It was a short and scenic 13 mile drive over to the north entrance of the Lava Beds National Monument from our Tulelake Fairgrounds RV Campground. Along the drive we passed farmland that had been plowed and seeded with the irrigation going full tilt. Some pastures had the beautiful spring green color of new growth. In this area they mostly grow grains, potatoes, onions, sugar beets, and alfalfa. Much of the crops are grown in refuge land and by law, no more than 25 percent of the refuge croplands can be devoted to row crops as the waste grain is used as a food source by migrating waterfowl.
As we passed through farmland and entered the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge the road turned south along the foothills where we occasionally saw bucks in velvet and does grazing along the hillsides. The hills were still covered in amber colored grasses that appeared like waves as wind blew along the slopes. Ten minutes later we entered the Lava Beds where there is usually a ten dollar fee to enter the park but we once again were able to use our America the Beautiful Pass.
This 46,000 acre park is unique in its beauty and is a popular site for spelunkers (people who like to go in caves) at all skill levels. It is another geologic wonderland as there are numerous lava tube caves, extinct volcanoes, fumaroles, cinder cones,lava flows etc. There are several nice hikes and diversions as well as more than 20 marked caves that you can enter. Before entering a cave you must check in at the Ranger station where they will let you check out hard hats or flashlights (we opted to get some flashlights).
We walked through two of the caves to get a feel for what it is like traveling as the lava once did in the lava tubes. The first cave was Mushpot Cave which is a great beginner cave with informative interpretative placards along the way giving us a better understanding of what we were seeing. Most fascinating were the Lavacicles on the ceiling of Mushpot Cave. Next we entered into a cave named Lower Sentinel Cave, an underground lava tube, and hiked inside for about 1/4 mile whereupon we encountered splash of daylight as we ascended out of the cave named Upper Sentinel Cave.
Hiking in the lava tubes was a first experience for both of us and one we truly enjoyed. We learned that for more serious spelunking there were more challenging caves available where we would have had to crawl through small holes and shimmy across the ground on our bellies… Well let’s just say we didn’t need that experience on this trip.
We did,however, take several short open air hikes throughout the park including Captain Jack's Stronghold, Mammoth Crater rim, Black Crater, Petroglyph Point and others. The examples of volcanism were everywhere here and the history of the encounters with Modoc Indians was interesting as well.
Along the trails there was the blue grey color of the sage mixed in with green of the grasses and an occasional glimpse of the snow cover peak of Mount Shasta. The purple desert sage was in full bloom all around the park offering quite a contrast to the black basalt and reddish Rhyolites of the lava remnants. We saw many western fence lizards that were moving quickly in front of us as we walked along the trails. The Rock Wrens were constantly buzzing as we approached their homes and we were treated to sights of other interesting birds as we spotted Horned Larks, Western Meadowlarks Hammond’s Flycatchers, Northern Harriers and we even got great sightings of two Golden Eagles.
We spent a great two days hiking around Lava Beds National Monument! But alas it was time to head northward and we drove the short 58 mile journey into Oregon where we will stay at Collier Memorial State Park for five nights.The trip as you might expect was quick and uneventful…
Editors Note: While hiking amongst the lava fields the strap of my camera snagged onto a jagged rock and stripped my camera from my clutches… as a result some of my later photos are no longer crisp as the images are somewhat bleached out. My trusty point and shoot was 4 years old and I guess ready to be replaced… after all yesterday was my birthday so I guess I will be getting a new camera soon…