Ariel looking up at the weird cave ceiling

Ariel looking up at the weird cave ceiling

Keep heading north from Mt. Shasta and you’ll find the Lava Beds National Monument. The road leading into the park from the north skims the California/Oregon border, literally just a matter of feet south of the border. Driving east, Oregon is to your left, California is to your right.

Heading into the beautiful areas here, I would find yet another location I hadn’t known about beforehand that would become tacked on to my rapidly growing list of favorite places in the world. 🙂

Heading into this area, you drive through the Lava Beds Nature Preserve, gorgeous landscape reserved for wildlife. Here you’ll find open grassy fields, big lakes, rocky dirt-covered mountainy hills, deer, cows, herons, hawks, butterflies, dragonflies, and a myriad of other creates.

It’s such a magical experience to drive past hovering dragonflies as butterflies flutter round your car. 🙂 Deer look up at you from the side of the road, taking a break from grazing on tall yellowing grass, a hawk screeches through the air as it soars through the mountaintops, cows barely give you a second glance, and herons take their own time, occasionally taking off and flying parallel to your car at the same speed you drive. Oh man… nature has so much beauty to offer… 🙂

Pair of herons in the Lava Beds Nature Preserve

Pair of herons in the Lava Beds Nature Preserve

One of the first things that made me pull over in the area was this pair of S-necked herons perched atop this grain elevator thingy. I’ve never shot herons before, but I’ve been seeing pics of them for years so I was thrilled to see some in person. Not knowing how skittish they are, I began shooting before I got too close, getting whatever shots I could just in case. This was a good move because they took off soon after snapping this shot. 🙂

Seeing a heron in flight is just magical… Their neck retains this S-shape, a feature I marvel at, the same way I marvel at the fact that butterflies can flop through the air in such a discombobulated and seemingly unmanageable fashion, and yet still land delicately upon a flower petal.

Herons in the Lava Beds Nature Preserve

Herons in the Lava Beds Nature Preserve

One of the great things about a car is that it tends to act like a blind. That is, you can get a lot closer to animals when “hidden in your vehicle” than when you step out and look more like a predator. Because of this, I would do a bit of shooting directly from the car. You can get shots much more quickly this way too, before animals run away.

One thing that I’m still getting a feel for is how safe it is to quickly pull right off the road. Sometimes you drive up to an amazing sight that you want to shoot NOW. Can you pull off the road immediately? Is there traffic behind you? How fast are you going? Is there a pull-out right here or up ahead? Do you have time to drive ahead and turn around or will your shot be gone if you do?

There was this one shot I missed because I didn’t take the pull-out, a shot of cows grazing in this partially flooded grassy area with the water reflecting the beautiful background. I didn’t take it because I debated whether or not I could even stop and pull over or not, if that pull-out way ahead was too far away for me to run back from with my gear.

After a little while, I’d grow a little more willing to stop off the road nearly instantly, so long as the road was driveable. You know, having an AWD vehicle sure makes it easier when there’s no dedicated pull-out available and the shoulder is soft enough and sloped enough to make pulling over look like this. 😀

Parked on a soft shoulder to see some cows

Parked on a soft shoulder to see some cows

The cows I pulled over here to see behaved in a way unlike any cows I’d ever seen before. You see, I’ve found that most cows will either just look at you for a while and continue going about their business or even approach you out of curiosity. These cows, on the other hand, they actually wound scamper away as I got out of my car and approached the fence to get a closer look, very much to my surprise.

Nevertheless, I always like to moo whenever I drive past cows. 🙂

In any event, the main point of going to this location wasn’t the wildlife. It was to see the caves. In this area, there’s TONS of caves, like several dozen, all packed within a tight area. There’s roads connecting them and information telling you about the different caves. Some caves were ice caves, with thick enough ice to be used as a natural underground skating rink about a hundred years ago. Since then most of the ice had totally melted away, a symptom of global warming as the signs explained. Some of the caves had bats, some had beautiful tunnels and passage ways… I was totally diggin’ exploring these caves. It was nice that they were previously explored, had staircases leading in and out, and were relatively dry inside.

Ariel enjoying the cave tunnels

Ariel enjoying the cave tunnels

I took a bunch of cave pics and found that the ones where I included a person in the shot were the best because they gave a sense of scale.

After this first cave I went into, I started working on my caving gear. For example, grab a long sleeve jacket for warmth and protection, leave you sun glasses off your head and back in the car, and so on. I’d also drop my pack in the subsequent pics, even though it made me look less prepared inside the caves. :p

Ariel looking up at the weird cave ceiling

Ariel looking up at the weird cave ceiling

In the pic above, there’s all these amazing browns and blacks and whites and browns. So many different colors and textures and shapes and formations… I think some of the ceiling was actually created from bat poop. 🙂

There was also one well-known cave there named Sunshine Cave, so named because it had a skylight that let in sunshine. Very cool little find.

Ariel looking out of Sunshine Cave

Ariel looking out of Sunshine Cave

Having enjoyed the few hours spent at this location, it was time to continue heading on north and finally leave California!!

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