California is a state with natural beauty that stretches the entirety of the state to each of its borders. It is also a state where the beauty above ground in some areas pales with the beauty below ground. Like a sunset on an unknown beach, each of these areas offer solitude, otherworldly beauty, and in some cases, some of the most unique terrain on the planet. Even if you've never explored a cave before, each of these spots will interest and intrigue you, and provide you a great introduction to the world below your feet.
The most unique thing about Lava Beds National Monument are its many lava tube caves, which were created by lava flows over a period of fifty thousand years from 10,000 to 60,000 years ago. As the lava flowed from the Medicine Lake volcano, the surface cooled and solidified. Underneath the surface, lava continued to flow to various areas, eventually emptying the “tube” underneath. Over the course of time, the rock cooled, cracked, and collapsed, producing openings to the surface. Today, there are over 700 lava tube caves in the National Monument, of which over twenty (20) can be explored.
One of the lesser known gems of the National Park system is Lava Beds National Monument. Established in 1925, the park is home to the largest concentration of lava tube caves in the United States. Currently, over seven hundred (700) separate caves have been discovered in the park, and over twenty of these caves are accessible to the general public. That's right: over twenty of the caves are accessible to visitors. While there are many amazing things about Lava Beds - petroglyphs, hiking trails along the Medicine Lake shield volcano, interpretive displays about the Modoc War and more, the caves are the signature attraction. Unlike many National and State Parks which discourage or limit exploration of underground features to pre-set guided tours, Lava Beds encourages exploration of its many caves. And, as a matter of fact, Rangers will "rent" flashlights (no charge with a valid Driver's License) and provide information about the conditions found in the various caves within the park. One of the easiest caves to explore in the park with an interesting geologic and cultural history is Skull Cave.
In the far Northeast corner of the State of California is the best National Monument you've never heard of: Lava Beds National Monument. While the monument has many interesting historical, cultural, and geologic features to visit, it is primarily the home of the Medicine Lake volcano, which is the largest volcano by volume in the Cascade Range. For over 500,000 (1/2 million years), the Medicine Lake volcano has been erupting; and is a large shield volcano. While there is evidence of over thirty separate lava flows from the Medicine Lake volcano that can be viewed in Lava Beds, one of the most prominent lava flaws is the Devils Homestead. This lava flow originated from the Fleener Chimneys portion of the park around 2,000 to 8,000 years ago, and is considered an aa flow, as it is basaltic in composition and now has a blocky, uneven surface. Today, while the area has some growth in between the hardened lava, to me, it looks like the surface of the moon, and is one of the more surreal places to visit within the park.