Lava Beds National Monument. A place containing the wonders and the terrors of both nature and human nature all within its boundaries.
– Sean M. Santos
Sean wrote the above on Instagram after we concluded our visit to Lava Beds National Monument and nearby Tule Lake National Monument on Wednesday, September 18. As we were headed back to our night’s lodging, he also observed, “Everyone who finds themselves in this part of the country should come and visit this place.”
Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1925 to protect over 46,000 acres of the north flank of Medicine Lake Volcano, a massive and low shield volcano in the southern Cascades, not far northeast of Mount Shasta. Although relatively small, the Monument boasts three lava flows, multiple cinder cones and other volcanic features, and almost 700 lava tube caves, the highest concentration in North America. At around 4,000 feet in the eastern foothills of the Cascades in northern California, the vast sagebrush sea washes right up to the Monument’s tortured volcanic landscape. The Monument is bounded on the north by Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and on the west, south, and east by Modoc National Forest with some private property to the northeast toward the town of Tule Lake, California. It contains over 28,000 acres of federally protected wilderness.
Tuesday, September 17 we woke and felt rested, although I’d slept fitfully. We were due to check out of Crater Lake Lodge that morning and eventually make our way out of the park to Chiloquin and a Sleep Inn where we’d spend the next two nights. But before then, Sean had to be on a three-hour work call (that he was partially running) about urgent firm business. We also hoped against hope to catch a glimpse of the Lake, although now we’d at least be in the environs of the Park until Thursday morning, so we felt our chances were decent.
On Monday, September 16, we woke into a world that could hardly have been more different than the warm and sunny afternoon we’d enjoyed the day before. Over the next few days, as our trip shifted northward from California into Oregon, the weather also shifted, from summer to what felt like winter. It altered the trajectory of our trip, and it added a flavor of adventure that was reminiscent of the sudden cold snap in our during our trip to the Dakotas five years earlier.
For a long time, I’d known that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So I’d always be able to answer the question, “Which Parks are you going to do next?” with a nod to a distant trip to Guadalupe Mountains. Then it became the next Park, and then that trip came and went. Afterward, we weren’t sure where exactly we would focus for the next big trip, but a grand trip that had been percolating in my mind soon became the clear frontrunner. In early 2019 we began planning a trip with great bookend cities and some iconic Parks: flying into Portland, doing the three Parks that surround northern California’s Mount Shasta, and flying home from San Francisco. Redwood National Park just sounded magical. Crater Lake National Park is one of the iconic early Parks. And Lassen Volcanic has long been one of the Parks in the system I’ve been most excited about.