested to know more details of where I thought the cave was. I told him the legends I’d unearthed.
When he spoke next, he actually sounded relieved. With a chuckle, he told me the cave was nowhere near the places I was talking about; it was northeast of Bend, he said, about 150 miles out of town.
He made it pretty clear that that was as close as he was going to get to revealing its location. But it was, he told me, real; he had been there, several times.
Now, this was 2010, and he was calling me from a land-line — meaning this was a long-distance phone call that he was paying for. He didn’t come off as the kind of fellow who has nothing better to do with his time than phone up strangers long-distance to lie about crystal caves.
So, perhaps everyone has been beating the bushes on the wrong side of town for all these years? That certainly could explain 100 years of failure to find anything.
But there is one more possibility as well. And to explain it, I have to tell you what happened in 2010 at the Arnold Ice Cave.
In the late 1880s and early 1900s, the Arnold Ice Cave was a source for ice in the summertime for the city of Bend. Then affordable refrigeration technology came along and made it unnecessary, and after that, people stopped going to the cave to cut blocks of ice. But the ice continued to grow in the cave, and by about 1940 it had filled up enough of it to block off the entrance.
In 2010, the groundwater flows changed, and the cave cleared enough for people to start coming in again. Members of the caver group Central Oregon Grotto eagerly came to the site and explored it, carefully documenting all the neat old artifacts they found inside: an old cigarette box, a rusty ax, the skull of what appeared to be an actual wolf.
Then word leaked out to the general public. And within a few years, all the artifacts had been pilfered and the walls of the cave covered with spray-painted graffiti.
In the following year, 2011, a group of bonfire partiers with a bag of spray-paint cans covered Hidden Forest Cave with about 15 cans’ worth of graffiti, covering over Native American pictographs in the process.
And these were just ordinary caves, if there is such a thing. How long do you suppose a cave lined with shimmering, iridescent crystals would last? What do you think it would look like after a couple weekends’ worth of souvenir-hunting Philistines came tramping through unsupervised?
It’s a pretty safe bet that if any of the cave buffs who remember the Arnold Ice Cave story and the Hidden Forest Cave incident were to stumble across the crystal cave today, they’d keep their mouths shut. They might even drag some brush over the entrance before leaving, to try and keep it hidden a little longer.
And really, could you blame them?