Our intention this week had been to spend time at Lassen Volcanic National Park, unfortunately, due to the extremely harsh winter temperatures this year, the Park is still under about 8 feet of snow. We decided it wouldn’t be worth staying there if we couldn’t get in to see the beauty of the place so, instead came over to the Lava Beds. This park is one of the less-visited in the NPS, likely due to its proximity to nothing!
We would definitely recommend it though; Jake quickly decided it jumped into one of his top five favorite parks. We started out in the Visitor Center, collecting JR books and watching the short movie about the park. It has two main, very different, highlights. The first are the incredible lava tube caves. Lava is hot when it pours from a volcano – about 1,800°F, the outer edges and surface of the flow cool rapidly and begin to harden. This outside shell acts as insulating material while the rest of the flow beneath it remains hot and fast-moving. The flow continues on and when the eruption stops and the river of lava drains, a tunnel or tube – the outer shell – is left. Lava tubes can lie atop one another, the result of subsequent flows. Many of the tubes here were formed about 30,000 years ago after an eruption at Mammoth Crater on the southern boundary.
Having seen the caves on the video, the kids were eager to don their helmets and carry their flashlights down underground. We started out in a cave considered to be moderately challenging: Golden Dome. We were told to beware the ‘headache rock’ when entering and exiting the cave via the ladder. The downstream portion of this cave required some stooping. The back section where the ‘Golden Dome’ is located was a figure-8 so we had to be careful to note our location. Thank goodness Dave was with us; for sure I would have got us lost within minutes!
The golden ceiling in this and many other Lava Beds caves is the result of light reflecting off water droplets that bead up on a coating of hydrophobic bacteria. The bacteria are not harmful to humans but are protected so we were warned not to touch them. The color was fascinating. The kids thought it was cool, crawling over the volcanic lava rocks and under the low ceilings. A number of times, they asked to turn off their lights and ‘see’ how dark it was – let’s just say, within a couple of minutes of getting in, we were in utter pitch blackness; it would have been impossible to explore these caves without the aid of a flashlight.
Of all the caves we explored, this Golden Dome, was our most favorite of the day. Our next stop was Valentine Cave (how could we not visit this one?!). This cave was discovered on Valentine’s Day in 1933, and has large main passages with very smooth floors and walls. It had a different lava source than the caves on Cave Loop, which were where the other caves we went into, were located.
We stopped briefly in Indian Well Cave (not nearly as impressive as the others), before going to get Junior Ranger badges. The older two had an interesting page about bats – many of the caves are home to bats, some of them were actually closed to protect maternal bat colonies where mothers raise thousands of tiny, vulnerable bat pups on the ceiling. One of the suggestions they read about, to protect the bats, was to adopt a bat and of course, they wanted to do that. We now have instructions on how to build various bat boxes, which will definitely happen once we get back to Blue Bell. Our garden is a haven for mosquitoes and anything we can do to reduce their number is wonderful.
Before making our way to the huge areas of lava rock, we stopped in to see Skull Cave. This one is named for the bones of antelope and mountain goats, bighorn sheep skulls, and two human skeletons discovered inside. It is a remnant of two very large lava tubes, one on top of the other. This allows cold winter air to be trapped inside and create a year-round ice floor on the lower level. Unfortunately after years of visitors bringing in dirt, the ice is now very dirty and the park has stopped allowing people to walk on it, as they hope to restore it somehow to the clear and pristine state it was once in.
The second important reason for the National Monument is the stronghold of the Modoc Indians, led by Captain Jack. For centuries this area was home to the Modoc Indians, who hunted in the valleys and mountains, fished in the rivers and lakes, and used the tules (reeds) that grew around the lake to make their homes, boats, and other items. Their way of life was changed forever by the arrival of settlers in the 1850s. After repeated confrontations and much bloodshed, the Bureau of Indian Affairs negotiated with all the Klamath bands in October 1864.
The settlers were relieved, but the negotiations were disastrous for the Modocs. They were asked to give up their homeland and live on a reservation with bands who were their traditional enemies. Finally, the Modocs agreed to try living on the reservation, but within a few months they began to leave. They returned to their old homes saying that they wanted a reservation for themselves on their ancestral land. Even more Modocs left the reservation in 1867.
By late 1872, the US Army was ordered to return the Modocs, by force if necessary, to the reservation. On the morning of November 29th, 1872, an Army patrol went out to bring in the Indians, but fighting broke out. Initially victorious, The Modocs, under the leadership of Captain Jack, drove off the troops and sought safety in the lava beds, where for almost five months, 52 warriors held off a growing army, eventually 20 times larger.
An effort to end the war by negotiation ended in even more bloodshed. Captain Jack killed General Canby, who was the only General killed by an Indian during the years of the American/Indian wars. He was pressured into doing so by his band, who believed that if the figurehead was killed, the soldiers would retreat. In reality, the opposite was true. When people heard what had happened, their sympathies lay with the Americans.
By late May almost all the Modocs had been captured, and on June 1, 1873, Captain Jack surrendered. On October 3, 1873, he and three other Modoc leaders were hanged. The remaining members of Jack’s band were sent to a reservation in Oklahoma.
We saw the cross commemorating General Canby’s place of death and walked the loop trail, highlighting the defensive stands of the Modocs, including cave ‘homes’ of the main leaders. Given how chilly and windy it was mid-May, the thought of being there during the winter months was wholly unappealing. It certainly gave us perspective of how determined these families were to try and keep their reservation and homeland in tact.
Veterans of World Wars 1 and 2 were offered lots in this area for homesteads, their numbers were placed in a pickle jar and if they were lucky enough to be ‘picked’, they were given a lot on the land. To create these homesteads, Tule Lake was completely drained, so we had to kind of imagine what the area was like during the time of the Modocs and how the lake would have impacted their life and defensive standpoints. Jake is always so interested in these battles, I purchased the booklet and know he will read it more than once!
We learned a lot today and thoroughly enjoyed exploring this park.
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)