Lava Beds NM, 2013

With Memorial Day coming up I kept looking at the weather forecasts and a few days before finally made the decision to take a roadtrip I'd never been to Lava Beds National Monument, tucked away in northeastern California. Seeing as it's a year of checking off going to new, fun places I figured it was time to place that one on my list. While the many hours driving through the Central Valley tend to be somewhat monotonous, I had forgotten how glorious it is once Shasta finally pokes up on the horizon. It really is such a gorgeous massive mountain, and the drive into Lava Beds kept it as a nice companion in view for a few hours. The wetlands surrounding the area also had quite a variety of different birds. I don't recall seeing that many different kinds of birds in one place of my friends is into birding and I was thinking that it would be a place she would enjoy. I think I even saw pelicans; I thought they only liked the coast!

I hadn't been aware that the monument had several of the sites and battlegrounds of the Modoc War. I had learned about it from various documentaries and been fascinated with the Modoc military strategies. It was something to be on that same land and seeing the Stronghold and just how knowing that land can easily make it a natural fortress. I am amazed that, as a country, we are not more ashamed than we are for just what we did to the Native Americans for something as petty as farmland or a lake with birds. Even today not many people seem to live there and the majority of stores off of Main Street in Tulelake sit there boarded up. Sad that people lost their lives over a small patch of land.

Historical diversions aside, Lava Beds is known for its caves. It's thought to be the largest concentration of lava tube caves in the United States. And it was definitely a different experience for me. Before this trip every cave I'd ever been in either had lights installed or had elevators or paved walkways. Well, now I know what it's like to really be in a cave. I didn't know if I was going to like the experience, so I started off in the little "demonstration" cave with the lights and concrete path training wheels. After that, I was off on my own and started off with Sentinel. Even though all of the caves are developed to some extent, there's definitely something different about really being in one when you realize you're alone. And in the dark. I remember on previous ranger guided trips when they would shut the lights off for a little bit, but that does not compare with really being alone and turning off the one little light on top of your head. And, yes, dropping your primary light in a cave when you're alone does produce some level of panic. Still, it is a fascinating experience. There were all kinds of different lava formations and I was fascinated by the colors on the walls and ceilings. Some of the caves even still had ice formations in them. As the lava tubes aren't limestone caves there aren't lots of the formations like in the other caves I'd been in, but these were pretty in their own unique way. Golden Dome cave had "lava tube slime" on the walls, bacteria that are hydrophobic. Small water droplets attach to them and will reflect light back to you, making the walls sparkle like if they had been flaked with gold. Stunning.

Leaving the caves behind I drove away with just a small taste of pretty things below ground and lovely forests with roads still snowed in. Between all the great things still left to do, I think this corner of the country will be a place to which I will return.

The Photographs

Picutres were from the a900 system with the 24-70, 16-35, and 70-300 lenses. One particular challenge I was looking forward to was figuring out how to take pictures inside the caves themselves. I never played with long exposure times and manual release with film, but one of the benefits of digital is that it's easy to try new things and try to adapt right in the field. So I got a tripod and had fun in the caves. No flash was used; instead I just used the headlamp I was wearing to try and create a picture that looked the same as I was seeing. Particularly challenging was trying to get some pictures of the bacteria in Golden Dome; the pictures still do not do justice to how those cave walls sparkle.

Click "Next" in the upper right to begin.