Crater Lake National Park is one of the most remote National Parks in the contiguous United States, but it is also one of the most beautiful National Parks. For hundreds of years, people have been impressed by the incredible cerulean blue color of the lake, and have been inspired by the incredible natural beauty that exists throughout the park. While there is not a bad view of the lake from anywhere along the crater rim, one of the best views is easily accessible in Rim Village at the Sinnott Memorial Overlook.
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.
The Tuolomne Meadows portion of the park is commonly known as “the high country” of Yosemite, and the reason for this is that this area is above 6,000 feet of elevation. During the winter months, this area is also inaccessible to visitors, unless they have skis or snowshoes, as the main access route – the Tioga Pass Road – becomes snowed in, and is not plowed by the National Park Service. It is also an area that is chock-full of beauty. There are high alpine lakes; there are high mountains that are part of the Sierra Nevada range; there are waterfalls; there are wildflowers; and there is wildlife. It is a stunning portion of the park, and one that every visitor should take the opportunity to visit; and it is also an area that is far from the crowds of Yosemite Valley. While there are many great hikes in the region, one of my favorites is the Cathedral Lakes hike.
Sequoia National Park is one of my favorite National Parks. From its tall, majestic trees, to its secret underground caves, and its high lofty mountains, it is a National Park that has almost everything an outdoors aficionado could want. Unfortunately, it is located next to a number of other fantastic National Parks - Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Devil's Postpile; and a number of other great wilderness areas. As such, many people who visit Sequoia have a limited amount of time to see the park before they head onward to their next destination. If you're one of the people who is on the Sierra Nevada park circuit, this list and itinerary is for you; but let me say that if you do have the time, Sequoia is a great spot to spent an extra day or two at. But, without further ado, here's my list of the top five things to do at a day in Sequoia National Park!
One of the many things that I like about Death Valley National Park is its enormous expanse of open terrain. Its enormous swath of desert and mountain wilderness ensures that you will have solitude to appreciate the park's many amazing geologic features; and it also ensures that you will have the opportunity to have an adventure, and if you're lucky, the chance to discover things that have been lost. For example, earlier this year, when thepeakseeker and I were attempting the Shorty's Well Route (Trip Report here) to the top of Telescope Peak, we came across an abandoned mine. While abandoned mines are common in Death Valley due to the park's mining history, the location of this mine was unexpected. We had backpacked into the Panamint Mountains from the Badwater Basin; and had passed Shorty's Well, and Shorty's Mine. From the mine, we had followed a foot trail which had gradually become steeper deep into the mountains. At the end of the first day of backpacking, we had traveled ten miles from the nearest "road"; and were truly off the grid.
While most of the mines in the park have been sealed by the National Park Service for the public’s protection, some of the mines in the more remote areas of the park can be found and explored by intrepid visitors. Such exploration is not for the faint-hearted: as the above sign states, abandoned mines carry a plethora of hazards. If those physical dangers aren’t enough of a deterrent, the Panamint Range of the park is rumored to harbor a series of large underground caverns containing strange creatures and even stranger relics. If you are interested in exploring a Death Valley mines safely, or just seeing an open Death Valley mine, despite the above listed hazards, the easiest mine to see in the backcountry is Shorty’s Mine.