Subterranean Fun at Lava Beds National Monument

Our first stop after leaving Montana was Lava Beds National Monument. We have wanted to visit this fascinating park for several years now, but its location in the North East corner of California has always made it just a little too far out of the way. We came very close when visiting Crater Lake National Park back in 2015, but the extra distance south was just a bit too far for our travel weary kids. So, it was with great anticipation that we drove into the park on an absolutely gorgeous October day to check out some fascinating volcanic formations.

Our first stop was at Tule Lake where we enjoyed spending time viewing the many aquatic birds scattered across the water. We viewed Egrets, Pelicans, Grebes, Coots, and many Gulls. Unfortunately, we didn’t add any new species to our Family Big Year List, but it was super impressive to view the concentration of birds on the lake.

From Tule Lake we headed to the Lava Beds National Monument where we met with a park ranger and received our caving permit. Since we had been in a cave recently in Montana with the same hiking boots we had to use the Bio-Cleaning Station to make sure that our hiking boots weren’t helping to spread White-Nose Syndrome, which is a very serious disease that has been killing bat populations. Since humans can carry the fungus that causes White-Nose Syndrome between caves it is very important to take precautions when visiting multiple cave sites.

After getting our boots cleaned and our permit we were ready to check out the many lava tube caves (created by cooling lava flows 10,500 to 65,000 years ago) that are accessible to the public. We decided to start our visit at Skull Cave, which is one of several ice floor caves in the park. Historically ice has formed on the floors of these caves and has acted as a very important source of water for animals in times of drought. However, human impacts on the caves (people used to ice skate on the cave floors) and global climate change has caused many caves to loss their formations of ice over time. The ice floor at Skull Cave is now closed off the public, but the walk down to the bottom of the cave was still really exciting and super cold! The kids especially liked using their multi-colored MPowered solar lights to guide their way.

From Skull Cave we took a hiking trail that led to both Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave. The boys really enjoyed Big Painted Cave where they had to climb down into a pretty small opening to access the back of the cave. We then walked to Big Painted Cave where we were able to view petroglyphs (rock art) depicted on the cave walls by people living in the area over 6,000 years ago.

Overall we had a wonderful visit to Lava Beds National Monument. Not only did we get to experience some amazing caves and view really interesting volcanic formations, but we also learned more about the history of the Modoc people who lived in the area before white settlers and the United States Army forcibly removed the Modoc people onto reservations. The park has many great displays explaining how the Modoc people used the surrounding environment and about The Modoc War that occurred from 1872-1873. We really appreciated getting both a geological and historical overview of the park.

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