A surreal landscape sculpted by molten earth, Lava Beds National Monument contains volcanic tablelands punctuated by cinder cones, pit craters, and spatter cones, plus more than 700 caves. These strange features were formed when the outer edges of flowing lava began to cool, forming tubes. When molten lava stopped flowing, hardened tubes were left behind.
Though the scene can seem barren and desolate, look closer. The scrambling earth and dark rocks of the rugged lava flows are dotted with sagebrush, mountain mahogany, and Western junipers, creating habitat for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, rabbits, and bird species, including bald eagles. Bring binoculars and observe the nature around you, especially in the early mornings and evenings.
You will also want to bring a good headlamp or a torch and a jacket for exploring the lava tubes. In summer, this part of California can get pretty toasty, with daytime temperatures of 37°C or more. But inside the lava tubes, it’s remarkably cool; you may even find year round ice.
You can explore the tubes on your own as no spelunking (cave exploration) experience is needed, and children are thrilled to enter these mysterious formations. And although you will not cover much ground, the trek can be a workout as you duck, twist, and even crawl through natural tight squeezes. It’s easy to see how these caves were used as hideouts during the Modoc War in 1872-73, the only fight against Native Americans in California, in which Native Americans fought U.S. Army troops in defence of their homelands.
Nearly two dozen tubes are open for exploring along Cave Loop Road, near the visitor centre. Most of the park’s caves are rated for difficulty, and first time explorers should start with the Hopkins Chocolate Cave (1,405 feet) or Blue Grotto Cave (1,541 feet). For the ultimate challenge, consider entering the remarkable Catacombs Cave, one of the park’s longest and most complex, with a total length of 6,903 feet.
California’s north east corner is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with safe to explore volcanoes, hushed forests and trout filled rivers. This is the place for blue-ribbon fishing, houseboats anchored in cool lakes, countless campgrounds and inviting trails for hiking and mountain biking.
"When I first caught sight of it I was weary and 50 miles away and afoot. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.” --Author John Muir, upon seeing Mount Shasta in 1874
All this, plus friendly towns like Chico and Chester and inviting rural farms in fertile lands near the Upper Sacramento River. Redding, the region’s largest city, makes a good base, with river front trails, Turtle Bay Exploration Park and elegant Sundial Bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
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