Local Hikes

Locals Adventure Guide

Caves, battles and spelunking

By Tim and Kati Case of Case Coffee Co. 1255 Siskiyou Blvd

When most people think of cave exploration they think of rappelling down a steep underground tunnel with only a tiny stream of light from a helmet, and the eerie drip dropping of water. Alone in the darkness, your heart starts to race and you determine that you are bound to be lost forever in the bowels of the earth, or eaten alive by rabid bats…well, that’s what I envisioned when Tim suggested we go caving. I decided it was high time I faced my fears of the unknown, and agreed to go along.

The Lava Beds National Park in Northern California boasts over 300 caves, made out of old lava tubes. The entire area is full of dramatic volcanic landscapes with lava rock, cinder cones, chimneys, and collapse pits. This stretch of rugged land is also famous for hosting a violent and long confrontation between the Modoc Indians and the U.S. Army in 1872. Not willing to be confined to a reservation, 52 brave warriors, led by Captian Jack, held off an army twenty times larger for almost a year before defeat. The National Park is now home to a new visitors center, and paved roads that lead to the entrances of the 19 main caves. There is a ten dollar fee to get into the park. The visitors center will provide you with free flashlights, and if you wish you can buy a hard hat for $3. I highly reccomend bringing at least two strong flashlights from home, because the ones they give you are pretty weak. Helmets and kneepads are a must if you plan on exploring the more difficult caves.

Most of the caves are located on a two mile loop. They are divided into categories of difficulty with the easiest having high ceilings and smooth floors, and the most challenging requiring crawling and twisting and squeezing into tight spaces. To help me get over my cave paranoia, we started out with an easy one called Sunshine Cave. It was beautiful, and had sunlight coming through the roof where the ceiling had collapsed. (I tried to ignore the whole “collapsing” thing…what are the odds it would happen again, right?). Feeling more confidant with being underground, we ventured into another cave called Chocolate Cave, named for the rich brown color of the lava covering the walls. There were places in most of the caves where you could go off and explore different tubes that looked pretty small, but we choose to stay in the main tubes. For the more daring, caves like Labyrinth and Catacombs are said to live up to their names with many difficult passages that have ceiling heights of 1-3ft with many levels and passages. Some of the caves were closed due to baby bats, but altogether we explored about 8 or 9 caves, our favorites being Skull Cave, Hercules Leg Cave, and Valentine Cave. Skull Cave had a stunningly huge cavern, and an ice floor on the lower level. Caving is not particularly for the faint of heart and weak of body, but if you are looking to challenge yourself and try something different, it can be highly rewarding and thrilling. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/labe.

Directions: Start by going up Greensprings Hwy for about 60 miles. Greenspring Hwy becomes OR 140, go 6 miles. Turn right on OR 39 for 17 miles. OR 39 becomes CA 139 for 8 miles. Turn right on S County Road 111. Turn right on CR 132. Turn left on CR120/Rim road. Total driving time=2 hours

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