Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument is in the far northeast corner of California, just miles away from the border with Oregon. Boundless plains of grasslands, basalt boulder fields, volcanoes, and the densest concentration of lava tubes in North America (over 700 caves) make this a special place. Beyond the mystic beauty that surrounds this place is a bloody and ancient history. The Modoc Wars that finally displaced the ancient Modoc tribes placed an eventual total of 930 US soldiers against 53 Modoc warriors led by Captian Jack, Kintpuash. Eventually 73 lives were lost, including General Canby and Captain Jack and his four accomplices were captured and hanged at Fort Klamath. Remaining Modoc were moved as prisoners of war to land in what is now Oklahoma. More about the Modoc War can be read about here, Wikipedia, and at the park website for Lava Beds NM.

On a lighter note, the geology of the area is rather interesting. The park is on the fringes of the basin and range province, part of the Great Basin Desert, and at the southern end of the active Cascade Arc. It lies on the slope of the Medicine Lake Volcano, the largest (by volume) of the cascade volcanoes. Mt. Shasta is the most voluminous of the big cones, but lavas from Medicine Lake are estimated to fill at least 140 cubic miles. It is a large basaltic shield volcano with numerous cinder cones and basalt floes along its slopes, perfect conditions for lava tubes. Beneath the recent Cascade volcanism is the southern extent of some of the Columbia River Basalt Flows, namely Steens Mountain Basalt and Painted Mountain Basalt flows.

Caves in the park include the infamous Catacombs Cave, a maze of well over 6,000 feet of passages ranging from room size to narrow crawl tubes, and the small Mushpot Cave, which has been developed for easy access and is lit on the inside to demonstrate various features of lava tubes and their formation. It is very cool to go from a completely dark cave like Labyrinth and into the lit and developed cave that exposes all the features that were hidden by the abysmal darkness. There are several monitored ice caves, but due to climate change, ice is rapidly disappearing from them.

Lavacicles form as the lava forming the ceiling drips down
and cools.
As I was driving, I neglected to take a multitude of pictures of this fantastic high desert wonderland. They will be added upon my various returns here.

Lavacicles and drips in Mushpot Cave.

Crisp lava drips in Labyrinth Cave.

Often, multiple lava flows flowed through any given lava tube. This
leaves behind features like these that show the level of various flows.
In this cave, at this spot, we counted five separate additional flows!

Cool lava cauliflowers. I'm not really sure how they form, but they're neat.

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