To geologists, Lava Beds National Monument is a fascinating study in the movement of molten rock. To the Modoc Indians, this place holds long memories of courage, strength, and, ultimately, loss.
The stories of Lava Beds National Monument begin just below the surface. Here, lava flowing from Medicine Lake volcano for 500,000 years has gouged out 700 caves and countless lava tubes.
For five months during 1872-1873, the Modoc Indians under “Captain Jack” found shelter in this subterranean labyrinth, as they resisted attempts to force them onto the Klamath Reservation. Hiding in caves and moving via the lava tubes they knew so well, these intrepid warriors were able to fend off a contingent of U.S. soldiers ten times as large as their own group.
You can explore “Captain Jack’s Stronghold” by following one of 12 hiking trails that cross the high desert at Lava Beds National Monument. As you descend a ladder into the caves, the temperature drops, the moist air fills your lungs, and a new world unfolds before you.
Just outside the cave, Modoc Indians have painted and carved intricate designs into the rock. Inside, the walls glitter with reflective bacteria. Bats catch up on their sleep somewhere over your head. Brilliant green ferns carpet Fern Cave in summer. In winter, ice sculptures form in Crystal Ice Cave.
A visit to Lava Beds National Monument is an experience you won’t soon forget.
If You Go:
To protect the delicate caves, you must book a guided tour in advance to see Fern Cave and Crystal Ice Cave. Special precautions are also in force to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome in bats—a poorly understood condition that can lead to high mortality.