Do you like crawling on your belly through dark, jagged, tightly squeezed areas?!
Yes, you should check out Lava Beds National Monument!
No, you should still check out Lava Beds National Monument!
Lava Beds NM is located about an hour south of Klamath Falls, Oregon and right below the border of California. I had volunteered here for about a month in May/June 2015 and it was a great insight to the National Park System. I hiked all the trails, caved all the developed caves plu s a few back-country caves, and climbed a few of the buttes as well as helping in the visitor’s center. This park isn’t a very well-known place, but I believe it is growing.
About and what will you need…
Over 700 lava tubes around the park, and 22 of them are what they called developed (they have stairs leading down to them). The rest of them are back-country and not located on any of the maps, but you are welcome to venture out and find them. Only one of these has a path and lights, therefore all the rest are YES VERY DARK so you will NEED A FLASHLIGHT! They do have free flashlights to rent at the visitors center, but they are bulky and not the best for lighting up the pitch black cave. Back up lights is always a good idea. I suggest a helmet because those jagged caves can be very unfriendly and you never know if you might trip or in my case bang your head multiple times. I have always been thankful wearing my helmet, and then with a head lamp on it I don’t have to hold a light in my hand either.
The park isn’t only for those who want to crawl through the tight squeezes on bellies, but also for other who just want to stroll through the dark tunnel with a flashlight. If you want to avoid the lava tubes all together (which I suggest you at least check out the lit cave if not any of the others) there is some birding to be done, buttes to climb, or a bunch of trails that you can venture along.
If you plan on going through the caves do make sure you are briefed on the White Nose Syndrome at the visitor’s center, so that you are not spreading this harmful bacteria to the healthy bats.
Now for the exciting stuff, why should you visit?!
For the 2 seasonal caves
In the winter, every weekend there is one tour for the beautiful Crystal Ice Cave. It is free, but must be booked 3 weeks in advanced and there is only 6 spots for this guided tour. Jump on it before climate change takes a real toll on it leaving it with no ice one day.
In the summer, every weekend there is one tour for mystical Fern Cave. Again it must be booked in advanced because of the limited spots. This cave is magical and is sacre
d to the Modoc tribe so the number of entries is very limited.
Well you don’t want to miss out on the early exploration of the caves. Don’t you want to know how in the world someone navigated through the uneven natural tunnels before a battery source was invented?
Then there was the Modoc War, where the Native Americans fought the US Army Force within the monument. You can walk the land where that took place. But I don’t want to give away too much information because you should learn something while you are there!
Tule Lake Unit
Did you know about all the Japanese Americans that were put into segregation centers after the start of WWII? Personally, it is pretty terrible how they did this. I highly advise a tour with Kenneth if you are there between Memorial Day and Labor Day. He is a knowledgeable tour guide and can answer all your questions about the history of Tule Lake Segregation Center and Camp
Tule Lake. So don’t miss out for sure. I’m not huge on history but I really enjoyed his tour.
Rock art…hmmm, you say. Yea! There is ancient rock art as in carved petroglyphs which you will see at Petroglyph Point and painted pictographs at the entrance of Symbol Bridge and Painted Cave. They are mostly from the Modoc tribe and their ancestors since it was in their original territory. Check them out for yourself. There are usually many birds at Petroglyph Point too.
Learn all about how molten lava made these hallow tubes that appear under the ground. It is pretty fascinating. What is the difference between A’a lava and Pohoehoe lava? Do you know? You will also find out when the last lava flow is from and what shield volcano is responsible for these lava fields and lava tubes.
Sparkling gold and silver cave ceilings
Golden Dome Cave consists of the most microorganisms. This bacterium survives without any light to thrive off of and they are quite spectacular to see as you shine your flashlight at the walls and ceilings watching it glimmer.
How do you feel about Lava Beds National Monument now? Would you visit? Well if these 6 reason didn’t convince you, I’m not sure what would?!
There are other parks nearby, like Crater Lake and Lassen, if you are on a National Park road trip. It will be free if you have the Parks Pass, but if you don’t there is a $15 entrance fee. And all tours are free!
Happy caving and don’t forget cave softly and carefully and if you see a bat don’t shine your light at it or freak out 🙂