Silence and Isolation in Lava Beds National Monument
After I made my post yesterday about the silence found in the parks, I was reminded of one of my favorite places in the entire National Park Service. Lava Beds National Monument. It is a small park on the very northern tip of California, about an hours drive south of Kalamath Falls, Oregon. The park only measures approximately 7 miles wide, by 9 miles tall. But, it is surrounded by wide open spaces, and it feels very huge. If you find yourself going to National Parks to "get away from it all", you might enjoy this place. Because the park is small, and it's pretty far off the beaten path, you may not feel the crush of the crowds, even during the summer months.
It's easy to find a sense of isolation if you to take some time on one of the above-ground trails in the park (refer to the official park map for trail locations). One of my favorites is the Lyons Trail. Take the spur road out to the Skull Cave parking lot to find the trail head. The trails are made of volcanic pumice stones. After no more than 10 minutes hiking, you'll feel like you are all alone in the wide open high-desert country wilderness. Take time to smell the sweetness of the sage that surrounds you. Say hello to the Red-Tailed Hawk flying high above ... it's alright, no one will hear you out here. If you are feeling a bit too exposed to the sun on this hike, drive over to the Hidden Valley Trail. You've got to drive about 2 miles down a dirt road to the parking area. There is a small trail that drops down a pretty steep slope to the valley bottom. But, once there, you'll find yourself alone in a grove of Ponderosa Pine. It's the perfect place to take a picnic. Less exposed to the desert sun, you may find time for a nap under the giant shaded canopy of the Pine. Very peaceful here.
Most people come to Lava Beds to explore the caves. There are literally hundreds of ancient lava tube caves in the park. The park has about 20 caves marked on the map, but if you feel like exploring you may find yourself tripping over unmarked entrances. I'll save a more detailed description of the spelunking (cave exploring) experience in the park for another post about the opportunity for unbridled adventure available in the Park Service.