Fort Rock Cave

Useful Information

Location: Near Fort Rock, Silver Lake-Fort Rock, Oregon-Territorium 97735.
Open: Only after appointment.
Fee: free.
Classification: ArchaeologyRock Shelter
Light: n/a
Guided tours:
Bibliography: Stephen F. Bedwell, Luther S. Cressman (1971): Fort Rock Report: Prehistory and Environment of the Pluvial Fort Rock Lake Area of South-Central Oregon. In Great Basin Anthropological Conference 1970: Selected Papers, edited by C. Melvin Aikens, pp. 1-25. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 1. Eugene
Luther S. Cressman (1951): Western Prehistory in the Light of Carbon 14 Dating. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7(3):289-313.
Luther S. Cressman (1942): Archaeological Researches in the Northern Great Basin. Carnegie Institution of Washingon Publication 538. Washington, D. C.
Address: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, State Parks, 725 Summer Street NE, Suite C, Salem, OR 97301
Fort Rock Cave, Tel: +1-541-923-7551, ext. 21.
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1938 sandals discovered by Luther Cressmann, archaeologist from the University of Oregon.
20-JAN-1961 declared a National Historic Landmark.
15-OCT-1966 added to the National register of Historic Places.


Fort Rock Cave is located close to Fort Rock, a spectacular volcanic tuff ring in Fort Rock State Natural Area. It was named by William Sullivan, an early resident, because of the straight sides resembling the palisades of a fort. The ring is 1,360 m in diameter and the walls are up to 60 m above the plain. The Fort Rock Basin is a former inland sea, water-filled from the Pliocene to the late Pleistocene. The result is a huge plain of lake sediments, some 4,000 km² big, with over 30 hydrovolcanic landforms like tuff rings and maars.

Fort Rock Cave is located 2 km west of Fort Rock, and named after the landmark. It is located in a much less spectacular hill of volcanic origin in the same plain. The cave is rather small, actually just a rock shelter, and it is famous as an archaeological site. It was also known as Cow Cave and Menkenmaier Cave.

During excavations in 1938, archaeologist Luther Cressman from the University of Oregon disocvered a very early human habitation some 13,200 years ago. This was the earliest evidence of human habitation in Oregon before the discovery and excavation of Paisley Caves. the most spectacular discoveries were numerous well-preserved sandals, between 9,000 and 13,000 years old, which were woven from sagebrush bark. The sandals were located below a layer of Mazama Ash, which was deposited by the explosion forming Crater Lake about 7600 years ago. The exact age of the sandals was later determine by C-14 dating. The sandals are now displayed at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene.

The site is closed, but there are guided tours by state park rangers. The tours must be booked in advance.