The Smyrna Ice Cave

“Ice Cave? In the desert? wtf?”

That’s what I thought when I saw a small adit symbol marked with the aforementioned moniker on my USGS map.

“What kind of ice cave are we talking about here!? Obviously not like the Big 4 Ice Caves. Eastern Washington is like the freakin’ desert!

I’ve heard of lava tubes around some of the local volcanos that form ice inside… some were even used for cold storage.”

Oh! I wonder if that’s what it is; a cold storage cave, like where they stored perishables in the days before refrigeration…

Maybe it’s a portal to Hell, which indeed has frozen over as a result of… Eh, these days, take your pick!

THE VISIT

The Ice Cave is along the base of the lengthy north face of the Saddle Mountains. Whether it’s the semi paved road or the total lack of standing structures, you might say the area feels a bit remote.

I hoped to spy a peculiar adit or other odd portal as I slowly rubbernecked by the site, but nothing immediately caught the eye, so I parked and started on foot.

Skirting the muddy margins of an ephemeral pond, which seperates the Ice Cave from the road, I headed to the heaps of fractured basalt at the base of a prominent buttress of the long mountain.

In little time I saw some old shoring poking up out of the rocks…

THE PORTAL

Not many relics are around, except for a few wooden shoring posts and a selection of bullet ridden debris. Wheel furrows in the alkali mud tell of the area’s popularity with motor sports over-enthusiasts.

The portal is pretty well collapsed, most likely forever. However, a cool breeze can still be felt coming from the area of the shoring.

Perhaps there is still a chamber of some kind sealed away behind the many tons of rubble.

Then again, maybe this was a cut and cover sort of deal. Might be a ways back to solid rock. I dunno, it was collapsed when I got there, I SWEAR!

DIGGING DEEPER

Well, that would be that. There’s no indication at the site to the nature of the ice cave nor to it’s origins. Ain’t no historical marker, ain’t no nuthin!

When I got home I did a quick interweb search and found a great write up of the cave: Legends of the Ice Cave

(Don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to try that before I drove all the way out there!)

According to that information, the cave was likely dug by railroad workers around 1906 after they’d found some ice on the ground at the site…

Wait, why was there ice just chillin’ at the base of some ol’ hill in the desert? That sounds like a Bible story!

The answer was another new one for me; Apparently talus, in concert with underlying rock structure can sometimes form cold traps; locking winter’s cold within, and slowly releasing it during warmer months.

While rare, there are other known talus cold traps in the region, some also having been converted into early walk-in freezers.

I dunno though, I’m still thinking Hell might have froze over and this is the way to it… hmmm, but that means Hell would have had to freeze over BEFORE 1906. Back to the interwebz!

A CAVE AND A COMMUNITY

Gleaning from the wealth of information available on “Legends of the Ice Cave” I “dug” up a bit more on the Cave’s history…

The cave was said to be cut into the hill about ten feet back and may have been about twenty feet wide. This excavation was then topped with wooden beams and covered.

A heavy wooden door once kept the cold air in, and occasionally kept people out. By the 1930s a local farmer by the name of Chambers had began to use the cave to store perishables for the community.

During those trying economic times, the cave was kept locked and sometimes even posted with armed guards to keep any pre-refrigerator bandits at bay.

Speaking of refrigerators, it was the steady hum of the first Freeze-O-Matic’s in kitchens across America that sounded the end of the ice cave’s immediate importance.

Undoubtedly though, the odd passerby would stop along their journey and peer inside. Catching the cool breeze and some respite from the beating Eastern Washington sun.

That is until until the Ice Cave’s untimely collapse sometime in the late 1990s.

RIP ICE CAVE

GETTING THERE

The Smyrna Ice Cave can be found along Lower Crab Creek Road across from an ephemeral alkali pond.

From Vantage, WA take the I90 east to the eastern shore of the Columbia River. Head south at the interchange, you’ll soon come to a fork.

From the fork you can either continue south, watching for an eastern turn into Lower Crab Creek Rd in the settlement of Beverly. Or head east to Royal City, then south to Smyrna.

Either way the remains of the Ice Cave are along lonely, ol’Lower Crab Creek Rd. not far from a span of high tension wires.

Happy Trails!

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