A quick peek inside one of the caves at Lava Beds NP, the so called Mushpot Cove. We entered the cave at our own risk and without wearing protective helmets (!). We had to carry flashlights and yet the light conditions weren't especially good for making photos. I hope these shots will give you some impression of what the cave looked like.
Hey, that's the same sweater that I wore that afternoon at the Chinese restaurant in Nordfjordeid (Norway) ...
Though people come here mostly to explore the caves, you can also make some good photographs of birds here, especially around the picknick tables and the area surrounding the visitor's centre. This particular bird is either the Blue Jay, or its western cousin Steller's Jay.
I opted to explore Mushpot Cave which is located near the Visitor Center on the south end of the park. This is the cave for the beginning caver, those with limited time, and for those not sure how they will react to going in a cave. It has lights inside, and even has interpretive signs. Flaslights are available at the visitors center and hardhats are recommended. Parts of the cave have a low ceiling.
There are over 700 lava tube caves in the park. These caves are formed as flows of molten lava move along a gentle slope to exit on the surface. The lava moves very slowly and cools and hardens as it comes into contact with the air and ground along the surface. The cooling takes place first on the bottom where it touches the ground, than the sides then the top forming a tube which insulates the rest of the lava allowing it to flow long distances. Once the flow stops a long cave is formed. Some of these tubes collapse and form features like Fern Cave where animal and plant life live. There is a trail leading to a few caves near the visitors center and a road leading to several more caves. There are also many other caves accessible by other roads, many of them dirt.
Some of the common things you will find in caves are Photo 1) Lavacicles, which form from lava dripping from the ceiling much like the formation of icicles; Photo 2) Dripstone, formed as lava flows down the solid walls; and Photo 3) shows the mineral deposits of Calcite formed by rainwater on the formations (note the whie deposits.
If you enter the park from the southeast you will come to the Visitors Center fairly soon after your entrance. If you come in from the north like I did you drive through most of the park before you get here. The people at the visitors center can provide you with any number of brochures about the park and the Modoc Tribe, and can advise you on how best to enjoy the park. Threr are also several informational displays inside the center.
Black Crater itself is a volcanic formation called a spatter cone. A spatter cone forms when there is not enough hot explosive gas to form a full lave flow so it kind of spitts out smaller chunks of lava.
Heading south there is a pullout for the trail to the Thomas-Wright Battlefield with a cutoff for Black Crater a short distance from the Devil's Homestaed Lava Flow. I was short of time, and thought Black Crater would be more interesting, so I opted for the shorter trail vice the 1.1 miles to the battlefield (and 1,1 mile back). Glad I did.
The center of the park is dominated by the 5302 foot high Schonchin Butte. It was the source of one of the two largest lava flows in the park. Schonchin Butte is a Cinder Cone and was formed when it erupted and some of the ash, cinders and hardened lava fell to earth by the vent forming the familiar cone shape. There is a steep .7 mile trail leading to an historic fire lookout station perched on top of the butte. From the fire lookout station you can get a great 360 degree view of the park.
Note the difference in vegatation between the north (with the vegetation) and the south (bare) side of the butte.
The next place along the road is the Devil's Homestead Lava Flow, which flowed from the Fleener Chimneys formation some 5000 to 7000 years ago. As the flow started heading down toward Tule Lake it flowed fairly quickly forming a longer, smoother Pahoehoe type lava formation, as it began to cool rapidly it formed the more rough and patchy Aa type lava formation seen from the roadside viewpoint here. Past the lava flows, you can see the normal appearance of the plants in this semi-arid desert.
I think most people enter Lava Beds National Monument from the south, which is probably best as that is where the visitors center is located. I entered from the north. The first place you will see upon entering from the north is Gillems Camp. This part of what is now Northern California was a popular place to settle because of the terrain, the weather and because nearby Tule Lake aws a reliable source of water. The Modoc Tribe lived here for thousands of years until they were forced to move. From April through June 1873, soldiers were stationed here during the Modoc War. There is an easy 1/4 mile trail through the remains of Gillems Camp. There is also a more difficult .88 mile trail up to the top of Gillems Bluff. There is an informative brochure available at the trailhead. Please return it or pay the nominal fee if you wish to keep it.
Gillem's Bluff, called Sheepy Ridge by the Modoc and early settlers was used to capture low flying birds and other wildlife by the Modoc and the early settlers. For the soldiers it was a strategic place for spotting the opposition and was on the supply trail to the camp.
Schonchin Butte, named for a Modoc leader, is a prominent butte in the western part of the monument, near the Schonchin lava flow, one of the two major lava flows. There is a trail leading up to a fire lookout post and one can hike up to the top, but it is fairly steep.
The visitors' centre, in the sourthern part of the monument near the caves, has plenty of information, is the place to register for camping, and is the place to get maps as well as free loaned flashlights for cave/lava tube exploring. It also has a small museum display and other information about the area.
The Devil's Homestead is one of the major exposed lava flows, a swath of largely exposed volcanic rock. It dominates much of the western part of the park. One can explore it and also get good views from a vista point on the road. It really shows the rough volcanic nature of much of this landscape, although other parts of the park look more like "normal" desert and semi-desert scrubland.
At the northern part of the park, near the northern entrance and not far from Captain Jack's Stronghold, is Canby's Cross. This cross was originally erected in the 1880s (the current is a newer replacement) to mark the site where the Modoc killed General Canby and others in the failed negotiation meeting.