Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Hard Part Begins

In the past, I've always tried to have some kind of goals for my hobby.  If I don't have goals, I don't seem to have as much enjoyment at it.  This year, one of my goals started later in the year.  I had been looking at some challenge caches and thought about some of the goals I could set for myself to get those challenge caches.

A personal goal for me was to "fill" the calendar, that is, find a cache on any date where I hadn't found a cache before.  I figured it wouldn't be that many.  Wrong.  I had over 60 dates where I hadn't found a cache yet.  It's now down to fifty individual dates, but I'm now coming up on my rough patch.  Starting on Tuesday, there are 16 open dates in August and September over the course of 32 days, an obvious average of one every other day.  But if you look at the chart, you can see large stretches of white areas in the calendar.  Fortunately, most of them seem to fall on weekends, but I'm still going to have my work cut out for me if I intend to fulfill this goal by the end of February 2011.  Wish me luck.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Prescribed burns

I think I'm rather fortunate at this point in time to be back at school.  Working in an air conditioned building right now is a good thing when the outside temperature is around 104˚.  The heat always gets me thinking about fires since this is also our "fire" season.  This wouldn't necessarily be the case if we didn't have nutcases who get a thrill out of starting fires and if we'd had a better fire management system in place over the past 100 years or so.

When we visited Lassen last month and also when we visited Crater Lake last summer, there were prescribed burns happening in the parks.  Over the course of the last hundred years or so, we've had a policy within our country of any fire being bad, and so therefore the fire was suppressed almost immediately.  I can remember reading back in the early 1970s about forest fire management and how prescribed burns were now being applied to areas to get the forest back to where it should have been all along.

Clues that helped fire management personnel figure things out were burn scars on the bark of Giant Sequoias and other trees.  This indicated that the big trees had survived many fires in the past.  However, after many of the trees were protected within national and state parks fires were suppressed in order to protect these same trees.  Park rangers were unaware at the time that they were doing more harm than good to the forests.

My family took my camping all over the western United States during the 60s and 70s.  I grew up thinking that forests were deep and dark and very difficult to traverse except on trails due to the heavy underbrush and the think canopy of trees.  Very little light penetrated to the forest floor, so very few plants grew.  Many forest had uniform thick trees due to all of them sprouting around the same time.

Eventually, fire management teams realized that fire is a good thing for a forest.  It clears out much of the over accumulation of pine needles and other forest duff that accumulates over the years.  It was discovered that many forest had small fires burn through them perhaps as much as every 10 years of so.  Think about a forest that had over a century of forest pine needles accumulated waiting for a small spark that would start a conflagration.

This is what happened in September 1988 in Yellowstone National Park.  Several small, lightning started fires were allowed to burn.  Then, the fires got out of control and much of Yellowstone burned.  The fires probably helped in the long run, but it was a catastrophe at the time.  I had visited the park in 1987 and I remember watching the fires come ominously close to many of the places I had been barely a year previously.  It was a very sobering sight to say the least.

In Southern California, we have an entirely different ecosystem, with many bushes and a lot less trees.  When we get fires, they tend to get ugly very early.   We haven't had a fire in the foothills behind our house in about 7 years.  I've hidden a geocache puzzle up in those hills, which was originally entitled The Dead Forest? mainly because there was very little vegetation up there following those fires, yet the question mark at the end held out for the promise of new growth.  The cache is now called Cobol Canyon Cache, because the forest is definitely not dead any longer.  Whether prescribed burns would work in this area is another story.  If the area wasn't so urban, it probably would.  Saving houses adds another layer of complexity to fire management.

The prescribed burn in Lassen was right along the Manzanita Lake trail.  The fire wasn't very big, but then again, most forest fires, if they're actually allowed to burn naturally, shouldn't be that big.  They're usually just enough to burn the lower branches and the pine needles without scorching the land.  We probably have these damaging images of Yellowstone and other costly forest fires etched in our minds and think to ourselves that fire has to be bad.

Yet here we were, walking along a trail, with little areas slowly burning.  I spotted a couple of spots where I could see some tongues of flame, but none of the pictures came out where you could even see the flame.  The burn had worked its way down to the lake edge.  Because there was little to no breeze blowing, no hot embers were flying through the air.  The fire would eventually die at the water's edge having cleared out a small patch of forest to regenerate.  In fact, as we got over to the other side of the lake, I ended up taking a picture across the lake at the prescribed burn.  I think most people would be hard pressed to even figure out what part was actually burning.

Yosemite National Park actually has/had a small demonstration forest in their Wawona Big tree grove to show the differences between the two different types of environments.  The Wawona grove is a two tiered grove of trees, so it's easy to demarcate the boundaries and show the differences.  The upper grove, which had been burned through by several prescribed burns over the course of several seasons, had lots of small bushes and grasses growing throughout.  The trees were widely spaced, giving the grove a light airy feel to it.  It was very easy to walk through this grove.

The lower grove had trees packed closely together and it was very dark, with very little sunlight reaching the forest floor.  Consequently, there was little grass growing, providing little food for grazers.  Because of the accumulation of forest litter, there were few sprouting trees.  Had a fire started here, it would have probably killed many trees, possibly some of the Giant Sequoias as well.  This happens because the fire burns so much hotter with all the additional fuel.  I think the eventual plan was to slowly clear the lower grove out as well, getting both groves back to where they should have been all along.

The prescribed burns keep that fuel down, taking the forest back to the way nature intended.  At least that's the hope.  Only time will tell whether this way of managing the forests is any better than the total fire suppression we had in the early part of last century. As it is, we still get major fires, but I think the hope is eventually, we'll not have to be so aggressive in fighting fires and allow them to burn out naturally.  That will make for an better forest for all of us to enjoy.

On a side note, the National Park Service celebrates its 94th birthday today.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:

Pumice Castle and the Old Man of the Lake - by 47Dad47, KollyWobbels, Sally, and Russ
Loomis - by 2dogs and mtnsteve

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Better late than never?

As usual, Wile E. Coyote showed up a little late and looking a little worse for wear. My wife came home from work yesterday and saw this guy taking a snooze in the grass directly across the street from our house. The only reason it got up was because our neighbor had just walked out into the driveway and gotten in his car.

I was able to get a couple of pictures taken before this one went around the vegetation to the right in the picture and disappeared. When I went over to investigate, it either had found a spot in the vegetation to resume its nap, or had scaled the fence of the house and was now walking through the back yard of that house.

Either way, it is always important to be on the look out for wildlife, either on the trail or in urban environments. My son has informed me that he's seen the roadrunner several times on his way to and from school for cross country practice. As noted in my last post, we see coyotes all the time, but usually near dusk or dawn and they are usually fairly skittish and people wary. This one wasn't.

I've been hiking in the foothills north of our house and seen coyotes several times. One time I had been out geocaching with friends in San Dimas Canyon, located to the west of our house.  We had been looking for a nicely put together geocache entitled Curiouser and Curiouser, themed after Alice in Wonderland.  After finding the cache, we stood at the gate leading which closed the fire road to regular car traffic and I spotted a coyote walking toward us about 500 feet or so up the road.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I was thinking to myself that something didn't look right at all with that coyote.  I even mentioned it out loud.  At about the same time, the "coyote" made a left hand turn into the brush by the side of the trail and it was at that time that we realized that we'd been looking at a mountain lion walking toward us.  In the dwindling twilight, we decided to take our leave from the area.

Be careful out there.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Meep! Meep!

I came home this afternoon from work to a very nice surprise in my front yard.  I'd actually taken a different route home, since I was low on gas.  I'd stopped at my nearby gas station and came toward from my house from the south as opposed to the north from the freeway.  I think if I'd come from the north, I might have scared the bird away.  Anyway, as I approached my house, I saw a rather large animal walking across my front yard and then saw it stop on the sidewalk in front of my house.

It was motionless as I drove by and pulled into the garage.  I got out of the car and slowly walked out on the driveway and the bird crouched down as it was getting ready to take flight.  I backed off and got a great view of a very large roadrunner.  I would guesstimate its length at around 18 inches or so from beak to the end of the tail.  It's a pretty distinctive bird, one that I've seen one other time in the Palm Springs area along a fairway of a municipal golf course.

According to the Wikipedia article, I live in its habitat, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see it running around, but I'm much more familiar with his "stereotypical" enemy, Wile E. Coyote than the roadrunner.  I probably see a coyote in the neighborhood, walking down the street probably once a month, if not more.  Raccoons are sometimes common, less so than perhaps skunks, but never a roadrunner before.

I quickly went inside, got my camera and started birdstalking.  By the time I was back outside, he was on the curb and then in the middle of the street, heading over to greener pastures.  At first I thought I was going to lose it in the neighbor's bushes, but it seemed to have a single minded purpose about it, heading over to another neighbor who has a nicely xeroscaped front yard, one that I have been thinking about creating in my own front yard.

I was able to get around in front of the bird as it meandered through the yards and watched it take a sand bath.  My neighbor had just pulled into his driveway and wasn't at all surprised by the bird.  I found out from him that he'd seen the bird numerous times in his front yard and said that it had been hanging around for the better part of five months or so.  His only negative comment about the bird was he saw it eating a lot of the lizards in and around his yard, which keep the bug population down, but other than that, he had nothing but positive things to say about the roadrunner.

I have to admit, had I known this bird had been living in the neighborhood, I know I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen it.  I get into a certain mindset because I live in an urban setting.   The mindset includes not seeing much wildlife, outside of the occasional squirrel, or the multitude of birds that inhabit the trees in the neighborhood.

As noted above, coyotes are fairly regular, but they're one of those animals that have increased their range because of human existence.  The ready supply of food that we tend to leave out in the form of garbage is tailor made for the coyotes, rats and raccoons of the world.  But to see an obviously desert creature, in a fairly urban setting is very surprising and a nice treat.  I hope to see it again in the near future.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Sundial Bridge

The Turtle Bay Museum in Redding, CA had a lot of nifty features about it that make it stand out as a high quality museum, one that a person would want to come back to often.  The Tadpole and I explored a large quantity of the museum, but didn't even scratch the surface of the arboretum which was north of the museum, across the Sacramento River.

The arboretum is connected to the museum by way of a bridge.  However, this bridge isn't just any bridge, but a sundial as well.  Yes, you read that right.  The bridge is also a sundial.  If you're driving along Interstate 5, you might think it's just a white spire, perhaps a sculpture.  But when you get close to it, you can see it's a sundial.  It definitely gives the city an identity.

This bridge is a pedestrian and bike bridge.  There were plenty of people out on a warm Monday enjoying the sites the museum had to offer as well as the arboretum.  There were some dog walkers as well as a couple of geocachers thrown into the mix as well.  In my original bookmark I created for our trip up here, I noted many geocaches on the arboretum side of the museum grounds.  We ended up getting the one nearest the sundial on the far side of the bridge.  It was close to noon, neither of us work well when we're hungry and we didn't want to get too far afield when Chaosmanor called telling us they were there.  It wasn't a problem, as it really gives us a built in excuse to come back and visit again.

The bridge, itself, is a marvel of engineering.  It appears to be a suspension bridge, with the gnomon (the shadow caster) being used to support the bridge.  The sundial is large enough, plus it's close enough to the Sacramento River, that it's only good for about four hours worth of time telling, from about 10 in the morning, to 2 in the afternoon, PDT.  We were there at 11:48 and it was keeping remarkable time, with the shadow slightly past the 11:45 mark.   We were able to get underneath the bridge and it resembles a cruise ship's mast from that particular angle.

While we were crossing the bridge, I happened to look to the west.  The Sacramento River, at this point runs west to east and then bends around to the south just beyond this point as it flows toward the Pacific Ocean.  Looking to the west, I spotted a large bird come up out of the water.  Obviously, I'd just missed it going into the water, but it was just close enough to the bridge that I could make out the fish it had just caught in its talons.  Then it made a sweeping left hand turn, probably heading back toward its nest with food for dinner.  The unmistakeable white head identified this beauty as a bald eagle, the first I've ever seen in the wild.

Having grown up in a time period when the eagle was in danger of extinction, it was very heartening to see this beautiful creature living in a semi-urban environment and not just in the woodsy backcountry where so few could enjoy its majesty.  I looked it up and found that it has been removed from the endangered list in 1995, moving to the "Threatened" category, and in 2007, it was delisted from the "Threatened" category.  This is a remarkable achievement for a bird that was on the verge of extinction in the lower 48 during my lifetime.

I would have to say seeing the bald eagle was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  I have a geocaching friend in Nebraska, who is a serious birder and keeps life lists of birds she's seen.  I hope she's already experienced.

While the GPS Maze exhibit won't always be at the museum (it's scheduled to close on Labor Day), the bridge and arboretum will be there for a long time.  Next time you're driving north or south along Interstate 5, take the time to spend a day exploring this area of the northern Sacramento Valley.  I seriously doubt you'll regret the decision.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
GPS Adventures Maze Exhibit-Turtle Bay Park - by Groundspeak
Quality Time - by BlueBoyDavid

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Surprises in the mail

Most of the mail we get these days are bills.  Email has become so prevalent, that we rarely get any written correspondence from anyone, so when something does come in the mail, we usually are surprised.  Most of what I get in written correspondence are postcards.

I belong to a website called Postcrossing.  The premise is pretty simple - send a postcard, receive a postcard from somewhere in the world a little bit later on.  The more you send, the more you receive.  I've acquired quite a collection of postcards from around the world.  One of the postcards I received this summer, didn't come via Postcrossing however.  Here's where it gets interesting.

Over two years ago, I wrote on this blog about a student of mine who was taking a trip of a lifetime.  At that time, he was a part time geocacher, nothing obsessive, but he enjoyed going out and finding a cache from time to time.  Most of his caches he logged under his family's account, but he also logged a couple under his own account.  I kidded with him before he left that he should find a couple of caches down in Ecuador where he was going.  He took me up on that and found a virtual cache and a regular cache in some of the free time he had available. 

At the same time, I also asked if he could send me a postcard from Ecuador.   He did, but he did it in a unique way.  Apparently, he found a spot down there where you could  post cards on a board and hopefully, someone would see the card and bring it closer to its destination.  He posted the card at the "Barrel" on Florence Island in the Galapagos on March 7th, 2008  It took over two years, but the postcard arrived by the US mail at the beginning of the summer this year.  Every now and then, you get one of those neat surprises in the mail.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Duck, Duck, Goose

When we're camping, every so often, the Tadpole and I take time out from Geocaching, just to enjoy what's near us.  In the case of Lassen, it was Manzanita Lake, a gorgeous body of water right next door to the campground where we were camped.  One of the days we were there, we decided to hike around the lake, a 1.8 mile loop, plus walk to and from our campsite, probably put it close to two and a half miles.

Since we were walking around a like, the terrain, for the most part was very flat.  There were a few up and downhill sections, but it was an easy hike. We were out, just to enjoy the scenery and to get a little exercise in the process.  We'd also learned at the visitors center that the trail would be open all the way around the lake.  The park service had been doing a controlled burn along one part of the lake and the trail had been intermittently closed during the week.  We were fortunate that day.

Hiking with the Tadpole has become an adventure over the past couple of years.  My daughter and wife have always complained that I walk too fast for them.  I have a quick pace, but I don't feel it's that fast.  His pace, on the other hand, is freeway speed.  And I really think that's probably not the right choice of speeds.  He has very long legs and he just takes longer strides.  Needless to say, I spent most every hike, catching up to him.  That's not a bad thing, just an observation.

I had a couple of goals in mind when we went on this hike.  The first and foremost was to enjoy myself.  That was a pretty easy goal in reality.  The walk was pleasant, and we ended up with several spectacular views of Mt. Lassen.  This leads me to my second goal.  I have a picture in my bedroom of Mt. Lassen that I took after I graduated from college.  My friend had driven up with my family to see me graduate and then he and I went camping at Lassen and Yosemite before I came home and started the reality of life.  It was one of those last flings before adulthood set in permanently.

I'd gotten a decent picture on the hike we took back then, and my goal was to get at least as good a shot this time.  I figured that the likelihood would be that the shot, overall, would be better because of the excess snow on the mountain.  I was not disappointed in the overall effect.  The breeze was just strong enough that there wasn't a really good reflection in the lake, but you can still make out the form of the mountain in the lake's reflection.

From that spot, we headed through the controlled burn area.  This was interesting from the standpoint of just seeing little smoldering areas.  Signs had been posted telling not to report it, since they already knew of this fire.  Also, the fire wasn't going to go anywhere, because it was very small, and the wind was blowing it to the lake's edge.  There was no place for it to go, so it would naturally burn itself out anyway.  I took a picture of one of the little tongues of flame coming from a small area of pine needles, but it didn't come out very well.  The purpose of the burn was to clear out the underbrush, so when a natural fire does occur, it doesn't become catastrophic like many fires have become recently.  I'll be writing about this more in depth in another post later on.

As we continued around, we stopped and watched a wood duck family enjoying what looked like one of their first outings outside of the nest.  8 little ducklings and mother were enjoying a fine day for a swim.  We watched the ducks for about a half an hour, mainly because there was another duck harassing the mother, so we decided to stay and watch the interaction between mother and this intruder.  Ducklings stayed together, almost in formation, while mother chased the intruder off.  When mom was back, then they would break ranks, so to speak and be a little more adventurous.  It was an interesting study in animal biology.

As we continued on, we rounded another bend and came upon four Canada Geese feeding on the shoreline.  Canada Geese are very large birds and they were the dominant swimming bird in this lake and the nearby Reflection Lake.  We'd actually seen a gosling earlier in the morning and it was the size of a large chicken.  These geese were not the exception, but I was still very surprised when only three of them waded out into the shallows as we approached their feeding spot along the trail. One goose, apparently, couldn't have cared less that these two larger creatures were invading its space.  It just kept eating and enjoying life.

We spotted several other groups of geese as we continued on our hike.  They tended to congregate near the boat launching area of the lake, mainly because I believe they probably ended up getting some handouts from some of the tourists in that area.  Needless to say, feeding the wildlife, no matter how hungry they appear to be, does the wildlife no good whatsoever.  In fact, it harms them, because they'll become dependent upon people food and won't bulk up on their natural foods that are better for them.   What was nice was none of the people who were at the boat landing area were even encouraging the geese to come over for food.

Fortunately, the park service is doing a fairly good job of educating the visitors to the park. Bear boxes seem to be the norm in most campgrounds in California now.  I have think back to the early 80s to remember a time when there weren't bear resistant boxes in the campgrounds.  My first camping trip to Sequoia National Park with my daughter in 1995 was the last time I've actually seen a bear.  That's a good thing.  Bears that stay away from humans will remain living bears.  Bears that congregate near humans and start feeding on human food become dead bears much more quickly than bears that don't.  The same holds true for the ducks and the geese.

We continued around the lake, ending up at our starting point, then headed back to our campground.  No geocaches were found, but then again, none were attempted, so that was fine.  We'd had a good day, just enjoying nature.   And that worked for us.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A "Maze" ing

Long before we'd planned our summer camping trip, we knew the GPS Maze exhibit was going to be in Redding throughout this summer.  After I pointed this out to the Tadpole early in the springtime, he stated he wanted to visit it, so I started planning our vacation around Redding.  With Lassen National Park, just an hour or so to the east, it was a no brainer to figure out where we were going to camp, and at that point, things started to fall into place.

Later one, I found out that Chaosmanor was going to be up in the area sometime during the summer as well.  Their youngest daughter was getting married in late June along the coast of California, and so we plotted to see whether we could meet up at the Maze at the same time.  There was also an outside possibility that the maze could be their 4000th cache find as well, so it would be fun to share that with them.

Chaosmanor was coming from Klamath Falls, OR, and were farther away.  We didn't know exactly when they'd get there, but we planned on meeting and having lunch at the Turtle Bay Museum and either going through the maze beforehand, or afterwards depending upon arrival times of both of us.  The Tadpole and I headed out in the morning, grabbing a couple of caches along the way, including a nice benchmark virtual cache just east of Redding.

We got to the museum and paid our admission and then walked around the grounds.  The Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a science museum and much more.  It appears to be built upon an estuary of the Sacramento River.  There were walkways from the entrance/gift shop over to the main building of the museum which sat on the bank of the Sacramento River.  Surprisingly, the wetland area was relatively dry, considering how moist the winter had been.

We decided to wait on the museum, opting for the butterfly exhibit, where they had multitudes of different kinds of butterflies flying freely.  We had to watch our step so as to not crush the butterflies that might be on the path.  I've experienced one of these houses at the San Diego Zoo about 30 years ago, but this was a first for the Tadpole.  Still, I'm not sure who was more excited about this little side excursion, he or me.

After an abortive attempt on a geocache just outside the fence to the park, we decided to head over to the museum and view some of the exhibits.  The science museum is centered around the ecology of the Sacramento River, so there were many different exhibits with live fish from the river, as well as other exhibits about the Native American population that used to inhabit the area.  We spent the better part of an hour enjoying ourselves with the different exhibits offered.  There was also a photograph gallery, with some very good amateur photographs on display.

The only thing that we hadn't explored yet, was the GPS Maze.  We walked into the entrance area for the maze, looked at some of the stuff available for sale at the gift kiosk located outside the maze, then decided to walk across the river on the bridge behind the museum (more on this in a later post).  There were people out and about, enjoying the warm day with their family, friends and animals.  We walked to the far side of the bridge, then decided to find a cache on that side.  There were other caches further down, but we didn't take advantage of those, since we were both starting to get hungry and neither of us is a good cacher when we're hungry.

Fortunately, Chaosmanor called at that time saying they were outside and to expect them shortly, so we headed back across the bridge and met them in the museum foyer.  After a hearty lunch, we headed over to the GPS Maze exhibit.  The maze exhibit, is just that, a maze, with partitions and displays along almost all of the walls of the exhibit.  The purpose is to explain GPS technology and the hobby of geocaching.  While in the maze, we had to find four different geocaches, which contained clues that allowed us to enter locked rooms within the maze that held special areas.  One entire locked room was dedicated to travel bugs and geocoins.

Almost immediately, we were separated from Chaosmanor as they chose a different path in the maze.  We eventually met up with them and discovered that we'd each solved three of the locked areas and had but the same locked area to solve before we were able to get out of the maze.  We did that last section together and it took all of us a fairly long time to find that last geocache.  I think I had my fingers on it at one point, but didn't realize what I was touching.  Eventually, we worked our way through the maze and back into the main area, where we both spent, probably more money than we should have on geocaching paraphernalia.

The overall construction of the maze was probably the highlight point of the maze.  It had been made in such a way so as to not frustrate novice museum goers, who just wanted to experience the maze.  It wasn't too difficult for them, yet it wasn't easy and possibly boring for experienced geocachers.  It was truly well done.

We decided to walk the museum again with Chaosmanor, then went over to the butterfly exhibit again as well.  We also went outside the park, and found that geocache I had been unable to find earlier in the day.  One of the reasons I enjoy caching with others, is it gives one or more sets of eyes looking at the same things.  I couldn't find it earlier, yet I was the one who came up with the find when all three of us were out there.  Sometimes I think there is more pressure when you're by yourself to find the cache, and so the obvious doesn't always jump out at you.  I seem, for whatever reason, to be able to make the geosensing jumps better when caching with others.

The maze is there until Labor Day.  I'm actually hoping that as it hopscotches around the country, it makes an appearance in Southern California.  I wouldn't mind taking a tour of it again.  It was a fun day, exploring both the maze and the museum grounds.

My apologies for the poor quality pictures.  My main camera's battery died the day before, so these were all taken with my cell phone.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocache:
GPS Adventures Maze Exhibit-Turtle Bay Park - by Groundspeak

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Lava Beds

As noted in my last post, a straight line is not always the shortest distance between two points.  That could not be more apparent than the route we took to get from Lassen Volcanic National Park up to Lava Beds National Monument.
Although the monument is almost exactly due north from Lassen, the route to get there takes you northwest, then northeast, then northwest again.  That's just the way the roads go up there.  Finally, there's that little decision about which entrance to take, the north or the south?

Because of the distance involved, we chose to drive straight up to Lava Beds, foregoing any caching along the way.  We figured, we wanted to optimize our time, and there was only one objective as far as caching went.  So, without caching, we drove, then came in through the southern entrance.  You can't really see much, but if you look at the entrance sign post, you can definitely tell where the county road ends and the federal road begins.  The county road was a lot worse in spots and not well maintained.

Lava Beds is a very interesting spot.  The park protects an area of former volcanic activity.  If you look at a map of the United States, you could draw a line, stretching from Lava Beds, up to Yellowstone.  That line would also pass through or be near Craters of the Moon National Monument, another area of volcanic activity.  The present theory is there is a hot spot of magma underneath Yellowstone, fueling the thermal and volcanic activity there.  This hot spot used to be underneath Craters of the Moon and then previously Lava Beds as the earthen plates moved over the magma.

Lava Beds is an area of volcanic flows and a great amount of lava tubes, places where lava flowed, then as the lava subsided, large empty tubes, or caves were left behind.  Several of these tubes are available for exploring and we brought out flashlights along just for this occasion. The park also rents hard hats out, but we weren't going to be exploring some of the low ceiling caves, so we didn't take advantage of that.  There were large amounts of lava rock alongside the trail and we spotted one of the largest pieces of obsidian, known as volcanic glass, that I'd ever seen.

Because the area is dry, these caves are not what most people typically expect caves to be, full of fanciful formations.  They have mostly a rough interior, but there are very few formations of any kind, no stalactites, no stalagmites or flow curtains.  They are, nonetheless, impressive to see with some being over thirty feet in diameter.  We explored several, including Mushpot Cave, Skull Cave and Valentine Cave, so named because it was discovered on that ever important day.

Skull Cave, where the only virtual cache is located in the park, is particularly interesting.  Named because of skeletons found in the cave, it descends down into the earth.  There are metal staircases going down and at the bottom there can be found ice year round.  It's not one of those caves you'd want to stay in for very long, especially if you were dressed as we were, for the 90˚ weather topside.  We walked down, felt the ice on the floor of the cave and then retreated to the surface.

There were several caves in the park that had Native American petroglyph drawings on the cave walls.  We hiked out to this cave and viewed those.  Once again, I was struck by the toughness of life.  At the entrance to one of these caves, there was a large tree growing out of the roof of the cave.  We could not see any of the roots coming through the roof, yet the roof was probably only about 10 feet thick.  The tree was probably twenty to thirty feet tall.  Just amazing that it had been able to grow that large with such poor soil possibilities for it.

We ended up driving through the park and exiting via the northern entrance, then headed back to Lassen.  The park is located in Siskiyou County, a county that I had already found a cache, but we had yet to find a cache in Modoc County.  Once outside the park, we were in Modoc County, so it was just a matter of driving down the road and finding some caches before leaving the county to get that particular county checked off for the 58 California County Challenge Cache.

Because of the time driving to and from, we probably didn't spend as much time as we could have there.  I think if I were to do this trip over again, I would have decided to move camp and camp up at Lava Beds for a night or two, but the day trip worked well for what we wanted to do this trip.  As always, the caching and the companionship were excellent, so it was a good day.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches and waymarks:
Lava Beds National Monument - by Webfoot
Skull Cache - by ChrissySkyking + Blaze

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