Monday, October 23, 2017

Lava Beds National Monument (part 2)

More running in this fun national monument, this time on the Three Sisters Trail.  Lava tube entrances (and possible caves) are all over the place here:

Also little lava hills:

A bit less-defined trail, flashbacks to trail finding during Cowboy Tough (except for the sign part):

Lava bowl amid the sage:

And the three sisters that the trail is named for, with some smoky haze to contend with, but we've seen worse:

Oooo, my favorite cave - called Skull Cave, and this photo cannot even begin to show how big it is:

Sunshine at the entrance, but it's about to get dark...

The trail goes way back into the darkness:

Then you descend a couple steep staircases, and at the bottom there's a pool of ice, in the pitch black.  Just like that, you can turn off your light and see and hear absolutely nothing.  Pretty eerie and quite an experience.

Next up was Symbol Bridge, with some Native American rock art:

View of the bridge, really a short lava tube shaped like a natural bridge:

While I was playing around on established trails, John drove up to the Medicine Lake area to check out possible camping spots (report was that it's very nice up there although the road in is bumpy).  He also found a giant lava flow and of course that called for some exploration.

View from the top after scrambling up - almost higher than the treetops:

Crazy lava formations:

Sometimes there really are enough rocks:

We met back up for another guided cave tour, this one over at Valentine Cave.  We recognized the guy on the left (blue shirt) from the previous day's tour, and he said he was staying extra days in the park because he was having so much fun!  We could certainly relate.

Here's the part of the cave tour where everyone turns off their lights and you sit in the dark for a few minutes:

This is apparently a "mushpot" - looks like some oozing happened here:

The easiest cave, with lighting and a walkway:

From that to one of the difficult ones, called Labyrinth.  We went down the ladder just to check it out and decided we weren't up for crawling around, bumping our heads and getting dirty (at least not today).  But John was up for some ladder planking:

So we skipped that, but we did want to explore the Golden Dome.  This one was right up our alley.  Starting with the neat entrance:

Eventually we found the namesake gold lichen on the ceiling, very pretty!

Yes, everyone should "GO" and "DO"  :)

It's very common now to see solar on park service buildings, excellent.  We're trying to figure out how John can get one of these installation jobs...

The next day John headed out on a cross-country journey over the Callahan Flow to try to reach Island Butte in the middle of it.  I guess, because it was there.

Short but steep climb up onto the lava field:

He can confirm that it takes a very long time to go a short way across a lava field.  Lots of picking your way over and around all kinds of interesting obstacles.  Holy canoli if an adventure race ever had a checkpoint out in the middle of this...

Nice job reaching the butte!

Trekking back to the regular woods:

He happened upon a tree that has been recently banged up, which made him curious:

Looking around, he located the rock that had done it, complete with a piece of bark still attached:

A bit more detective work - here's where the rock had started out up the hill before it was dislodged and rolled down into the tree.  Would have been neat to see that (as long as we weren't in the way):

Later we went up to Mammoth Crater to see this large hole in the ground:

Go Team V!

More cave exploration at Heppe Cave:

This one wasn't so much a cave as a covered pool with a bunch of rocks around it.  It was a nice cool place to sit and listen to water dripping from the ceiling.  I loved the variety of all the different caves in the park.

Brief sidetrack to a supper we thought was particularly photogenic (and tasty):

Our last morning at Lava Beds - while driving out we stopped at the Petroglyph Section to see the large wall along what used to be a shallow lake:

The wall has a bunch of natural alcoves and places for birds to nest:

Native Americans used to paddle boats over to the base of the wall and create rock art:

More of the extensive petroglyphs along the wall, very cool:

Well, that was great fun!  Thank you Lava Beds!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lava Beds National Monument (part 1)

Our volcano tour continued as we traveled south just into California.  We have discovered that National Monuments tend to be hidden gems, places we haven't heard of but turn out to be fascinating.  Lava Beds is one of those places.

It started with a lava field driving tour, which always intrigues us.  John's even getting better at guessing the relative age of a lava field based on revegetation.

Hawaii gets referenced a lot at other volcanic parks - most places don't have pictures like this to share:

Our first hike was to the top of a hill - Schonchin Butte with a lookout tower on top:

Hey, it's Mount Shasta!  Also of great interest, the sky is finally pretty clear.  We hadn't outrun the wildfire smoke yet, but we did have one good day at Lava Beds to admire this beautiful peak:

I'm always amazed to see things growing in cinders.  On the other hand, we also learned in Hawaii that volcanic soil is great for growing plants.

Cinder stairs up to the lookout tower (probably made by the CCC, because that's always a good guess in a national park or monument - thank you CCC!):

An expansive lava flow and some haze in the distance:

Cinder cones and other volcanic geology:

Heading out for a walk past the Black Crater:

Checking out the colorful rocks:

And interesting spatter shapes:

A lava bubble near the Fleener Chimneys:

Red innards of the black rock:

One of the chimneys, vents coming out of the earth:

This is the one they cleaned all the trash out of (after finally getting people to stop throwing things in the holes, seriously):

King of the cone:

So here's where things got interesting - there are a ton of lava tube caves in the monument, and some of them (quite a few, it turns out) are open for exploring.  On your own, without a guide, just get a permit at the visitor center and have at it.  We didn't attempt any of the challenging (crawl on your stomach) ones, but we thought about it.

We started with one of the coldest, the Merrill Ice Cave.

The word "ice" should have been a clue... yep, super cold down there!  A nice place to cool off on a hot summer day - and then quickly climb back out to warm up again.

I was ready for some longer hiking/running, legs feeling good, happy it wasn't so smoky.  We set off down the Whitney Butte Trail:

Coming around the butte near the end of the trail, it was the neatest thing to suddenly see a huge lava flow, with more cones in the distance:

The trail comes right up to the base of the flow and stops.  Pretty neat.  John took the opportunity to go roam around on the lava rocks.  It takes a while to get anywhere on a lava flow, at least one without a trail built through it already.

Lizard face:

Each day there are guided cave tours and the rangers give entertaining talks while leading the way through a lava tube.  All geared up with a headlamp and helmet (and ballcap on backward):

Trekking to the cave entrance:

Playing with my camera in the darkness:

Lavacicles, frozen drips in the ceiling:

A big rock that looks like it shouldn't be there - this one might have rolled down in the lava flow?  Or maybe it fell from the ceiling.  I can't recall exactly which neat phenomenon this was:

The ranger pointed out this side passage and John decided to go explore - bye John!

Happily, he did come back, because there was a lot more to see.  Stay tuned!