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Lava Beds National Monument and Tulelake CA

In planning our route back down towards Southern California we had resigned ourselves to finding something unique to visit on the way down. Having grown up in California there are still many areas of the state we had yet to visit and when looking at a map the northeastern corner of the state was one of them. Lava Beds National Monument near Tulelake CA is located in this area and seemed to be a perfect spot to stop for a few nights.

This area of California was a major focal point of western expansion during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The ancestral and, at the time, current homelands to a native population the landscape and climate created a harsh yet fruitful existence. Early settlers into the region found a large swampy lakebed nestled up against tall peaks of volcanic rocks making for narrow opportunities for farming. Following a forced migration of the native peoples, including a famous battle between US Forces and native tribes called the Modoc War, the US Corps of Engineers came in and developed a series of dikes and levies to drain the large lake into farmland (yep just combined 50 years of history into two sentences).

With the new farmland open to cultivation hearty farmers moved into the region and began planting crops of onions, potatoes, and the like. The previously swamp covered soils turned out to be very good farmland producing some of the richest crops in the nation. As time progressed the locals discovered the wonders of the nearby lava tubes situated along the rim of a major shield volcano.

Established in 1925 the Lava Beds National Monument placed the various lava tubes and volcanic regions under the care of United States government for enjoyment by the people. With a huge series of excellent caves and tunnels the location is a playground for underground exploration. We spent a fun filled day exploring various caves and tunnels, hiking to the top of the manned fire lookout, and searching for petroglyphs within the park. During our explorations we were greeted by friendly Park Rangers, pitch black underground caverns, and one pissed off rattle snake; not to forget the two bobcats we spotted as we entered the park and a small group of deer grazing.

Outside of the National Monument there is a lot of history found in and around Tulelake. Due to its remote location the area was selected as a prisoner of war camp for Germans during World War II, where they were used as laborers to harvest the crops, and a Japanese Internment camp early in that same war. The camps have been removed but there are a number of the old buildings spread out and in use on the surrounding farms.

With only a few days visit we found enough history and fun to make us want to return in the future. (note the distant snow covered peak in the photos below is Mt Shasta)


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