Lava Beds National Monument
One of my most favorite things is unexpectedly running into something really interesting that I’ve never heard of before. That’s what happened at The Lava Beds, and…we had it pretty much to ourselves.
There’s said to be several hundreds of caves underground here that were formed over 10,000 years ago and out of those about twenty are open to the public. This is a huge gem and the largest concentration of underground lava tubes in the country! The caves are divided into groups varying from least to most challenging.
Visit the visitors center first to register and get important information on current conditions. You’ll also get to visit exhibits inside the center explaining the volcanic geology and the history and culture of the Modoc people who called this home. Bring flashlights. Helmets are a great idea. Good shoes. And a jacket. It can get really cold. There are different levels of caves where some require you to crawl (bring knee pads) through tight spaces. The map you get at the visitors center clearly mark which caves are harder and which are an easier walk through.
If you suffer from any form of claustrophobia or a fear of dark spaces this is not the greatest place to visit, but there are caves for all skill levels and some are huge and more open (Skull Cave)
The Mushpot Cave is a great start. It’s the only cave with lights and there are a lot of signs explaining what everything in there is.
You’ll find yourself marveling at the huge variety of textures, patterns and edges that were formed when the lava started draining from the caves and tubes. Drip stone and Lava-sickles were formed while it was drying before they froze into the current shape. There’s still water dripping from these in some of the caves.
As you stand at the entrance to the caves you’d have no idea what was below you if you didn’t already know.
This one seemed to go on forever and ever.
The Golden Dome Cave.
The entrances are often very steep and small. You’ll be ducking and sometimes even crawling through tight spaces as you make your way through the long tubes.
Gold! It looks as if someone brought paint to brighten up the darkness, but what it really is is bacteria! These gatherings of bacteria are yellow and hydrophobic (water beads up on them) creating this shiny and very attractive sparkle when you shine your flashlight on it in the otherwise very dark cave.
Sunshine Cave (who came up with that name?! ) Going deep underground here to see more amazing lava formations
The ceiling here had a lot of lava-sicles
The last cave we visited, Skull Cave, is enormous. It got it’s name from the hundreds of large animal bones, and two human, that were removed from it around the turn of the 19th century.
This is one of two caves in the park that feature an ice floor. This ice was very important to early settlers as the area has very little water.
A few things…
– You’ll be screened for white-nose syndrome (a deadly bat disease) This means that if you have been in another cave wearing the same shoes since 2006 (or ever outside the US) you’ll need to leave those shoes at home.
-You’ll want to bring food and drinks
-There’s an entry fee ($25 per vehicle). I have America the Beautiful National Parks annual pass and they accept that.