Dog Creek Cave is, Rick Colman tells me on our stroll Sunday to view and photograph the pictographs, a grotto. Located a few miles northwest of the famous Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua River, it’s two miles north of the river on Forest Service lands. The meander to get here, though, includes a 12-mile drive on four forest roads and a two-mile hike on a well-done forest trail.
Why pictographs here, when there are so very few sites in the western Cascades? And why such a variety in the few dozen motifs and figures at this remote site? Writers and researchers tend to generalize - “Columbia Plateau influence” or a spirit-power quest location - or particulate - “it's an insect.” Maybe. The truth feels deeper, more nuanced, reflective of a way of being-in-the-world difficult to grasp for this 21st century observer.
Answers elude. Yet, consider the observations of the Lorings (1983) about the similarity of some figures at Dog Creek to some at Picture Gorge on the upper John Day River and other sites east of the Cascades. Too, somewhat similar to possibly older motifs at Bottle Creek, an isolated and modest rock shelter overlooking the Umpqua River about 60 miles downstream from Dog Creek.