Lava Beds National Monument (Caving) – California

At this National Monument, we got to explore a variety of caves. The caves were formed by lava flowing, solidifying on the outside, and the middle draining.  We walked through long ones, short ones, icy ones, dark ones, bright ones, and confusing ones.  It was cold and wet, so there was snow, and in some of the caves, what I call “ice people.”  The “ice people” are formed by water dripping from a cave’s ceiling.  It forms an ice version of a stalagmite, with a slightly wider bottom and top, which makes it have a shape which resembles a human figure.

The first two caves we walked through were Mushpot and Indian Well Cave.  Mushpot was a short cave, with artificial lighting, a trail, and signs along the way (perfect for beginners and children).  Indian Well Cave was marked as moderate, but because of all the ice that covered the sloped ground, it was difficult and dangerous.  Going down was fairly easy – in fact, we made this a game for the next caves.  We would squat and gravity would pull us down the slopes, or we could push ourselves along in super dangerous areas.  Getting back up the one-way trail in Indian Well Cave was not easy.  We had to find cracks or dips in the ice, then drag ourselves up with the help of the “ice people” lining the path.  However, this cave was really fun for me because of the challenge and beautiful sights.

Cave Loop Road

Next, we drove on Cave Loop (a road with caves along it) and stopped at two caves.  Golden Dome Cave was first.  Named for its patches of gold-colored mats of bacteria on the ceiling, this cave was beautiful maze.  Passageways led in a figure-8 shape, making it easy to get lost.  I would say that this cave is moderately challenging.  Here’s a photo of a bacterial mat:

Blue Grotto Cave was next.  We climbed down a ladder then walked down the path, into a dome-shaped room.  The room was a bluish color, and I’m guessing that’s how the cave got its name.  We then walked back to the ladder, saw a passage behind it, and followed the long, slippery, icy path for a long time.

We had been walking for quite a while, when we came to a skylight with a pile of snow under it.  Some of us wanted to get out by then, so we all agreed to climb up the snow pile and out of the cave.  When we got out, we were in a field.  I and two of my brothers scouted the area ahead and came back to report that we saw a sign that read “Upper Sentinel” ahead.  We walked to the road, following the sign, then Daddy, the two oldest boys, and I walked to get the car.

Surprisingly, we had gotten all the way on the other side of the looped road.  My guess is that we followed a passage that led to part of Labyrinth cave, then we were just exploring Labyrinth Cave.  I’m glad that we got out when we did, because if my guess is correct, we could’ve gotten really, really lost.

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