My friends and I are usually good planners, but this time we kind of lost it. In the hottest month of the year, we decided to pack up our kids and head to Oregon’s High Desert where it’s even hotter. Apparently that wasn’t punishing enough, so we headed across the border to the Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California to really sweat.
It’s a bizarre landscape. As soon as you cross into California you see the long, flat expanse of Tule Lake, infamous for being the largest internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Lawson Inada, Oregon’s current Poet Laureate and the father of my good friend, was held there as a child and he’s written of it in his book Legends From Camp.
Once you pass Tule Lake and its population of huge white pelicans you enter Lava Beds National Monument, a moonscape of black rocks and cinder cones. There are over 750 caves there so everywhere you look you can imagine a subterranean world of bats and other creatures of the night.
We’d forgotten half of the flashlights and a lot of the water, so we had to bumble through caves sharing torches. At one point Joan pulled out her iPhone to use the flashlight feature, but it didn’t seem to be ranked for cave use. I’m not sure why we couldn’t get it together and plan better—I suppose in the searing bright light of the high desert it’s hard to imagine you’d need light—but it did make it more of an adventure.
The rag-tag bunch of spelunkers prepares to enter their first Lava Tube.
The descent into Skull Cave.
Enjoying a respite from the heat - from 104 degrees to 55 degrees in ten easy paces!
Way down at the bottom of Skull Cave the temperature never goes above freezing and this pool of ice never thaws...
This was Modoc Indian country and their legacy lives on through the huge collection of rock art in the caves. During the Modoc War of 1872-1873, a small band of Modoc Indians used an intimate knowledge of the volcanic terrain to their tactical advantage. Under the leadership of Kintpuash (Captain Jack), the Modocs hid in "Captain Jacks Stronghold," a natural lava fortress and for five months held off US Army forces numbering up to ten times their strength. Go Modocs!