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Shasta Lake, and Mt. Shasta. On a clear day, Mt. Shasta is easily visible from 100 miles away. We passed these landmarks on the way to Klamath Falls. After landing, we headed back into California to visit the Lava Beds National Monument.

Lava Beds has some very interesting physical features, but it was designated a National Monument primarily because it was the site of several historic battles in the Modoc War of 1872-73. Under the leadership of Captain Jack, the Modoc used the formations here to their advantage, holing up in a natural lava fortress. A group of 53 Modoc and their families held off over 500 US Army soldiers here for over five months.

This area had long been home to the Modoc, until white settlers arrived in the 1850s. After many battles, the Bureau of Indian Affairs negotiated with all the Klamath bands in October 1864. The settlers were relieved, but the Modoc had been asked to give up their homeland and live on a reservation with other tribes who were their traditional enemies. Finally, the Modoc agreed to try reservation living, but it only lasted a few months before they began to return to their ancestral land.

By late 1872, the US Army was ordered to return the Indians to the reservation. After the siege at Captain Jack's Stronghold, Maj. Gen. Edward R.S. Canby and three of the Bureau's commissioners tried to negotiate with Captain Jack. The Modoc believed that the soldiers would go away if their leaders were killed. Captain Jack knew better, but his men accused him of cowardice; so he agreed to kill Canby himself. The shooting began on a signal. When it was over, Canby and one other commissioner were dead; a third commissioner was seriously wounded. Canby was the only General killed during the Indian Wars.

In 1882 Lt. John Parke raised a cross on the site of the killings in Canby's memory, with the inscription "Gen. Canby U.S.A. was murdered here by the Modocs April 11, 1873." This cross is a reproduction; the original has been preserved in the park's visitor center.

The road into Lava Beds passes Tule Lake, which is a haven for wildlife in this forlorn part of California desert.

A plaque near the visitor center honors Judd Howard, who was almost singlehandedly responsible for setting Lava Beds aside to the public trust. The plaque mentions his carvings to catalogue each cave, shown here for Skull Cave.

This area of lava flow is the Devil's Homestead. Several thousand years ago, there was an eruption about two miles south of here at a spatter cone formation. When the eruption stopped, the lava cooled into this inhospitable form. Pahoehoe (hot, gas-rich, low-viscosity) lava began to flow down toward Tule Lake. It was very hot, but cooling and loss of gas began immediately. As the flow crept along, the outer several inches solidified. Under stress from the still-liquid interior, this crust broke repeatedly, forming a jumble of frothy-looking plates that floated along like ice on a river. By the time the flow reached here, cooling and loss of gas had transformed it into a rough, cinder-like lava called aa (cooler, less gaseous, high-viscosity).

Fleener Chimneys are spatter cones. They aren't the source of molten lava, but the result of globs of lava pouring on top of each other. A hole is left in the center, giving it this chimney-like effect.

The deepest of the chimneys is 50 feet deep. Since people first started coming here, they have dropped things into the chimneys to see how deep they are. Although they have now been cleared by volunteers, they were all filled at one time. In 1990-91 a volunteer crew removed almost 35 tons of debris from this chimney.

There are over 300 caves in Lava Beds. We had time to explore four of them. Mushpot Cave, named for the formation just inside its entrance, has been electrified for visitors. The trail is illuminated, and various geologic features can be illuminated as well.

Tributary tube. Streams of lava resemble streams of water in many ways. At this intersection, a small flow of coarse, frothy lava joined the main stream. This leaves a rough texture, compared with the smooth surface of the lava that came from the mushpot.


Lava tube. Liquid magma from within the Earth's crust is called lava when it reaches the surface. It is hotter than 1000C when it begins to flow, but contact with the ground and air causes it to cool and harden into rock. The center of the flow remains liquid much longer.
Successive eruptions may flow through the core and feed new flows downstream. When eruptions stop, the core drains out, leaving behind the hardened outer shell - the lava tube.

Distributary tube. Not all the lava flowed out the main tube. Some of it dropped off here into an older tube below. This distributary is now almost filled with hardened lava.
The large triangular block fell from the ceiling of the tube. The lava shoreline on its side shows that lava was still flowing here after it fell.


Collapse. Lava tube surfaces often crack as they cool. These fractures may later cause parts of the roof and sides to collapse, especially where seeping water freezes in the cracks.

Balcony. This is the largest balcony in the cave. Here molten lava pooled at the level of the balcony, leaving the dome above it unfilled. After the top of the pool cooled and crusted over, molten lava still flowing in the tube drained away, carrying part of the crust with it. The balcony that remains is a remnant of the pool's surface.


Lavacicles and Dripstone. Lavacicles formed where molten lava dripped from the ceiling. They resemble icicles, and grow in a similar way. One theory is that rising superheated gases caused the ceiling to re-melt.
Dripstone formed where lava slid down the walls of the tube and solidified.

Tube above a tube. The ceiling here opened up when the floor of an intersecting tube overhead collapsed into the main tube. The small tube is no wider than about 8 feet in diameter and runs back about 35 feet, where it ends in a wall of dripstone.



Roofed-over skylight. Skylights are holes in the ceiling that open to the surface. This one was changed when a lava flow filled the tube and pushed up into the hole. The lava crusted over within the skylight, and when the flow subsided, it left behind a dome of hardened lava.

Obsidian, a natural glass formed by extremely rapidly cooling lava, is not found within the Lava Beds National Monument. This sample was moved here from about 20 miles south for display. The pebbles around it are pumice. Some of them are almost weightless. The obsidian is not weightless.

Indian Well Cave is across the road from Mushpot. The colors inside the caves can be brilliant, but you need a good flashlight to see them. The last photo shows how the camera's flash catches water dripping inside the cave.

By the time we got to Lava Beds, we had been accustomed to daily high temperatures over 100 degrees (38C). So the caves offered an interesting contrast - we needed jackets for comfort! Some of the caves here are deep enough that the temperatures at the bottom are below freezing, even in summer. On the way down, we got a chance to enjoy the riot of color on the cave walls.
Ice caves have only one opening, so air doesn't circulate. Perpetually cold air stays at the bottom, surrounded by lava rocks that insulate the cave like a vacuum bottle. These scenes are from the Merrill Ice Cave, which has been losing some of its ice (none is in a good place for photography). But it was still plenty cold at the bottom. If we weren't curious about the rest of the park, we might have stayed down there a long while.

Skull Ice Cave is one of the park's largest and deepest caves, and has the most easily accessible cave ice, seen in the last three photos. The white stick in the second photo is used to track the depth of the ice.



Skull Cave got its name in 1898 when a wagon full of animal bones was discovered inside: bighorn sheep, antelope, and mountain goats. Two human skeletons were also found. How they got there is still a mystery.

Skull Cave also offers an excellent show of color, if you just light it up.


on to Crater Lake

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