Our original plan was to go across Oregon and go to Idaho to watch the solar eclipse, but it is hard to make a reservation for that special event. So we gave up on that plan. Since Klamath Falls is close to California, we decided to go to Lava Beds National Monument and see if we can get a campsite.
Tulelake is a small town by the state line of Oregon and California. We saw expansive potato fields in the valley. The grid layout of the sprinkler heads in the farm lands was amazingly neat.
Passing the Tulelake National Wild Refuge, we saw an astonishing vast land of lava flows. It was a field of lava flows with very few vegetation. The dark color lava looked like rolling out of the volcano not long ago. But these lava rocks have been sitting there for as long as 2 million years! The youngest lava flow is 1,100 years old.
Desert plants such as big sagebrush flourish in this area. Yellow blazing stars, Indian paintbrush and gooseberries give colors to these arid land. We, together with the midges, got to the Indian Well Campground at about 10 in the morning and got a campsite. Yeah! The campsite is nice with several spruces and some big lava rocks. A lizard might have a home under one of the big rocks.
Lava Beds National Monument is a cool place to visit if you like rocks and caves. The most common volcanic rock is basalt. There are over 700 caves and over 20 caves are developed for tour. The Medicine Lake Volcano, a shield volcano, gently erupted on and off some 500,000 years ago. The lava flows covered 73 square miles. The lookout point at the visitor center offered a panoramic view of the monument. Looking through a field of big sagebrush, buttes, mountains, Tulelake, lava flows were all below.
We climbed down to the Mushpot Cave, the most accessible cave near the Visitor Center. We felt the cool air immediately when we entered the cave. Most caves have a temperature of 55°F year round. I put on my long sleeve shirt. The rough ceiling has lavacicles. We were in a lava tube cave! Walking deeper into the cave, the natural lights disappeared in the distance, and no lights were seen ahead of the trail. I was far behind Stephen and couldn’t see where he was. The flashlight I borrowed was bright enough to see the road and the cave. After a while, I saw bright flash light shone from ahead. It was Stephen’s flashlight. Now I felt relief. He shone the flash light towards my direction and told me to watch my head. There was a very low ceiling in the middle of the cave. I had to bend my back and lower my head to walk through it. At the end of the trail, an upper level lave tube sits above the lower level lave tube. The exploration of the cave was exciting.
We got out of the cave and went across the road towards the Indian Well Cave near the campground. Three towering cumulonimbus clouds dominated the distance sky. There might be thunderstorms under those clouds. The monument is above 4,000 feet elevation. So even the temperature was only in the lower 80s in the afternoon, we felt the sun was intense. Caves are good places to go in summer. We climbed down the Indian Well Cave. It has a wide opening with some colorful rocks by the cave. It seemed like there are no trails developed to go deep down the well. So we returned quickly.
The Mammoth Crater is another contributor to the lava landscape. It is a deep gigantic crater and the mother of over 70% of the basalt found in the surface area. I picked up a lava rock and felt it was very light because it has lots of holes. Pumice is a type of volcanic rock that can even float in the water.
It was a cloudy night so we didn’t see many stars. The air was cool and the symphony of crickets was pleasant. It was dark outside when the campfire went out. The moon lit up the edges of the clouds. The yellow round moon later came out behind the clouds and it became a beautiful night. Can’t wait to explore more of this otherworldly land.