Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Farmland, Lava Beds, and Ashland At Last

From Alturas we went north and west and wandered about until we got to Lava Beds National Monument, another of our National Parks stops. There we did some extensive exploring of the lava tubes underground, and then headed to Ashland. There we found our cottage for the next few days, and met up with family and friends for dinner and some time together before heading back to our little home away from home, and there to bed.

Crop Duster
Northern California and Oregon and the lands on the border between the states is farmland, on the most part. The native soil is still sage brush and it feels like high desert, but with all the water that is brought in, managed by man, and kept in lakes and reservoirs throughout the region, it all becomes prime farm land.

A bare hour out from Alturas, we were here, where the were crop dusters, waterers, plowed black earth, and crops in plentitude as far as the eye could see. Until it hit sage and black rock and juniper in fat clumps on what looked like desert earth. Between the piped in water and the constant sunshine, produce could grow like crazy. The land also flattened out, smoothed as it headed toward the sea, no longer the super young mountains of the Rockies, gentling a little into the Sierras and older mountains.

Tulle Lake
This is more what the native land looks a bit like, with the huge Lake Tulle right there. It's a source of water for a lot of things, and also the site near one of the Japanese Internment Camps.

We got lost around here, as all the little roads looked a lot alike, and the GPS kept trying to insist on a dirt road entrance to the Lava Beds, which we didn't want to take, so we were trying to enter the park from a different direction. It kept trying to get us to go back to the original entrance, but John finally forced it to go the way we really wanted to go. It just took a while, and we got to see a lot more farmland, I think, than we would have normally gotten to see. The Lake is also a wildlife refuge and was covered with birds.

Devil's Homestead
We finally got headed the right way and ran right into this, The Devil's Homestead. It's a huge old lava field, created from leakage from the biggest shield volcano in the Cascade mountain range, and it's just where the lava leaked out from the ground all around the area around the volcano. All of these fields are like this, where the volcano wasn't the type to erupt, but the lava would just leak out all around it, creating fields, lava tubes, and all kinds of structures in and on the earth around the mountain.

There were numerous fields in the area, that were all like this. It's a deep brown sort of rock and it came in the classic smooth lava or the a'a sharp lava, still using Hawaiian terms for the rock formations that came from it. The fields, though, were full of the broken slabs of lava all jumbled together. It was interesting seeing the desert growth all through the rocks.

Mushpot Lit
The first thing we did was go to the Visitor's Center, which had a bin of flashlights that could be borrowed, a number of maps for free, and some of the more extensive caves mapped out on maps that were for sale. There were flashlights, headlamps, kneepads, helmets, and gloves for sale, as well as a bin of flashlights that could be borrowed for free. The rangers aren't stupid, if they can get more people to go in with adequate light, then they don't have to deal with as many accidents or stupid things happening.

So they had quite a few big barrel flashlights that you could just borrow.

John had brought a headlight and a flashlight, so we thought we were set and went down into the lava tube right next to the visitor's center, which was this one, called Mushpot.

As you can see here, it was extensively lit, and smoothly paved as well. But there were still some sections where you had to get pretty low to get through the cave. It was also damp down there with water dripping from the ceilings on a pretty regular basis.

They had the usual screening to prevent the white nose infection from spreading to these caves, and there were good warnings about what not to do or bring.

But it felt really different from other caving things we'd done before. Most of the tourist caves are limestone caves, where the formations are built drip by drip with dissolving limestone. It's a living ecosystem where the stone growth can be inhibited or even stopped by any contamination from human touch, and the water needed for the formations can be wicked away with too much exposure to flowing air currents and openings to the caves.

These caves were done. The lava had flowed through, formed the tubes, and that was that. There were no delicate balances to be kept, no worries about killing growth. They were pretty much done and could only crack and fall down if the rocks themselves broke, and that was being done by the nature of the water, freezes, and rock around there, humans weren't going to effect those outcomes.

So we could just go where we wished, touch any surface, and there were no restrictions that weren't just about not dying in stupid ways in the caves themselves. So we could go as we wished. A number of the tubes were open to the air outside, too, allowing in light as well. So it was really easy to see in those sections, and simple to get around.

This is where I should instruct you to click on any of the pictures and see all the pictures on Flickr, as I can't fit all the cave pictures into this entry.

Some of the anaerobic bacteria were just beautiful, too, in reds, blacks, whites, and other vivid colors under the ceilings of the caves.

This one I had to include because of the Exit sign that was so clearly marked in this demonstration cave. It kind of tickled me that these were there, and we were discussing California fire code. It seemed absurd in a way, as there wasn't anything to burn down there; but the signs clearly marked the way out. After experiencing a few other caves, it actually seemed like a really good thing to have marked.

Headache Rock
There was a loop road heading out from the Visitor's Center that had several dozen caves right off the loop. This is Jet heading down into Golden Dome, and him trying to avoid "Headache Rock", which is right at head level with the built in ladder.

Golden Dome went a very short way one way from the ladder, and another longer way the other way, but it had really rough floors that were basically fist sized rocks all embedded onto the surface, so it was really difficult to walk on if you couldn't see where the rocks were. Plus, there were absolutely no lights in the cave, unlike Mushpot.

Golden Dome
The headlamp proved to be too weak to actually hit the ground without the strip lighting that was in the other cave, and so all three of us were trying to use the single flashlight to find our footing and get around. Plus, our cameras were unable to focus if there was no light at all, or if the surfaces were too far away to bounce a light off of, so John ended up bouncing the focus light off of Jet and I trying to see into the actual cave.

It wasn't working. At all. So when we got out of Golden Dome, we went back to the Visitor's Center, and John borrowed a big barrel flashlight for each of us.

It also helped that our next cave was "Sunshine", which is broken open in several spots along the way, and it also had a smoothed path to one side of the cave floor, where broken and loose rocks had been removed and water and people had brought in a fine silt pathway that was smooth, hard, and actually gave good traction in the cave itself.

The rough rock made for a pretty functional staircase down into the tube.

There were also big gaps like this here and there through the tube, so that the outside came in, sunshine, air, and plants plunged in with us. And the light from these big gaps made it really easy to see our way. I think that the gaps also allowed some of the mud to come in, so that it could help with smoothing the walking path that everyone took.

Some of the sunlit gaps were beautiful formations in and of themselves.

The overall structure of the Sunshine cave was such that it was just a lot more pleasant than Golden Dome, but it was also just real nice to have my own flashlight for the portions where I couldn't see my footing without it. There was an older guy and a couple who were down there with us, and they went along quite well until near the end of the cave. There was on of these sunlit gaps, and then a sudden slope downward on stone that had water running down it, making it look shiny and slick.

Both John and Jet hesitated, because I'd had such trouble with the steep slope at the off-road hike we'd had the other day.

So they let me go first.


It was amazing getting through all that. It was a really rough, low ceiling, that I had to really duck walk to get into, and since the stone floor was actually quite rough, I had trouble getting my feet to slide forward. But I did it, and I didn't quite have to crawl, but I did get low enough that I had to basically get my right hand down, and scoot through. Jet was impressed, and he followed me. John came in after that, and it was into this little cave that opened out after the two little cave entrances, and we could stand. But it was clearly a dead end, and we had to turn back. John and Jet found that the second entrance was actually easier to get out through, so we went out that way.

But it looked so much more impressive when we looked up through it.

It really was tiny. And it would have been something they wouldn't have allowed in the limestone caves, at all. But it was fun to do here. We even turned off all our flashlights in there just to see how dark it really was, and it was utterly pitch black. There was no light, whatsoever, and I realized that in all the limestone caves, we were never allowed to go into them without a guide and someone to really regulate what we did and when we went in and when we came out.

With these caves, we could do as we liked, including turning out all our lights and just breathing the darkness.

This is Jet fitting himself through the easier way out of the back cave.

The rocks looked really bad in the picture, but they were actually placed quite nicely and provided good footing for getting through.

It was one of those odd instances of finding that being brave and taking the route less travelled was well-worth it, and I like to think that we're providing Jet with a lot of instances of that kind of choice. He seems to take them when they're offered, and he said that it was a lot of fun. He said that he was impressed that I'd even tried to get in there, much less being able to get in there without crawling and showing him and Dad the way in.

So I really felt good about taking that chance.

The growth patterns of the bacteria really were beautiful. And I got some good shots of it on the way through.

Another big difference were all the low ceilings throughout, where there really weren't all that many warnings about how you had to bend down to get out of the way. It seems kind of common sense to not bash your head against rock walls, but in the limestone caves, people seemed to need a lot more warning than in these.

The last cave we did was the Sentinel lower to upper walk, and it's one of two end to end cave systems in the park, i.e. you can go in one end and actually come out the other. Most of the others were dead ends. We decided to go to the lower parking lot, and climb up through the caves because it's just easier on my knee to go up rather than to go down. The act of lowering myself on my right knee was causing it to ache more than I liked.

But climbing wasn't a problem, which seems odd, but it's real. So we decided to go at it backwards, and met half a dozen people coming out who all told us that the cave was well worth doing.

They were right.

It was spectacular, with much higher ceiling than the other caves, and with coloring and a beauty that was just its own.

The footing was interesting, too, as with the other caves, there were sections that were just cleared tube floor, and others with cracked rock, and finally there was stuff that really looked like flowing mud, but was actually hardened lava. So we'd step on it, expecting the slick slide of wet mud, only to find that it as hard, solid friction rock, and we wouldn't slide at all.

A few of the areas were just hauntingly beautiful, cathedrals of stone, partially open to the air and light above, but cool, closed and dripping with water in the damp darkness of the cave.

The green glow of light through the plants above was especially interesting, as I think that the caves could condense water from the air, and feed the plants water that they might not have gotten without the presence of the caves beneath them.

Bat colonies sometimes take over these caves as well, and when they do, the rangers just close off the caves so that people don't bother the bat colonies or their breeding cycles. It was cool to see about a third of the caves closed or roped off to people just so that the bats could have some peace and quiet.

At the far end, we climbed up out of the cave into the light, and there was a natural stone bridge out there too, to see. There was also a walkway out to the parking lot, and all the plants.

And this particular butterfly decided that it loved Jet's shoe. John and I chased it up the last few steps out of the cave, and it landed here, there, and I dared not chase it when it flew over the gap of the cave itself. But then it went and landed on Jet's shoe.

It was that beautiful set of colors on the top, but the under sides of its wings had sage green spots all over it, so that it blended in perfectly with the sage when its wings were shut. A lady curiously watched us chase it all over, and she said that there were lots of butterflies on the way to the other parking lot, if that was the way we were going to walk.

I looked the whole way down to the lower entrance parking lot and didn't find any until the very end of the walk, where there was a flowering bush. It was full of those white bottle blossoms that are so fragrant? And the whole bush was a cloud of flying insects. Dozens of butterflies, but also a lot of flies, wasps, and bees of various sizes and sorts. It was a butterfly bush, and it was attracting all the insects that could live on nectar, and there were so many! A whole cloud of insects were surrounding this one bush in the desert, and John dove in and got this amazing shot.

From there, we went back to the Visitor's Center, returned the flashlights, stocked up on water, ate some more almonds and dried mango. We had had lunch earlier, just some of the salami and crackers, a we were out of cheddar, and we munched a few things, and headed toward Ashland. John did the bulk of the driving as it was in heavily forested roads with logging trucks and lots of people.

And a nap later, for me at least, we ended up out by Ashland, at this beautiful little cottage just ten minutes out of town. It's a wonderful little place available via airbnb, a tiny cottage out by Ashland, with a rose garden, with a vegetable and herb garden. The tiny kichenette has a fridge and freezer, which the owner stocks with eggs from their chickens, butter, milk, jam, and a fresh loaf of whole wheat bread from a local bakery.

The stove and oven are fully functional, and she's stocked it with all the basic goods needed for cooking ones own breakfast. The kitchen is beautiful and tiny. It has one bedroom, and a sofa bed for Jet in the livingroom.

A Wild Hive
We met up with John's brother, Paul and Jan at their house, and talked for a while and then met up with Bernd and John's mother, Isabel. We split up into two parties, one of which was walking down to the pub, and the other, which was going to drive down after they'd done a few things.

The walkers, John, Jet and I found this little surprise, a wild bee colony living in the base of a tree right on the side of the road we were walking on. Jet heard the buzzing and took a look, and I got in close and sure enough it was a bunch of honey bees. They were taking off and landing happily, and they weren't too upset that we were near, yet. They were, however, starting that rise in pitch that signified that they'd noticed us. That was interesting, as my bees wouldn't have done that simply because of proximity. Domesticated versus wild. We left them pretty quickly and kept going on our way.

We had a few drinks with friends by the river that runs through Ashland, and then ended up at this outdoor eating area for the restaurant Sesami, which was Asian Fusion food. The pictures of Jet's stone pot rice, my smoked duck, and John's Bang Bang shrimp are on flickr. They were pretty good? But not amazing. The stone pot rice was good and crisp on the outside edges, but the flavors of the tofu and mix weren't particularly strong. The duck meat was very well done, but they're really neglected the skin, and the scallion pancakes weren't cooked all the way through and they'd been left to soak in the duck fat, which didn't do them any favors. John seemed to like his shrimp well enough, and everyone had a good meal with good company.

Which really was the point of the whole thing. Marina is going to graduate tomorrow, and we're here to celebrate with them. We walked through Lithia park with everyone else, and I rode back to the house with Bernd and Isabel, and everyone gathered up again to just talk, have a little ice cream, and before midnight, John and Jet and I went back to the cottage and the boys are fast asleep.

I should follow.
Tags: adventure, food, travel

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