October 15, 2015

10/12/15 - Lava Beds NM

The point in going to Lava Beds National Monument in northern California is to be able to go into the caves. But to get lava tube caves, you’ve gotta have volcanoes.  Plenty of evidence of volcanoes around here.

We came in through the north entrance, but no one was there so I couldn’t even get a map of the park.  We drove through Devils Homestead, a lava flow with chunks of a’a lava, a flow from the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano. A shield volcano is a really wide, really low volcano, like Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Apparently farmers related to having to till this mess.
We stopped at the Fleener Chimneys, which  are volcanic vents.  There are spatter cones created by globs of lava splattering like oatmeal, generally making a mess.  There are barricades across the top, apparently so you don’t accidentally stumble and fall down into one of the chimneys.

Besides the a’a lava, there’s also pahoehoe lava around—that’s the stuff that flows in swirls like homemade fudge.

The really cool part was the red lava.  I have no idea what this stuff is called, or why it’s red, but I really like it. I think it looks like petals that fell from flowers. 
Schonchin Butte is a cinder cone volcano. There’s a trail up to the fire lookout built by the CCC.  Obviously I wasn’t up to that, but even if I had been interested, George vetoed the hike. He vetoes a lot of my ideas—sometimes I just throw them out so he can. 
We started seeing a lot of birds overhead, but we weren’t sure what they were.  We knew they weren’t Canada geese.  They’d fly one way, then turn around and fly another.  I thought they were practicing before they migrated south. Later when we were at the visitor center, I asked a volunteer what they were.  She didn’t know, but I found a drawing on the brochure—they’re Tundra swans. She should have read the brochure.
I knew that with my broken arm I’d never be able to handle caves that took any scrambling, so we asked the Ranger at the Visitor Center to suggest some easy ones. I wore my sling for sympathy—and to remind myself not to use that arm for much.  It was only 5 days since I broke my elbow.  We had to be screened and have our cameras decontaminated so we could get a permit to go into the caves to prevent the White-nose Syndrome fungus from infecting the local bats.

Mushpot Cave is considered an introductory cave, or as I call it, “Cave Exploration for Dummies”. It’s only 770’ long and has high ceilings, lights and signs that explain formations, ecology and climate. Memorize this stuff and you’ll sound like an expert when you get to the other caves.

Why is it called mushpot?  Because there’s a mushpot just outside the entrance, silly.  A mushpot is formed when lava under pressure bubbles up from a crack below.  This is the mushpot.  
We checked out the dripstone and the lavacicles in the old lava tube.  These are lavacicles on the ceiling. Dripstone is sort of goopy lava on the walls.
We headed out Cave Loop road to Sentinel Cave (3,280’ long) is also one where George didn’t have to duck—plus it has two entrances.  The upper entrance is just a hole in the rocks.  This time we had to carry flashlights.  But we weren't graduated to real spelunking--there were stairs.
Skull Cave (580’) is pretty wide-open, so people who don’t like tight spaces can handle it without feeling claustrophobic.  It was named for the bones of pronghorn, bighorn sheep and two human skeletons discovered there.  I don’t know when, and I don’t know who...but I’m glad they’re gone.
There’s ice on the floor of the bottom level of Skull Cave.  Apparently you used to be able to get down onto the floor and walk on it, but they’ve got it closed off now.  It’s pretty hard to see looking down on it from above.  It must have been thicker than it is now, because it’s not terribly impressive now.
That’s all we did—3 caves in the “Least Challenging” category. There are others in the park, but George doesn’t like the low ones and I’d had about all I could for the day. After all, it’d only been 5 days since my accident.  My magic pill was wearing off.

We didn’t see any bats.  

More pictures from Lava Beds here:  Lava Beds Natl Monument 

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