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Plunging into darkness beneath the Oregon high desert

Ken Siegrist crawls on his belly through the dirt. His neck contorts as he pushes through a constriction of basalt that seems moments away from crushing his skull. There is no natural light. Best to not think about the scorpions spotted on the way in.

“You get in a cave and it seems the darkness eats the light immediately, right out of your lens,” Siegrist says.

These are the adventures that form the secret sauce of a good “Oregon Field Guide” story. We go so you don’t have to. So you can remain spider- and scorpion-bite free. Or maybe, so you can be inspired to find your next adventure.

As the executive producer of a series that now spans three decades, I recently revisited this story from a decade ago while mining our archives for good additions to our “Oregon Desert Week” series. Rewatching the struggle unfold in Oregon’s lava caves, I say, “Yes! Let’s do more stories like this.” Stories where we haul the cameras, bring the lights and take the bruises because these adventures remind us all that we live in a special place.

Did some great news event happen in these caves? No. We went because they were there and we wanted to share. Then again, perhaps because of the daily drumbeat of bad news that is 2021, it feels even better now to know that beauty still exists. Yes, some of it may lie tantalizingly out of reach in the ancient lava tubes beneath the high desert. But that’s OK because we’re happy to go there and show you what it’s like. And we have many more adventures planned.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ed Jahn