"Volcano: a mountain with hiccups"
A less explored part of Northern California
Ask most people where you would find volcanoes and they would probably think of Hawaii or maybe even Washington. What surprises many people is that a large amount of recent volcanic activity has actually happened in Northern California. In fact, Northern California’s Mt Lassen erupted only 95 years ago and is far from dormant. I guess there really isn’t a safe place to live in California. Despite the long term danger, all this volcanic activity has left massive areas covered in ancient lava beds. The largest fields are located in the north-eastern part of the state and represent a moment of catastrophic geological disaster frozen in time. These days, it is protected by Lava Beds National Monument and provides the adventurer a glorious place for hiking, caving, and exploring how life can flourish after such a fiery event.

The Medicine Lake Volcano
Quick Background on Lava Beds

The Medicine Lake Volcano is one of the largest volcanoes in the US. Its not quite as massive, conical, or even prominent as some of the world’s more famous volcanoes, but it packs quite the potential for explosion. In the volcanic Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, it has the largest mass out of all. Geologically speaking, Lava Beds NM is full of lava formations which offer some great adventures.

Outdoor Adventure in Lava Beds

As mentioned earlier, this place is a mecca for outdoor adventure. The primary activity of the park is CAVING! The park contains literally hundreds of caves formed in the petrified lava. These caves are actually known as Lava Tubes. I won’t go into detail on how they are formed, but they can be extensive and maze-like. Some of the caves are quite simple and accessible while others require serious cave navigation skills. I will have a more detailed blog post on which caves are available and which are the best to see.

Hundreds of caves to explore
Hiking the park is also a great experience which doesn’t require the sort of grit and claustrophobia that defines caving. Several trails permeate the park and there are a couple that climb the several lave buttes. However, I preferred simply trekking across the massive expanses of lava to hiking the trails. I would simply pull my car over and enjoy the serene landscape that was once so catastrophic. Petrified lava is very sharp and can crumble easily so I would recommend using some rugged boots and gloves if you intend to hike.
The view from Petroglyph Point
Historical and Archaeological Significance (actually quite interesting)

In addition to being a fantastic example of weird and wonderful lava formations, Lava Beds is the sight of much Native American history. The Modoc Wars of 1872-1873 took place here when the US government attempted to relocate the Klamath and Modoc tribes were relocated to the same reservation. These tribes were, to say the least, not friendly with each other and this escalated to some larger conflicts. (this is a very abbreviated history, visiting the park will fill in the gaps.) The leader of the Modoc resistance, Captain Jack, took advantage of the natural fortress-like formations of the lava beds and was able to repel off an army 10 times the size of his band. Named “Captain Jacks Stronghold” the formations themselves feel much like a military fort.
Natural Fortress; "Captain Jack's Stronghold"
Lava Beds also happens to have a spot known as “Petroglyph Point” which contains the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the United States. The point is highly sacred to the Native Americans who still live there so access is not permitted. However it is possible to see some glimpses of it by hiking to the fence line of the point.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!