Lava Beds National Monument

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Lava Beds National Monument
Lava field in the National Monument
Lava field in the National Monument
Lava Beds National Monument (USA)
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Coordinates: 41 ° 45 ′ 36.2 "  N , 121 ° 31 ′ 31"  W.
Location: California , United States
Specialty: volcanic landscape and, in 1873, the scene of a US Army campaign against the Modoc Indians
Next city: Klamath Falls , Oregon
Surface: 188.4 km²
Founding: November 21, 1925
Visitors: 107,500 (2005)
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The Lava Beds National Monument is a protected area by the type of National Monuments in the US -Bundesstaat California , just 15 km south of the border with Oregon . In the area there are diverse volcanic formations, in which in 1872/73 warriors of the Modoc Indians holed up in the fight against the United States Army . The area under the administration of the National Park Service has been designated as a National Monument since 1925, and around 60% have also been protected as wilderness area since 1972 .


Entry into the Blue Grotto

The sanctuary is located at a little over 1000  m on the north-east flank of Medicine Lake Volcano , a shield volcano in the Cascade Range , whose repeated eruptions over the past 500,000 years have shaped the landscape. In the National Monument there are around 30 lava flows with large fields of Pahoehoe and Aa lava . In addition, fumaroles , both cinder and ash cones .

The high density of lava tubes is particularly noticeable : elongated caves that run through the landscape as underground cavities, especially in the southern part of the area. They originated inside of lava flows, which cooled and hardened from the outside. In the core, the glowing lava continued to flow and when its influx ended through redistribution above, the liquid lava could flow away and leave a tubular cavity. The larger tubes are several meters in diameter and some can be walked over several hundred meters.

The lava fields are hardly overgrown by plants, lizards and the western rattlesnake are among the few animal species in these areas. Where the ceiling of the tubes has collapsed and light and warmth penetrate the caves, special small-scale ecosystems have emerged. Here grow ferns and live reptiles and a few amphibians . The caves themselves are inhabited by several species of bats.

A pine forest grows on the slopes of the larger volcanic cones up to over 1600 m , in the transition zones there are junipers and bushes of sagebrush .


In 1864 the Modoc Indians were forced to share a reservation with the Klamath on the upper reaches of the Klamath River in southern Oregon. There they were in the minority and were suppressed by the Klamath with the aim of extermination. When smaller groups left the reserve and returned to their previous residential areas, conflicts arose with the white settlers who were already living there. At the end of 1872 the army was commissioned to force the Modoc back into the reservation. 53 warriors with about 100 women and children retreated to the area of ​​today's National Monument after the first skirmishes with the army and holed up on a cinder cone near the shores of Thule Lake .

Under the leadership of their chief Captain Jack , they were able to repel a first attack by the army and kill at least 35 soldiers. It was also possible to evacuate the women and children from the combat area by boat across the lake. They then withstood a five-month siege by up to 1,400 soldiers until the spring of 1873. When an attempt at peace negotiations failed in January 1873, Captain Jack shot and killed the negotiator, General Edward Canby .

After more heavy fighting, the Modoc had to retreat further north, their leaders were divided over the continuation of the fight and several groups separated from the people and gave up. On June 1, 1873, the last Modoc under Captain Jack gave up, six chiefs were sentenced to death and four of them were executed in October.

Lava fields and ash cones

The monument today

Two parts of the protected area are of particular interest to the over 100,000 visitors a year. In the south are the caves made of lava tubes, in the north are the volcanic cones where the Modoc holed up in the winter of 1872/73. They are connected by a road. Away from the street there are quiet areas on both sides that only a few visitors enter. Around 60% of the area of ​​the monument has been designated as a wilderness area under the name Lava Beds Wilderness since 1972 .

The monument is open all year round, but due to the altitude it is mostly visited in the summer months. Most of the caves can be visited individually, two are only accessible as part of guided tours. A visitor center provides information about the geology and history of the area. There is also a small campsite in the south of the monument.


  • Erwin N. Thompson, Modoc War - Its Military History & Topography , Argus Books, Sacramento, CA, 1971 (also online in full: Modoc War )

Web links

Commons : Lava Beds National Monument  - Collection of Images, Videos, and Audio Files