Explore Amazing Caves at California’s Lava Beds National Monument

1 Indian Well Headquarters (off Rtes. 139 and 161), Tulelake, California A vast, majestic stretch of high desert ringed with

Lava Beds National Monument, California
Steps take visitors into one of the monument’s many lava-tube caves. Crystal Ice Cave (right) is the cave with the most spectacular ice formations.

1 Indian Well Headquarters (off Rtes. 139 and 161), Tulelake, California

A vast, majestic stretch of high desert ringed with purple mountains, the monument preserves the special beauty and strangeness of land marked by volcanic activity. From the northeast entrance the park road winds through scrubby sagebrush and rolling hills dotted with juniper and, finally, stands of yellow pine. Jagged lava rocks, deep orange in color, lie precariously amid the wispy sage.

At the visitors center near the southeast entrance, information is available on the area’s turbulent volcanic origins and its plant and animal life, and a rock display illustrates the variety of minerals found here. An interpretive trail in the adjacent, illuminated Mushpot Cave explains lavacicles, spatter cones, balconies, and other formations found in the monument’s 811 lava-tube caves. More than 15 of these are accessible from Cave Loop Rd., which begins at the visitors center. If you want to explore them, the center will lend you portable lights.

The terrain once provided refuge for the Modoc people in the Modoc War of 1872–73, a Native American rebellion whose history is recounted at the visitors center. Petroglyphs 4,000 to 6,000 years old, found on cliffs, remind one that to the Modocs this area was the center of the world.

While you are here, take the Wildlife Refuge Tour along the northeast edge of the monument: The route overlooks Tule Lake in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, frequented by literally millions of waterfowl in autumn. Falcons and other predators congregate along the cliffs here, including the largest number of bald eagles south of Alaska.

–Open year-round except Christmas. Admission charged.

www.nps.gov/labe

(530) 667-8100

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest