How The Caves Were Formed
Lava Beds National Monument sits on the north face of the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano. The lava tube caves found here were created by flows of smooth lava 10,500 to 65,000 years ago. As the lava flowed it began to cool and solidify on the top and sides. Once the eruption ceased, the tube emptied and drained, and a new lava tube cave is left behind. As the rock cooled, the inner surface of the tube cracked and collapsed, producing openings to the surface.
If you wish you could see a lava tube form today, you can take a peak into Lava Beds' past by viewing a video of a similar volcano which erupted recently enough for people to be able to capture it on film.
A Home To Live In
After cooling these lava tubes became homes for unique cave life to thrive. When exploring you may be lucky enough to spot some cave creatures, such as a cave cricket, rubber boa, millipede or bats. These creatures are not poisonous or dangerous to humans, treat them with respect.
Exploring the Caves
Many of the developed caves contain trails through the cave, stairways or ladders into the cave. Most of developed caves are located along Cave Loop, a 2 mile road near the Visitor Center. Just a short walk from the Visitor Center, Mushpot Cave contains exhibits and is the only lighted cave at Lava Beds. Developed caves are divided into three groups based on their varying levels of difficulty in the hardest section of the cave: least, moderate and most challenging.
These caves have relatively high ceilings and smoother floors or trails. At the very least you should use the following gear: flashlights, sturdy shoes and head protection.
Least Challenging Caves:
These caves may involve stooping through low sections and/or rough floors. Additional safety gear is recommended for the more difficult spots, including: cave maps, compass, kneepads and gloves.
Moderately Challenging Caves:
These caves have some portions which require crawling. Using all recommended safety gear will protect you from injury.
Most Callening Caves:
Did You Know?
During the Modoc War about 150 Modoc men, women, and children lived in Captain Jack’s Stronghold, a natural lava fortress, for four months from November 1872 until April 1873.