Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Winter 2008-2009

The best snow we've had in the Jura in a decade, but now it's going back to wherever it came from.


Cosy Neanderthal drawing rooms

Years ago we spied a cave up a steep hillside in the forest called Les Ormes, scrambled up to see it, went away, meaning to go back, and never did.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

But with the Route des Montagnes apparently blocked from here up and our hiking plans in disarray, now may be the time to find that cave again.

We'll leave Dieter here with some of his new friends just below the snowpatch on the road, and walk the rest of the way.

The farm of La Dunanche, newly snowfree, and the first spring flowers, 13 April 2009

We're passing by La Dunanche, at about 1120m. The forest of Les Ormes is on the far side of the combe ahead of us.

Down into the lovely small combe -- there's a path leftward out the bottom of it that leads eventually back down to Bassins. The cave is up there on the far side somewhere, behind the big tree.

The cliffy forest is called Les Ormes ("the elms"), and just behind that lies the Bois d'Oujon, the Oujon forest with its ruins of a Carthusian monastery carved out of the woods in AD 1146 and abandoned at the time of the Reformation -- now an interesting archaeological site.

The Valley of the Ants.
Just along the treeline walking down into the combe we counted more than sixty ant hills, just getting going as the ground is warming up after winter, within a line of about 100 meters.

Peering up from near the bottom of the combe -- there's something lurking or looming up there.

Cliffs they are. And probably with our cave as well. Up we go through the thickets.

Fairly steep thickets, as it turns out. That could be our cave there.

No cave yet. We'll look off towards the left, or to the right.

Don't touch anything!

Here's a cave. It looks somewhat as we remember it - but not quite. It's not hard to imagine families of Neanderthals, long ago, emerging from the recesses on a sunny morning and scratching themselves and stretching here on their balcony.

Stretching themselves and getting ready to go off to work. Hunting and gathering, or whatever.

The forest up which we've clawed our way. We'll think later about getting back down it.

In the meantime, very nearby, just around the corner -- well, it's another cave. So it's not just one -- evidently there are two.

From the vestibule, we'll have a look a little farther on -- if two caves instead of one, why not three?

Those Neanderthal families must have been pretty surefooted, the ones who survived to adulthood.

Ah yes, that's three caves now. We can imagine Neanderthal village elders squatting round a campfire here, out of the rain, reaching consensus on divisive policy issues and wondering whether to paint primitive wildlife images on these jumbly walls.

Ermm, another one; four. An even cosier one, in fact. It would have made a fine cave-dweller's home, if he didn't wander off the porch inattentively.

The in-laws could have had their own place over on this side.
The Neanderthals were a different race from ours, the homo sapiens (what a larff!), living here in Europe long before we were, and for years no one knew whether they intermarried with us and blended in convincingly, got bludgeoned to death or out-hunted by us and died away, or just died off on their own (SARS, AIDS, MRSA, etc.). Recent studies of DNA have shown that they did not intermarry with us and join us on our epic human journey through time and space -- other recent studies have shown that they did. But, either way, whether we butchered them all like American Indians and took their land is still undecided.

Anyway, there may never have been Neanderthal cave-dwellers here. I invented all that. But that said, I do see footprints here in the dust that are not mine.

We came to see "the cave" -- looks like an inexhaustible supply of them at the base of the cliffs. It's like the Anasazi pueblos in the cliffsides in New Mexico, but without the ladders for getting back down with.

Still more caves along the way, as we're teetering around the base of a buttressy sort of thing.

And another (we've lost count).

And still more caves. If Neanderthals lived here, they probably had neighborhood gangs among the teenagers.

We're still tramping along southward under the cliffs, and here are still more holes in the mise en scène. The international hiking trail called the Chemin des Crêtes runs along the top of these cliffs at about 1130m, between the Les Frasses farm on the north and, to the south, the ruins of the Oujon monastery and the villages of Arzier and St Cergue.

That appears to be a dead end. It would have made a fine Neanderthal food pantry, or guest bedroom.

Still more caves (we've still lost count), still walking southward.

Arguably the nicest one.

Admittedly, there's a certain sameness to them after a while, and admittedly, too, we're paying more attention now to finding a way down out of here that won't require a parachute.

Another excellent bedroom or salon for cave-dwellers, protected from the wind and the rain, but always a little stressful with all those big rocks dangling out of your ceiling. Always a background sense of expectation, and waiting.

A panoramic look back at some of the empty cave dwellers' properties recently viewed, available for rental or purchase. Fixer-uppers.

Sunlight on the clifftops above. We've come up against a solid wall, so maybe that's the end of it. We'll finally abandon seeking an easier way down and make a break for it now.

Oh no, still more of them -- perhaps the best one! -- on the far side of the buttressy projection of cliffness. Should we scramble up the dead-leafy banks of mud to peek inside this one, too?

No. We'll clear out and come back another day.

At the bottom of the steep hillside, here's a nearby combe that may lead to an easier way up onto Cave Street at the base of the cliffs. But that's for another day.

Towards the end of a fine day, clouds gathering over La Dôle in the distance and, soon, over the farm at La Dunanche as well.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 23 April 2009 revised 20 October 2014.


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