Lava Beds National Monument, filled with everything from cinder cones to natural strongholds to lava tubes and collapsed caves. Okay, lets see, a cinder cone is essentially the remnant of a volcano, and is made up of rock and volcanic ash. For the most part, it is difficult for plant life to grow on these, and the only one open for walking on in the park is also the youngest, only 850 years old. It is about 700 feet tall, with a fire look out on the top of it.
Now on to the natural stronghold… It has two trails in it, the outer loop, which goes around the rim, and the inner loop, which takes you right through the heart of Captain Jacks Stronghold. And yes, it is historically significant. A band of about 350 Modoc Indian, men, women and children, held off up to 600 U.S. Army troops, for nearly six months. The stronghold is full of hiding spots, and to try and take a horse through would be insane. The ground is uneven, jumbles rock in places, with hidden caves in it. In the end, they were forced to flee when the army brought in cannons. They slipped out to the south in the middle of the night, and only in the middle of the next morning, did the U.S. Army realize the fort was empty.
Lava tubes are underground rivers of lava. And no worries, these are extremely stable, the park ranger that we talked to has never heard of anyone seeing a rock fall from the ceiling. They range in difficulty from the small, lighted, Mush Pot Cave, to Catacombs, with ceilings of less then a foot in some places. I did not go into Catacombs. We ended up doing most of the developed caves, so I’ll just tell you about my two favorites, Golden Dome and Sunshine caves. Golden Dome is named for a golden bacteria that grows in the back half of the cave, and seems to almost glow when you shine a light on it. The only difficult part is finding your way out, it’s a figure eight. There is a little rock pile set up to mark your position, this also one where you have to crawl or duck walk, depending on your route. If you have a group, make sure you go with people who will want to do the same amount of “exploring” as you do. I went with Elliot, and was not terribly happy. And it is dark in these, so always have your own flashlight. There is also Headache Rock in the entrance to Golden dome, wear a helmet. Always wear a helmet.
Sunshine cave has some of the same golden bacteria, although there is less of it, so it seems almost more tasteful to me. There are one or two skylights in this one also, but you may want to avoid letting your eyes ajust, because when you go back into the cave, if feels darker then before, no matter how bright you light is. I personally would recommend a headlamp, so that you never have to aim your light, just turn your head.
Overall, this was one of my favorite national parks, even if I do get a bit nervous in really deep caves. If you ever make it out to this part of northern California, it is well worth a visit.
See, total darkness, except for the two little lights! But really, once you get used to it, it isn't too bad.