The Lava Beds National Monument near Tulelake is a live textbook for geology. We did part of the geology tour today.
The Schonchin Butte is the best place to view the landscape of the monument. It is a cinder cone. I took the 0.7-mile trail and climbed 500 feet to the top. I stopped and took photos on the way up as the scene unfolded below. Beneath the Schonchin Butte is the vast bed of Schonchin Lava Flow. The field of lava bed was filled with black lava, craters, brown grasses, and sparse drought tolerant trees and bushes. It was 9 o’clock in the morning. It was warm but not hot yet. The trail was sandy and there were some old spruces along the way. Some bright yellow green moss covered the limbs of the trees. The twisted bark of the spruce expresses its hardness and strength. Lizards crawled across the trail. And a small snake escaped to the bushes. The end of the trail was covered with small red lava rocks. Bright cheerful yellow blazing stars shone on top of the butte.
The summit is a bowl-shaped crater. A fire lookout tower was built on top of the lava rocks. The view from the summit was unparalleled with the 360-degree view of the landscape. Snow capped composite volcano – Mt. Shasta was blended with the white clouds in the south western sky. Mount Dome, a handsome cinder cone is not very far away. Different volcanic formations are displayed on this expansive unique field. In the distance, at the foot of the Gillem Bluff are the Tule Lake and the green and yellow farm fields. From the interpretive sign, I learned that the Gillem Bluff is a fault scarp, where a plate pulled apart and the crust broke along the Gillem Bluff. The Tule Lake was 100,000 acres in 1900, but it is only 1/10 of its original size due to human activities. “They were turned into potato fields!” As Stephen said.
Then we went to the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge outside of the monument. Several Monarch butterflies were dancing around the wild flowers by the parking lot. The Gillem Bluff guards the farm lands and the lake. A curious lizard stood on top of a big lava rock checking us out. We heard a lot of birds on the lake, but the viewpoints are a little too far from the lake, so we used binoculars to search for birds. There were lots of white beaked coots. We saw a couple of American White Pelicans dipping their long flat beaks in and out of the water looking for food. To our delight, there was a large group of pelicans aggregating by the distant bank.
The scenic road winds along the Gillem Bluff. The low bluff has sections of basalt rocks exposed on the hillside. We continued our geology tour by stopping at the Devils Homestead Overlook. The field was covered with dark lava flows stretching from north to south along the road that stretches for 3.5 miles. We saw the lava flow up close after the Devils Homestead Crossing. The lava flow was at the same level of the road. It was a bed of tumbled dark colored lava rocks. Stephen touched one of the lava rocks and said, “They are still 1000 degrees!” The lava rocks were mainly black with areas of brown colors.
Black Crater was once a battle field between native Indian and the U.S. Army. Modoc peoples won the battle. A trail among the field of lava rocks led us to the rough Black Crater. The crater is shallow with tall lava rock edges. The odd shapes of the giant lava rocks on the edge of the crater froze the time. A wall of lava rock has rust red color.
There are huge hollow lave tubes by the trail to the Fleener Chimneys. They could be a good hiding place for some creatures. The Fleener Chimneys are spatter cones. It is the source of the Devils Homestead Lava Flow. There are three chimneys. One is deep into the earth for about 50 feet. Tourists threw rocks and trash into the chimneys to see how deep they were. Eventually, the chimneys were filled! 35 tons of trash were removed by a group of volunteer in 1990-1991. Now the deepest chimney was covered with a simple conduit grid and there is a sign nearby to alert tourists not to throw rocks and trash into the chimney.
This is a dynamic landscape shaped by nature and human. Hopefully we can live harmoniously with the sleeping giants.