We stopped at Subway Cave just outside of the Lassen park boundary as sort of a warm-up cave. This is a fairly benign place to explore, and gave us a chance to remember how to stumble about in the dark.
It also reminded me just how difficult it is to take pictures in the dark when you don't want to spend any extra time setting things up.
One can figure out how to hold the flashlights strategically. Ooooh, spooky shadow.
Lava tubes have quite a different feel than other water-carved caves that we've been in. Often the walls are quite smooth, and of course there are no stalactites or stalagmites.
Yay -- we found the exit! Time for a hug.
When we got to Lava Beds, we knew that things would be a bit more difficult, with passageways that required some stooping and crawling. Thus, I got to wear my stylin' old climbing helmet.
Nim and Chad had new helmets. Can't you feel the style just radiating out from us?
After getting our permit and walking through their shoe decontamination trough to make sure we weren't going to spread any white-nose fungus to the bats, we set out to explore the cave loop. On the surface, you can tell that you are in volcano territory (note the basalt on the ground and the cinder cone in the distance), but at first glance you have little insight into the maze that lies below.
Aha -- what's that? A hole in the ground!
There are some places where lava tubes are close enough to the surface to have fallen in on themselves, leading to a series of natural bridges.
We had a listing of the caves with indications of which ones were open and what they would likely require in terms of motion and navigagion, but ended up poking our noses into pretty much anything that was open. Once inside, the temptation to explore was pretty strong; at times we squirmed through side passageways enough to pop out onto the surface like prairie dogs at the entrance to an entirely different cave that the one we went in from.
Some of the caves had clearly defined paths to follow.
Others required you to find your own best route.
From the pictures it should be clear that we usually went into larger holes that the ones we came out of.
The ceiling of one of the caves had some visually interesting yellow bacterial mats that glittered in the light from our flashlights.
Another cave had hold graffiti from 1892. Chad spotted this; I would have missed it entirely.
Nim was quite the intrepid explorer,
though she did find the occasional nook in which to rest
while Chad or I explored side passages to determine whether they went anywhere interesting.
At one point, it occurred to me that knee pads would have been nice. The rough texture on the floor is just how the lava solidified, and in places it was very sharp.
It looks like dried mud, but in reality is hard, pointy basalt. Ouch.
In some places, the walls of the lava tubes were smooth, but in other places they were covered in lavacicles -- small drips formed when lava drips solidified as they tried to ooze off the wall.