The Lava Beds are the result of the gentle eruptions from the Medicine Lake volcano, which has over 500 surface vents. The result of this gentle activity is a shield volcano with a low, gently-sloping profile. Eruptions dating back to 30-40,000 years ago formed over 700 lava tubes. Lava tubes are formed when the outside of a lava flow cools and the center remains hot. The hot lava center drains out, resulting in a pipe like cave. Caves can be stacked on top of one another due to multiple eruptions.
This region was home to the Modoc people and their ancestors for over 10,000 years. Moved from their homeland to the Klamath reservation in Oregon, some of the tribe returned home and fled to the natural defenses provided by the lava beds. It took the United States Army 6 months and 1,000 troops to capture less than 60 Modoc warriors and families. These families were then exiled to the Quapaw Agency in Oklahoma.
Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1925 to protect the land and the history of the Modoc people. In addition to the lava beds and caves, there is Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Petroglyph Section. The Petroglyphs were covered by water as late as 1875. At this point water for Tule Lake was diverted for farm irrigation and the newly exposed land was converted to farm land. No longer protected by water, the petroglyphs are being damaged by vandals and the scouring action of wind blown soil.
While at Lava Beds, we hiked the Mushpot Cave (motion sensor lights, paved path) and the Skull Cave; the Skull Cave ends with an ice cave that served as an important source of water in this arid environment. In addition to the caves, there are hiking trails throughout the park.
September was an excellent time to visit Lava Beds, temperatures were cooler and the sun was less intense.
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