My trip so far has been many things, but one of the preeminent features is that it has been educational. While visiting the Lava Beds National Monument, I felt like I was on a self-guided school field trip (in the best ways possible!)
I learned about geology, botany, vulcanology, and history. Sadly, the history was mostly the same bitter note that's so often sounded when Native American people are mentioned in history: conflict, massacre, relocation.
Despite the sad fate of the Modoc people, their ancestors did leave a lasting mark on the landscape. The carvings are still visible on some rock formations in the park and still leave scientists puzzled to this day as to what their meanings were.
The scenery in the park is unlike anything I've ever known about or seen in California. Such a starkly barren, dry, flat place, seemingly inhospitable to healthy living as we've generally come to know it (Oh wait, I forgot about LA).
Getting to roam freely in the lava tubes was understandably fun and creepy, but also seemed oddly relaxed for CA safety standards. Here I am able to go into a deep, dark, cold, twisting, labyrinth of tunnels without any oversight or instruction. Yet, this same state requires a valid ID just to buy cold medicine.
But the park has so much more to offer than just rock tubes. They have rock walls, rock carvings, rock craters, and rock caves. In short, if you like rocks then welcome to 7th heaven.
The park is a sprawl with tons of things to see and places to explore. The farther you get from the main loop, the fewer people you'll encounter. I felt like I had some areas all to myself, especially in the northern areas such as Tule Lake. This spot is a bird watchers paradise and there wasn't another soul for miles. Not ONE all afternoon. Just me and the birds.