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