Ramblings of a Techno-Viking

Lava Beds National Monument and Indian Well Campground

Lava Beds National Monument is in north-eastern California, close to the Oregon border. It covers a portion of the Medicine Lake shield volcano, which is still potentially active but has not erupted for 900 years. The southern half of the park has many lava tube caves, a couple of dozen of the over 300 are named and have trails to them. I spent over two days in the park, and still had to skip some of the caves. The northern portion has other volcanic features and battlefields from when the natives where removed from their land.

Indian Well Campground is near the visitor center and cave loop. It has 43 sites on two loops, picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, trash and recycle cans, and water. There are no RV hookups, and 30 foot is the recommended maximum RV size. Each site is $10/day, (half price with senior or access pass) bring exact change. While the sites are reasonably large, most are not very private. There is a 0.2 mile trail to the visitor center from the upper end of the B loop. I used site B18, near that trail and nicer than many of the other spots. There are no reservations other than the single tent-only group campsite.

Mushpot cave is the only artificially lighted cave, it also has signs explaining various cave features. It is a good first cave to explore, only a little stooping is needed. Indian well cave had some interesting ice features in the bottom, where scrambling over rocks was needed to see them. A practice rescue was going on when I visited Valentine Cave.

It took me a full day to do most of the caves on cave loop that were not closed, skipping most of the crawling needed to explore some of the caves. My motorhome was left in the campground, and I walked the loop.

Hepe Cave is the only one that is off of a dirt road. The trail in the cave was slick with ice. There were ice features in this cave as well. Most of what was though to be permanent ice in Merrill and Skull Caverns has melted, and there are locked gates to protect what remains. Merrill Cave was used as an ice rink before the site was declared a national monument.

Big Painted Cave and Symbol Bridge, on the same trail, are the only two marked caves with pictographs. The ones at Symbol Bridge are much easier to see. I did not visit Pictograph Point, where there are more pictographs on a hillside.

South and west of Lava Beds is national forest, and to the north is Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge. There are more caves and other volcanic features in the forest, and the refuge has many birds.