Skeleton Cave

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Skeleton Cave
Skeleton Cave near Bend, Oregon.jpg
Bat gate at the entrance of Skeleton Cave
Location Deschutes County, Oregon
Coordinates 43°57.016′N 121°10.638′W / 43.950267°N 121.177300°W / 43.950267; -121.177300Coordinates: 43°57.016′N 121°10.638′W / 43.950267°N 121.177300°W / 43.950267; -121.177300[1]
Length 3,560 feet
Entrances 1
Difficulty Easy
Access May 2nd thru October 14th[citation needed]

Skeleton Cave is a lava tube within Deschutes County, Oregon, of the United States. The cave is within Deschutes National Forest and is located on the northern flank of Newberry Volcano near the city of Bend.

Origin of the name[edit]

The cave was discovered in about 1924 although a stick was found inside the cave with penciled markings showing visitation from 1894. Perhaps on that same visit, an illegal moonshiner's still was found inside the cave.[2][3] At one time the lava tube may have been referred to as Bone Cave[4] but it received its current moniker as Skeleton Cave from Phil Brogan who observed many assorted pieces of skeletons within.[3] The skylight entrance to the cave served as a natural trap in which animals could not escape. Several newspaper accounts note fossils within. The most noteworthy remnants belonged to a horse from the Pleistocene that was later identified as Equus niobrarensis.[5][6] Many other pieces of bone were found inside the cave.

A list of the known skeletal pieces include:[4][7][8][9][10][11][12]


The cave was surveyed by Walter J. Perry and Phil Brogan using a compass and pace method. They measured a length of 3,036 feet. Perry then later sketched the outline of the cave passage.[8] He noted a side passage at about 1,734 feet into the cave, which was later named the Bear Passage.[3] This same passage is where the majority of the skeletons and bone dust were found.[8] Perry would later be filmed in the cave by MGM and FOX News for a history film about the area.[13]

In a book published by Ronald Greeley of NASA, the cave was surveyed and his map produced a length of 3,300 feet. But it did not include the small portion south of the entrance.[14] In 1971, a complete survey by Jim Nieland discerned a more accurate length of 3,560 feet. In a book by David Purcell, Boyd Cave is hinted at being related to Skeleton Cave which trends toward the Bear Passage, also known as the Tributary Tube.[14][15]

In recent times, the cave, along with others nearby, was evaluated and an environmental impact assessment done. Skeleton Cave in particular had its parking lot relocated to minimize impact to the vegetation and cave resources. A seasonal closure was placed from October 15 to May 1 of every year for bat hibernation.[16] The cave was historically known to be a bat cave (harboring bats) and was possibly mapped by the Bend Commercial club.[17]


  1. ^ Sullivan, William (March 2005). 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades. Navillus Press. p. 93. 
  2. ^ Unknown (1924-04-04), "Lava caves explored: Labyrinth believed to exist near Bend", The Oregonian, p. 17 
  3. ^ a b c Larson, Charlie & Jo (1987), Central Oregon Caves, pp. 36–38 
  4. ^ a b Unknown (1925-01-09), "Charting of Lava Tunnels Labyrinth to be Started with Coming of Spring if Recommendations to Club Accepted", The Bulletin, p. 1, retrieved 2011-01-11 
  5. ^ Unknown (1940-12-13), "Teeth Belonged to a Horse Named Equus Niobrarensis", Bend Bulletin, p. 1 
  6. ^ Unknown (1940-11-25), "Ancient Teeth Found in Cave", Bend Bulletin, p. 1, retrieved 2010-09-22 
  7. ^ Unknown (1928-06-06), "Bend Cavern Holds Relics from Pleistocene", Bend Bulletin, p. 1,6, retrieved 2010-09-22 
  8. ^ a b c Unknown (1928-03-05), "Animals Held in Death Net of Lava Cave", Bend Bulletin, p. 1,5, retrieved 2010-09-22 
  9. ^ Freeman, Mike (1989-08-31), "Spelunkers embrace heart of darkness", The Bulletin, p. E1, retrieved 2010-09-22 
  10. ^ Unknown (1924-06-26), ""Pile of Bones" Mystery Exploded by the Owner", Central Oregon Press, p. 1 
  11. ^ Unknown (1924-05-08), "Skull from Cavern named at Institute", Bend Bulletin, p. 1, retrieved 2011-07-06 
  12. ^ Unknown (1928-06-28), "Cavern Holds Relics of Past", The Spokesman-Review, p. 6, retrieved 2014-11-29 
  13. ^ Unknown (1928-03-08), "Relics of Past Ages Filmed in Bend Cave", The Bulletin, p. 1, retrieved 2011-01-12 
  14. ^ a b Greeley, Ronald (1971). "Geology of Selected Lava Tubes in the Bend Area, Oregon, Bulletin 71 (Oregon State Dept. of Geology and Mineral Industries)": 47. 
  15. ^ Purcell, David (1977), Guide to the Lava Tube Caves of Central Oregon, p. 53 
  16. ^ Schloer Jr., Walter C. (2001-08-30). "Decision Notice And Finding of No Significant Impact For Road 18 Caves Project Environmental Assessment, Deschutes National Forest, Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, Deschutes County, Oregon". The Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-09-22. 
  17. ^ unknown (1925-01-09). "Charting of Lava Tunnel Labyrinths To Be Started With Coming of Spring If Recommendation of Club Accepted". p. 1. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 

External links[edit]