Lava Beds National Monument
Lava Beds National Monument has a dubious honor of being one of the least explored national parks and monuments in California. It's not surprising, since it's tucked far away in the northeastern corner of the state and not easy to get to even from the nearest reasonably sized town. It took us 3 hours of driving to get to the park from the town where we stayed, but the drive was quite scenic taking us past Mount Shasta and along Oregon border.
Lava Beds landscape is not really inviting, but the real beauty of the park lies underground. There are more than 700 known caves withing the boundaries of the park and many of them are open for visitors. All you need is a hard hat and a flashlight, and you are good to go. However, it helps to stop at the visitor center first and receive a useful map where caves are marked and rated by difficulty level.
How Do Lava Caves Form?
Lava Beds Visitor Center has a lot of information about lava caves, and the cave that is closest to the center is lighted and has an interpretive trail. We learned that Lava Beds caves are lava tubes. A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. Smarty was especially fascinated by different types of rock formations on the floor of lava caves - one of them is called cauliflower floor. She was not spooked by darkness and silence of the caves and tried hard to photograph things that interested her. Some of her pictures turned out OK, but, ahem, her low light photography skills leave a lot to be desired.
Learn About Caves at Home
- PBS Learning has a "virtual lava tube" explaining every element of a lava tube cave.
- Explore caves in Minecraft
- Watch this amazing video on Caves from BBC Earth series
Have you done any sort of science-related field trips lately?