Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lava Beds National Monument

This weekend we went to Lava Beds National Monument in California. It took us about 5 hours to drive past Klamath Lake into California.
Alexa and Kevin had me convinced that our car was going to be searched at the boarder for fruit and such but we weren’t and didn’t even see any signs of a search station. On our way down over Willamette Pass we stopped at a super cool internet cafe Restaurant in Oakridge, OR. We didn’t know what to expect when we entered the family-owned diner but were pleasantly suprised to find an open mic session with live music going on and really great food cooked up by very hippy-looking locals and a few pirate like characters! After
a few beers and chatting with the locals we hit the road. When we finally got to Lava Beds National Monument we picked out a pretty
cool campsite at A-11 in the Indian Wells campground where we set up a fire and chilled out with some beers before bed.
The next day we spent exploring the area going to some very cool caves. Our first cave was called Mushpot and it was close to our campsite and the visitor center. It had red lighting throughout it, probably trying to represent the lava that once flowed through it. From there we explored the cave loop including Sentinal Cave,
Chocolate and Hopkins Bridges, and Golden Dome Cave. It was so cool to see all the collapsed lava tubes in the area. The natural bridges were just sections of the roof of the lava tubes that didn’t collapse. Emily, Kevin, Alexa and I found ourselves
first walking through cavernous openings only to find ourselves crawling on all fours trying to find glimpses of light leading to tight exits. Emily seemed to want to explore every hole in the ground which would have taken weeks! Most of the caves in the main cave loop were closed due to bats hibernating still but we were still able to see many of the main ones. After the cave loop we decided to head out towards Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave to check out the pictographs left by ancient indians in the region. Symbol Bridge didn’t have much but Big Painted Cave had many and was well worth the mile long hike to get to it.
After Symbol bridge we ate some lunch by the truck then drove down the short road to Skull Cave which had the largest cave opening we saw in the entire park. The cave was massive and lead down to an area that used to hold a great deal of ice that was mined from the cave. Unfortunately, the area was barred off and it looked like most of the ice had melted away. The ceiling of the cave on the way out was truly beautiful with many different greens and browns showing just how quickly it had cooled after the lava stopped flowing through it. I thought it was one of the coolest caves of the park but those with me disagreed.
Throughout the afternoon we could see a really cool rock formation called “the peninsula” in the distance which looked like it must have been an island in the ancient sea
that once covered the area. Upon looking at our map we saw something called “Petroglyph Point” and decided to drive out of the main park area to the extension to explore it. At first walking along the fenced off wall we couldn’t see much in the rock but then all of the scribblings came at once. The area where we were standing was once 10 feet underwater and Native Americans would paddle out to the rock to enscribe drawings and symbols in the soft rock just above the waves. There were signs showing what was in the rock above us but none could describe what the symbols meant. A few areas looked as if they had been tampered with and drawn over with modern day paints and tools but others looked very
pristine and original. The wind was kicking up pretty fierce by this point and we all decided to head back into the main park again.
We still had quite a bit of daylight so we decided to check out Balcony and Boulevard Caves on the main park road. The entrances were clearly marked but there were so many criss crossing tubes in side of the caves that all of us ended up popping out of the ground like gophers when we reached the end of each of the paths we took. There was so much to explore! We continued onward to Merril cave down the road which seemed to drop us via a series of ladders towards the center of the earth! After Merrill we
headed past our campsite to Valentine Cave which had the most spectacular ceiling under our headlamps than I’ve ever seen. The ceiling
was covered in yellow lichen but with water droplets on everything in the flash of my camera and in the beam of our headlamps it looked as if the ceiling was covered in gold and silver!

We returned to our campsite to chill out and have dinner and drink some beers. It was a terrific day but in just one day we all felt as if we had seen most of what the area had to offer and agreed that it was one of those “just once” trips. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time and saw a ton of cool stuff but there just didn’t seem anything else to explore. Emily and I retired to bed around 11 so we could get a good nights rest before her first big volcano ascent the following day.

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