A cave tour doesn’t conjure images of high-intensity adventure, but if you sign up for a tour of the Oregon Caves National Monument in Cave Junction, prepare for a workout. Exactly 522 stairs snake their way through the caves, and sections with low ceilings create squat challenges for park rangers and the visitors they guide.
For nearly half his life, 53-year-old George Herring, a park ranger with the National Park Service (NPS), has been using nature as his gym. “What really gets you is all the bending and twisting to fit through all the narrow, winding passages with low ceilings. At one point, the ceilings come down to 45 inches above the floor. It’s a real workout for your torso, quads and lower back,” Herring said.
Spending most of his professional time outdoors since taking a job with the NPS twenty-five years ago has been a dream for Herring. He wanted to be a ranger as a little boy growing up in northern California. In college, he took natural resources classes and worked as a seasonal park ranger for years until he found a full-time opening. “It’s not easy finding a permanent job with the NPS,” Herring said. “I just got lucky, I guess.” Many of his coworkers who come to the park as seasonal rangers are half his age, and Herring soaks up their energy. Seeing their love for nature and how they bond and become lifelong friends with other rangers reminds him of just how fortunate he is to work in his field.
Not all of us crave the darkness caves provide, but Herring says the contrast of being underground for more than an hour and returning to the outside world provides an inspiring experience. “Caves are mysterious, fascinating places—utterly black without artificial light. … It’s alien to our imagination. What little life there is goes mostly unnoticed by the naked eye,” he said. “But when you exit the cave, the world above is so saturated with light, color and living things. Sometimes we forget how beautiful our world is, but coming out of a cave, you can’t help but notice.”
National Park Service park ranger
Born: Panorama City, CA
Residence: Cave Junction
“Walking and hiking is the way I keep in shape, but that doesn’t wholly prepare a person for guiding cave tours. Some people are impressed that the cave route has 522 steps on the tour, mostly up, but what really gets you is all the bending and twisting to fit through all the narrow winding passages with
“On days I give three tours I crave carbs. Macaroni and cheese is my weakness. I also often crave broccoli flowers dipped in hummus after a day of giving tours. All of it is chased by an amber ale.”
“I’m inspired by all the fresh and eager young people who come to work and live at the park each year. Many of them are straight out of college with some kind of natural resource degree, and they’re ready to share what they know and have learned with the world.”
September 29: National Public Lands Day and Oregon Caves National Monument “Community Day” tours are free to the public.