We decided to take a long weekend a head to Lava Beds National Monument. Located in the Great Basin Desert, it can get mighty hot there in the summer and freezing in the winter. It’s one of those places a spring or fall visit seems the best bet for happy campers.
It is a pretty long haul, so we stayed in a KOA in Shasta City Friday night. The campground was super cute. Dirt roads with camp sites set back in the pine trees. Flushing toilets and hot showers. This is definitely someplace we will stay again. We were in a rush Saturday morning to get to the Lava Beds, so we grabbed breakfast on the road. Black Bear Diner is a chain of restaurants that have pretty good food. We stopped there for eggs and the kids dug the bear decore.
The drive into Lava Beds is pretty awesome. You pass Mt. Shasta and cut across the Kalamath National Forest Wildlife Refuge and drive past Tule Lake. There were so many birds in this area. We saw three bald eagles and a ringnecked pheasant, not to mention a ton of waterfowl. On your way into the park, you drive through ancient lava flows. Scattered throughout is Great Basin Sagebrush, Rabbitbush, and various grasses. It is a harsh but beautiful environment.
The campground at Lava Beds is set in a juniper-brushland. Hands down, this is one of the prettiest campgrounds we have ever stayed in. The juniper trees and scattered shrubs are so pretty and the campsites are set right under the trees. There are cool picnic tables built into the rocks and fire rings at each site. The campground really favors tent campers, but you can find a place for an RV. The bathrooms are updated and really nice here and they have potable water. One of the best things – every morning deer would come through camp. The kids loved seeing them up close.
The Missus’s parents joined us on Saturday. We spent the afternoon exploring the visitor center and Mushpot Cave. It was a great introduction to the over 800 caves you can find in the park and it set the kids up for what to expect Sunday.
Sunday we borrowed flashlights from the ranger station. The caves a dark – really, really dark. Our little headlamps were not going to cut it so we took advantage of the flashlight loaning program offered at the ranger station. The caves were amazing. They varied so much. Some were steep and deep and required you to walk along metal staircases (Skull Cave). Others were wide and narrow and you had to duck down to avoid hitting your head. The caves vary in difficulty so we tried to pick those that weren’t overly challenging for the kids. I think the coolest thing about the caves was that you would walk right up up it and never see it until you looked down. They were so different from the caves we explored at Pinnacles National Park back in February.
After lunch back at camp and a little quite time, we took off to explore Captain Jack’s Stronghold. The Boy was really into Captain Jack. The Girl and I were not so into the hike. We were both suffering from post traumatic Snake syndrome. The trail was perfect snake habitat; rocky and sandy. I think we were flashing back to Pinnacles.
Monday we loaded up into Papa’s car and took off for Glass Mountain. It is a mountain covered in obsidian rock. Unfortunately there was still snow on the road about three miles left into the drive so we didn’t make it to the mountain. Definitely something we will have to plan for our trip back to the park. We ended up having lunch in Papa’s camper on the side of the road. The kids played in the snow and we played the Jelly Belly Beanboozled game. It turned out to be a really fun day.
Tuesday we woke up to cloudy skies. Rain wasn’t in the forecast, but it sure looked like rain to us. We packed up quickly and just in time, too. Just as we were finishing up, a wet snow started to fall. Boy did we luck out there! With one last cave visit and a stop at the Ranger’s Station for a magnet souvenir, we were ready to head home.
What out of the way National Park or Monument do you enjoy visiting?