Lava Tube Caving

None of our small family gathering have any experience caving, so there’s some trepidation as we start toward the “cave loop” at Lava Beds National Monument with headlamps in our pockets.

The gang sets out

As it turns out the first “easy” cave we hit is the longest one – a full kilometer underground. The brochure seems to indicate that you can exit at the end of the 1 km, but this isn’t stated explicitly. Too late to ask now!

Daniel and Ryan prepare to go under


Caving sign

Down we go

Leaving the light

Not too far in there is a hole that lets some light in and bolsters our spirits. After that, though, it goes completely black. We turn our lights off to experience the full darkness.

Roof holes

In the dark

After that Ann and Danielle both have to fight back some panic. Of course Danielle’s instinct is rush ahead toward the hoped-for exit, and Ann’s is to stick close together. We’re all thankful to find Danielle waiting for us, once more in the light of day. Whew! We celebrate our success and question the need for any more time underground.

And out again

Danielle and Ryan at Sentinel exit

Dylan above ground

Ann escapes Sentinel

Danielle escapes Sentinel

We check out the entrances of a few of the other caves, and Ryan and I explore the shorter Sunlight cave. These caves are smaller, and have interesting textures where subsequent flows re-melted the walls and ceilings.

Dylan and drippyroof

Sunlight Cave

To finish off the loop Ryan, Dad and I enter the Golden Dome cave. This one has a new feature – intersections! We go left at the first one, and at the second one we decide to turn around. But just for fun we turn our lights off first. Are we looking in the same direction when we turn back on? It’s dizzying, but we make our way back successfully.


Golden Dome Tube

Golden Dome Exit

We return to camp for some relaxation, but then decide to hike to one final cave, the biggest of all.

Dan relaxes


Skull cave was formed by three separate lava flows, and has the feel of a giant railway tunnel. Animal and human bones were once found inside, which seems appropriate somehow. At the end it turns downward into a chamber with an ice floor.

Skull Cave Depths

Ann Redhead

Ann Underground

Skull Cave Entrance

That seems like a full day of exploration, but there are lots more caves, trails, and historical sites at this park. We’re all impressed.

Lava Beds Twilight

3 responses to “Lava Tube Caving”

  1. Wow, those look awesome! We used to do a lot of caving with scouts in Missouri, and Mark did plenty in Indiana. My first thought when seeing you all was “Where’s their helmets??” I cracked the top of my head on short cave ceilings soooo many times as a kid. 🙂 But, from your pics, it looks like these caves are MUCH bigger than the ones we used to squeeze into. 🙂

  2. Right! We resolved to stick to the “walk upright” caves, though of course I ended up in a couple of smaller ones where I should have had a helmet on. We even brought our climbing helmets, and they sell cheapies in the visitor center. If I could do it over I’d have mine on!

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