Lava Beds National Monument is a land of stark and primordial beauty. It is a landscape rich in geologic and cultural history. When Lava Beds was declared a national monument in 1925, a unique and incredibly diverse natural wonder is preserved for future generations to discover and explore. The many lava flows, fumaroles, and cinder cones offer testament to this planet’s fiery origins. More than 700 caves can be found here. The Klamath Basin is also home to the Klamath and Modoc tribes and is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, going back thousands of years. Their presence is evident in various locations throughout the basin, including Petroglyph Point, to the northeast of the park. A wide variety of plant and animal species reside within the monument’s more than 46,000 acres, making Lava Beds National Monument a perfect photo destination. And with the nearby Klamath Wildlife Refuges and Medicine Lake highlands, the photo-ops are world-class.
Lava Beds National Monument consists of more than 30 separate lava flows, ranging from 2 million years to 1100 years in age. The majority of those flows originated with the Mammoth and Modoc craters located in the southern portion of the park. A smooth, rope-like lava known as pahoehoe (pronounced pah-hoy-hoy) covers most of the monument. Some 22 caves are open for exploration, including Fern Cave. With the exception of Mushpot Cave, near the Visitor’s Center, all caves are unlighted. Bring a flashlight or headlamp and wear a helmet. Long-sleeves and closed-toe hiking shoes or boots are highly recommended.
With an elevation between 4000 feet (1200 meters) and 5700 feet (1700 meters), Lava Beds National Monument supports a variety of vegetation. Grassland and sagebrush occupy the lower elevations, yielding to juniper and chaparral at mid-elevations. Coniferous forests dominated by ponderosa pine are found at higher elevations. Wildflowers include Indian paintbrush, Mariposa lilies, and the slender penstemon. The monument is home to a diversity of wildlife, as well. Badgers, coyotes, and pronghorn antelope are among the mammals you will find here, along with a number of raptors. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Bald Eagle feed on the abundance of birds, rodents, and fish in the area. Several species of reptiles inhabit Lava Beds, including the Western Rattlesnake, so please use caution when hiking.
The Klamath Basin is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, dating back thousands of years. When White settlers began arriving here in the early 19th century, skirmishes between the indigenous people (specifically, the Modocs) and encroaching settlers broke out. With injustices and atrocities committed on both sides, the U.S. Cavalry was sent in to forcefully re-locate the natives to the Lost River Reservation. They resisted and the stage was set for what is commonly referred to as the Modoc Wars (1872-73). Outnumbered ten-to-one, the Modocs were able to hold out for several months, before succumbing to the inevitable. Several battlefield sites have been preserved, commemorating what is considered the only major Indian war to be fought in California. The National Park Service offers Special Events, including re-enactments of the Modoc conflict. For more information on Lava Beds National Monument, visit their website.
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