Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lava Beds National Monument

I drove right by the road that leads to Lava Beds National Monument many times on the way to Reno and points south. The I read Dee Brown's Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. This book tells the true history of America's Indians.

One of those pieces of history, unknown to me, was the Modoc War of 1872-1873. This war caught the world's attention. The Modoc known as Captain Jack did not want to be on a reservation with an enemy tribe. So, they left. The Modoc took refuge in what became known as Captain Jack's Stronghold, in what later became known as Lava Beds National Monument.

Captain Jack's 53 warriors held off U.S. Army forces, ten times larger, for 5 months. Eventually it ended ugly. A sort of Branch-Davidian incident of its day. So, the first time I was in the area after reading about Captain Jack, I had to see his Stronghold. It was 2 days before Christmas. A lot of snow was on the ground.

The next time to Lava Beds National Monument was in summer. No snow on the ground. This time was part of a Roadtrip that initially was just to be to Reno, but ended up driving across the Loneliest Road in America, on the way to Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. And then on to Las Vegas and Death Valley.

Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1925. It covers over 46,000 acres. In addition to being known for Captain Jack's Stronghold, there are over 700 caves in Lava Beds. Most in the form of lava tubes. Around 25 of the lava tube caves have been made spelunker friendly, with marked entrances, names on the caves, trails, and in some, steps and ladders.

It is recommended if you go in the caves you should wear a helmet, have a least 2 flashlights per person and wear thick protective clothing and gloves. You can buy a helmet for 3 bucks at the park visitors center. They come in a selection of colors and have the Lava Beds logo on them. You can also borrow flashlights, for free. But you have to have them back by 4:30 pm or the rangers will assume you are lost and will come looking for you.

When me, Dale and Big Ed went caving at Lava Beds, we wore no protective clothing, wore no helmet and had no lights. Obviously these were 3 not very bright guys. Though I do remember Big Ed getting a bit cranky due to Dale and me going deeper and deeper til it got totally dark and we got sort of lost. Rescued when other cave explorers entered.

Lava Beds is not far south of Klamath Falls, coming from the north, you are not long into California when you come to the turn off to the monument. There is a $10 vehicle entry fee, another $10 to stay at one of the 40 campsites.

If you are in the area and like the idea of exploring caves on your own, well, Lava Beds is by far the most fun I've ever had in caves.

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