It’s a rocky situation at Glass Mountain

Comments 4 Standard

After talking about scenery,  lava tubes and caves, it’s time to show some rocks that really rock.  Volcanic rocks, that is.  In our first two blogs about the Lava Beds National Monument we explored the hidden world of the lava caves and the rugged surface encompassing the monument.  This time we highlight the naturally occurring volcanic glass – obsidian rock.  It’s a form of Rhyolite that has the highest content of silica.  It is a volcanic glass prized by Native Americans for making arrowheads, knives, spear points and other tools.


Is this really sharp?

Obsidian Roc kFile

A huge pile of Obsidian Rock

This excursion took us about 30 miles south of the Lava Beds as we continued our geologic adventure at Glass Mountain.

Glass Mountain has been designated a Special Interest Area in Modoc National Forest because of its geologic formations.  The area is a 4,210 acre lava flow of glassy black obsidian boulders ending suddenly in white pumice soil.  Wandering around at the top of  Glass Mountain, we encountered prehistoric obsidian mines along a glass flow and were amazed at the ancient quarry remains evident today.  Being there was kind of surreal and made us wonder what it must have been like when this amazing landscape was being formed.  Estimates are that the most recent flows of pumice and obsidian at Glass Mountain occurred less than 900 years ago.

Glass Mountain

Glass Mountain

Ancient Rock Quarries

Ancient Rock Quarries

We are not geologists or rock hounds, but this place rocks!

The drive took us through the Modoc National Forest were we also saw Ponderosa Pines for miles covered with lichens.

Lichens covering trunks of Ponderosa Pines

After wandering through the quarries we drove to Arnica Sink, a dry basin in which water-worn cobbles and pebbles are mixed with sub-angular boulders covered by a washed mantle of pumice.

Arnica Sink

Arnica Sink

Our final stop was at Medicine Lake, which was once the center of a volcano and is over 150 feet deep.  It was quite a beautiful day and only a few folks were enjoying the serenity and beauty surrounding the area.

Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake

Yellow Rabbit flowers were in full bloom and dotted the landscape with yellow and orange glow. Simply beautiful!

Yellow Rabbit Bloom

A Turbulent Past – Lava Beds National Monument part 2

Comments 7 Standard

Batman and Robin caved in after a day of exploring lava caves   We then decided to explore the scenery outside the caves. There were attractions on the surface that awaited our enjoyment such as Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields and campsites, and a high desert wilderness.  Lava Beds Monument has a turbulent past.  It is not only because of its geologic turmoil caused  by Medicine Lake volcano’s spewing forth of lava, gases and cinders creating an inhospitable landscape, but also of the historical events that occurred in this area in the  late 1800s.  The monument encompasses the main battlefields of the Modoc war which was the only Indian war fought in California.

Rock Fortress

In 1864  Modoc Indians were asked to give up their homeland and to live on a reservation north of Klamath Falls.  During the  Modoc War of 1872-1873, the Modoc Indians used these tortuous lava flows to their advantage.  Under the leadership of Captain Jack, the Modocs took refuge in this  natural lava fortress now known as “Captain Jack’s Stronghold”.

English: 1873 sketch by William Simpson of Mod...

English: 1873 sketch by William Simpson of Modocs at Captain Jack’s Stronghold, in public domain, from Library of Congress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They managed to hold off US Army forces numbering up to twenty times their strength for five months. Eventually, however, Captain Jack’s entire band was captured and he was hanged while the rest of his followers were sent to Oklahoma never again to return to their homeland.  We followed Capt Jacks Stronghold Trail which winds through the heart of the Modoc’s wartime defenses and we observed its rough terrain and the rock formations that served as their fortress.

Captain Jacks Stronghold Trailhead Mt Shasta as backdrop of the Fortress

On the US Army side, General Canby who led the peace talks between the Modocs became the only General killed in an Indian War.  A wooden cross was erected by a US soldier in 1882 . Inscribe on the cross was, “Gen Canby USA was murdered here by the  Modocs April 11, 1873.” 

Canby's Cross

Canby’s Cross

Story of Canby's Cross

Story of Canby’s Cross

The Monument also includes Petroglyph Point, one of the largest panels of Native American rock art in the United States.  Petroglyph Point was an island throughout much of its history due to the fact that Tulelake was about 10 times larger than it is currently.  However, during the early 1900’s the lake was drained to make way for homesteaders.  As a result you must drive out to it now.  Along the cliff face are over 5000 carved symbols, and we could imagine the carvers standing up in their canoes as they worked. We also  noted some stripes in the cliff face which revealed the ancient compacted volcanic layers.  The shelf-like ridge represents a place where waves have eroded a portion of the wall creating a wave cut.  Each wave cut represents a different lake level.

Petroglyph Point


What do these petroglyphs mean? It appears impossible to answer, but most researchers believe that the petroglyphs are truly rock art and do not represent a written language.  They remain a part of the ongoing culture of the Modoc people.

Along the Pacific Flyway the Monument rewarded us with migrating birds at a wildlife overlook.  Steve managed to scare them all away before I got my camera ready!

As we were exploring we observed the different volcanic features of the environment.  The rounded mounds of many cinder cones dotted the Lava Beds Landscape.  One example of it is the Schonchin Butte where we hiked to the top gaining an elevation of 500 feet.  At the top we had a 360 degree panoramic view of the Lava Beds from the fire lookout.

Schonchin Butte

At the lookout

Looking North

Gillem Bluff

This place is one rugged beauty that we enjoyed so much that we stayed for 5 nights.  The solitude and  wilderness can really grow on you.

Into the Abyss – Cave-hopping at Lava Beds National Monument

Comments 6 Standard

Exploring lava caves can be exciting if the queasiness of being in the dark and tight places are overcome. Armed with flashlights  and childlike excitement, we ventured out and explored many of the caves at the Lava Beds National Monument.  The caves found here were created by flows of smooth lava 10,500 to 65,000 years ago and we visited this fantastic underground world on our own.

The Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1925 to preserve the unique geological, natural and historical features of the local landscape. There are over 700 lava tube caves, the greatest concentration in North America, occupying over 46,000 acres of volcanic terrain.

Lava Beds Landscape

Glimpse of Lava Beds Landscape

On our first morning, we arrived at the Visitor’s Center and were screened to determine if we had been to any caves east of the Rockies (we had not).  The reason is that a disease called White Nose can be transmitted to other caves to the west, and this disease has apparently killed millions of bats by interrupting their hibernation habits.  After the screening we were given a nice cave map to use for planning our trip around the Cave Loop and began our exploration.  To the Batcave, Robin!

ScreeningPass Requirement

ScreeningPass Requirement

Tools of Cave Hopping

Tools of Cave Hopping

Cave Loop Map

Cave Loop Map

The caves are categorized from least challenging (caves with high ceiling and smooth floors); moderately challenging (may involve stooping through low sections) to most challenging (crawling with helmets and kneepads required).  There were also developed caves where stairs and platforms are built for easy access and trails to guide to the entrance of each cave. Caves are well marked and some required stooping at the main passage.  What we loved about this experience was that the caves are unlighted and folks are on their own to explore as they wish. Since we didn’t feel like crawling around on our bellies, we stuck with the easy and moderate caves, then walked as far as we could into the challenging ones.

Formations made of lava, calcite and ice, yes ice – were observed at Skull Cave.  There are several “types” of caves – some with smooth floors, walls and ceilings – others very rough and rocky.  Each one was formed by the type of rock and other conditions present at the time of the lava flows.

Lichen on lava

Lichen on lava

Pictographs at Symbol Cave,Steve believes this was the first version of Google Calendar

Pictographs at Symbol Cave,Steve believes this was the first version of Google Calendar.

Inside Cave

Formations inside Cave

Catacomb Cave

Catacomb Cave, this one was huge and one most likely to get lost in.

Cave hopping can be a workout – some required a walk of up to a half mile to the entrance, then stairs throughout the cave plus some bending and walking on uneven floors.  This was a great experience, much cooler than we had thought it would be.  Once you learn how the tubes were formed and walk through the various sizes, twists and turns, you realize yet again how fantastic the natural processes are.  We spent two full days exploring caves and hiking other areas of the park, then another day checking out other natural attractions in the area – to be detailed soon.

Steve had never been in caves like these before and was practically running around each one like a little kid! This is a must-do if you are ever in the area!