Northern California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 9 – Lassen National Park & Lava Beds National Monument

Day 9 started on another beautiful sunny morning, this time in Redding, California. Our first destination was a short drive to Lassen National Park, an area where a volcano erupted in 1915. The park is now a place to ski, hike, camp, and fish in its beautiful lake. Lassen Peak is made of igneous rock, and is one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes. It is also the southernmost non-extinct volcano of the Cascade Range. The road into the park was only opened through ten miles into the park due to snow covered roads and avalanche conditions, taking us as far as the devastation area.

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The area still had remnants of the last eruption from 1915. Hot Rocks which spewed out of the volcano three to five miles cluttered the devastation area, the name resulting from a photographer named Lassen took pictures of the rocks three days after the eruption and the rocks were still sizzling; for this reason the rocks were dubbed “hot rocks.”

In this same area were the Dwarf Forest and Chaos Crag.  From the base of the crags toward the northwest corner of the park is Chaos Jumbles, a rock avalanche that happened 350 years ago.  The rock debris traveled at about 100 miles per hour, flattened the forest before it, and dammed Manzanita Creek, forming Manzanita Lake.

As we were leaving the park we hiked near the ranger station along the lake trail for a fantastic view of the lake and mountain. The lake water was so clear that we could see the bottom and the reflection of the mountain in the lake.

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Driving onward into Northern California we saw a sign that we entered the State of Jefferson. The State of Jefferson was a proposed state that would span the mostly rural area of southern Oregon and Northern California, where several attempts to separate from Oregon and California have taken place. In October 1941, the original State of Jefferson movement got its start, but with Pearl Harbor occurring the effort faded. Now 75 years later, a resurgent State of Jefferson movement is seeking to found a new state encompassing not only the border counties of southern Oregon and northern California, but other counties as well. Recently the effort for independence has returned.

Northeastern California is very sparsely population, and as we drove onto California Highway 89 to stop at Subway Cave we passed few houses. The Subway Cave is a lava tube. Being totally unprepared we did not have a flashlight, but we were fortunate enough to tag along with a family from San Jose who shared their lantern light with us so that we could see where to walk. They were good tour guides, as they come here often, having a cabin in the area. They pointed out the uneven rocky floor of the tube and the water dripping from the ceiling at spots.

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The dripping water formed lavacicles that hung from the ceiling of the tube and we had to be careful not to walk into them.  A lavacicle is a geological formation consisting of a quantity of lava that dripped from the roof of a cave as it cooled and hardened, leaving a rounded protrusion. Weak spots caused the ceiling to collapse at some points. The remains of a lava bubble was located near the exit of the tube and the daylight lit the outlet to the trail. The trail followed the ground above the lava tube but was not clearly marked so we had to explore a bit to find our way back to the car. The warm temperature of 66 degrees outside felt good compared to the cool air in the lava tube.

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As we moved along California Highway 89, Mount Shasta was directly ahead of us. Its peak seemed so perfect that it is as if someone painted a picture of the shadowy foothills surrounding the snowy white peak. It seemed as though we should be getting closer to the peak, but because of it’s massive size we never really did.

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We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe called Chatty Kathie’s Cafe in the small town of McArthur, where the entire town seemed to be coming to lunch after church. We ate French dips and headed out on the road again.

The rest of the day was spent at the Lava Beds National Monument where we descended into eerie tube caves. A surreal landscape sculpted by molten earth, Lava Beds National Monument contains volcanic tablelands dotted by cinder cones, pit craters, and spatter cones, plus more than 700 caves. These strange features were formed when the outer edges of flowing lava began to cool, forming tubes. When molten lava stopped flowing, hardened tubes were left behind.

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We stopped at the visitor center to borrow flashlights and a map, as well as as a sweatshirt to walk into the cool depth of the caves. Our first cave was called Mushpot, since it was within walking distance of the visitor center. It was easy to explore this cave as we followed a smooth paved lit path. It was about 55 degrees inside the cave. Skull Cave was our next adventure; Low ceilings, tight spaces, ice and skulls of animals and humans were seen. The skulls tucked into a corner at the bottom offered a title for this cave. We used our flashlights to make our way through the cave and climbed many steps to get to the bottom level to see the skulls.

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Sunshine Cave was our next cave to explore and it was moderately challenging. This cave had a slippery slope near the entrance and a rocky floor. One of our flashlights went dead so we had to share his flashlight so that we could find our footing to proceed. At one point we came to a loop in the cave where we climbed over rocks and ice around the bend to make my way to the other side of the boulder at the loop’s center instead of continuing into a dark tunnel. We feared the flashlight would go out and we would be stuck not knowing where to go, but it was well worth it as this cave had an open vent in the ceiling at the rear point of the cave. The vent in the ceiling shone enough light so that it allowed vegetation to grow beneath it inside the cave.

For our last ave we decided to explore one more less challenging cave since we had only one flashlight. We chose Sentinel Cave and started at the lower end, hiking upward through the lava tube for 3,280 feet until we reached the second entrance at the Upper Sentinel.

After returning our flashlights to the visitor center, we continued above ground through the park, finding Fleener Chimneys, the abandoned volcanic vents from the Lava Beds. There are three holes about fifty feet deep, that were the conduits for the Devil’s Homestead Lava Flow around 12,000 years ago of Medicine Lake Highland, California’s biggest volcano. It is essentially a basaltic shield, about 30 miles long in a north-south direction, and 22 miles stretching east-west.

These vents were completely different from the lava vent center in Bishop, California. The Fleener Chimneys at Lava Beds National Monument did not spew lava but released pressure while the lava flowed through the lava tube to ooze out at the tube’s opening. This allowed the vents structure to remain, allowing us to peer down the three chimneys.

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From this point, we could view the dark rocky lava beds that stretched for acres.

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While still technically park of the Lava Beds National Monument, we drove through the Wildlife Refuge to get to Petroglyph Point, an archaeological site located southeast of Tule Lake, California. Petroglyph Point contains one of the largest panels of Native American rock art in the United States.

The petroglyphs are carved along the face of a former island of ancient Tule Lake, in a region historically of the Modoc people territory. Because of the number of times the petroglyphs may have been inundated in water as Tule Lake rose and fell around the cliff face, it is complicated to calculate the age of the individual petroglyphs. Most estimates date these carvings back between 2000 and 6000 years ago. Hundreds of stick figures and shapes covered the side of the cliff.

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The petroglyphs extended the length of a large rock formation behind a metal fence. Some graffiti plagued spots on the wall with the petroglyphs and pictographs but we could clearly see the ancient drawings. The wall is made of soft volcanic layers called “tuff.”  This material eroded from the rock wall and fell onto the ground where we walked. The “tuff” material provided a material soft enough for the cliff swallow to build hollow mud nests in the cliff. We saw nests stacked in rows on the face of the cliff wall.

After our walk at Petroglyph Point, we drove to Klamath Falls, Oregon to stay the night at the Cimmaron Inn. We had dinner at Bubba’s BBQ Shack for a great meal. The BBQ was excellent and it was a perfect ending to a great day.