National Park Series | Lava Beds National Monument | California

I picked to include this park just after we visited which was a good idea at the time of scheduling this post but led to a very long post…so enjoy!

Lava Beds NM is in North Eastern California, it’s secluded and serene. It’s been a National Monument since 1925, it’s one of the earliest and has significant cultural and historical significance to the region. It’s the location of the Modoc war in 1870’s, there was a Civilian Conservation Corps camp established in Tulelake in 1935, as well as the Tulelake Interment camp which housed Japanese Americans from May 1942 to March 1946. The area was so much more abundant than I expected.

Tulelake Internment Camp

Lava Beds, though is the topic of this post. If you ever have the opportunity to visit plan for a least 2-3 days at this park. It has abundant features with a variety of activities, from hiking outdoors in Captain Jack’s Stronghold where the Modoc Natives evaded soldiers for months, to Gillem Bluff trail, both of which we hiked and enjoyed, to hiking on your own in 30-35,000 year old lava tubes.

Skull Cave
Photo by: Travis

Gillem Bluff
Photo by: Travis

Because the caves at Lava Beds NM are formed by lava and are not solution caves they are very young in geological terms. The stalactites and stalagmites you commonly see in caves, like Carlsbad Caverns, are formed by water percolating through limestone are millions of years old & are extremely fragile. These are still fragile, if you break a lava-sicle it will never come back, the formations were made by molten lava erupting from the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano on the south end of the park.

Boulevard Cave
photo by: Travis

Another fascinating feature of this park is the pictographs and petroglyphs at the park. These ancient wall art images are fascinating and no one knows what they mean. There is also Fern cave, a sacred site of the Modoc, you cannot hike this cave alone. In fact it’s not on the map they give you. You have to make reservations to see this cave with a ranger 3 weeks in advance. (MAKE RESERVATIONS) This is my biggest regret of our 3 days there, we didn’t know this and weren’t allowed to go on the Saturday we were there.

Because the caves stay a consistent 55 degrees there are extraordinary microclimates that emerge in the entrances & skylights of these caves. Which is what happened at Fern Cave, although Lava Beds is in the high desert of Northern California and is pretty dry. Some how, ferns found their way to the mouth of this cave hundreds of years ago & thrive.

Welcome Sign Photo

More Information on Lava Beds National Monument.
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