When one door closes another opens. I made another amazing discovery when weather washed me out of Crater Lake National Park: Lava Beds National Monument [1 Indian Well Campground Trail, Indian Well Hqts, CA 96134].
The drive out here, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, Northern CA is blissful in its own right.
Your first order of action is to head to the visitor’s center to obtain a permit (necessary for driving along the park road loop), a map, and to talk to the park rangers. This national monument is unlike any I have ever visited! Its main draw is the impressive lava tube cave system (ALSO here – epic lava field, historic battlefield, and Native American rock art), but this is not your typical tourist cave tour. I had never gone spelunking in total darkness before or even simply without a group. We just happened to have our headlamps in our packs (one of our essential hiking items), which was a major plus.
The visitor’s center rents out flashlights, but it’s a great thing to have your hands free. The park ranger gave excellent suggestions of caves to explore. We started with Mushpot which was all lit up and had a self guided educational tour.
Next was Hopkins Chocolate, though I almost wish I saved it for last. This was one of the most mind blowing places I have ever been to. First of all it has a gorgeous entrance complete with a double skylight.
Upon entering we experienced total darkness, completely quiet it was just Jeff and I (we never shared a cave with any other visitors). It was very eerie and I felt mildly anxious, but more excited to continue the adventure – completely new to me. The trail was straight forward, you can’t get lost because any offshoots are just too small to venture into. There are many spots where the ceiling does get too low and you have to kind of crab walk. This is why it’s best to have your hands free and wear a headlight! With the light illuminating the cave walls, it went from regular awe from just being in a cave to awe-struck as we got deeper and darker. Mute muddy colors turned rich hues of chocolate brown, even black, but most spectacular was the shimmering emerald green and gold!
I was completely breath taken in this dreamlike space, pictures can not do this glimmering underground palace justice.
I would never have believed there could be so much color inside a cave which has no exposure sunlight if I didn’t see it myself. From my time spend on the west coast, this is one of my most treasured memories. To be completely truthful, the next caves we spelunk-ed paled in comparison – although they were still interesting and beautiful walks. We visited Sunshine, Sentinel, and Skull Cave to view the Ice Floor.
This was a very fun and different day for us, on the way out make sure to stop at the Devil’s Homestead to view the lava field,
and if you have more time the park is located very close to Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, don’t miss one while visiting the other!