Mount Shasta: Inner Earth Realms and History of the Lava Beds
“Lava Bed's surreal landscape was formed by volcanic eruptions from the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano.” Photograph © Loree Johnson.
The Modoc, a fiercely independent people, clashed with the settlers who laid claim to Modoc territory for cattle and agriculture, and the seeds were sown for one of the most bloody and tragic of the Indian Wars: the Modoc War of 1872-73.
“The Modoc War -- Soldiers Recovering the Bodies of the Slain, a wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly, May 3, 1873.” (Public Domain)
The Modoc War became one of the costliest and longest wars in early American history, with a small band of Modoc warriors who refused to be evicted onto reservations, and who fought back against the U.S. Army's incursion into their sacred lands until they were overwhelmed and outnumbered. It is certain that the Modoc warriors were able to use Lava Beds extensive underground tunnels and caves to their advantage against the soldiers.
“A photograph of Captain Jack, a Modoc warrior who lead the resistance against the U.S. Army's invasion of Lava Beds.” Photograph Credit: Oregon Historical Society.
After the last few Modoc warriors were captured, they were hung in a sickening public spectacle at Fort Klamath, Oregon. Then their heads were chopped off and sent to the U.S. Army's Medical Museum in Washington DC.
“The interior of Skull Cave. Visitors viewing the region from the surface are only getting half of the picture. Many of the most incredible vistas of Lava Beds lie beneath the ground.” (Photograph Into The Abyss © Loree Johnson. http://loree-johnson.pixels.com/featured/into-the-abyss-loree-johnson.html)
There are over 700 known caves and tunnels which have been mapped throughout Lava Beds; and over a dozen semi-developed caves of varying challenge, eeriness, and difficulty, which visitors can explore at their leisure.
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“Petroglyph Point contains thousands of hand carved symbols. This cliff wall used to be the ancient shore of Tule Lake. In prehistoric times the artisans had to row out in canoes to reach this spot where the rock art appears.” Photograph © Dustin Naef 2016.
ROCK ART AND PETROGLYPHS
Another reason to visit Lava Beds is its rich cultural history, this region is believed to contain one of the largest concentrations of rock art imagery in California. Many of these images can be viewed at Petroglyph Point, a towering cliff-wall which stands out as the center of a Modoc creation-origin story, and it is guessed that some of the rock art may have been created as far back as 6,000 years ago. A known creation story involves the first people emerging into this region from the cave world below.
“Symbol Cave: Many of the caves throughout Lava Beds contain pictographs [hand painted images] inside the entrances.” Photograph © Dustin Naef 2016.
Some of the rock art appears inside the entrances of caves located throughout the Monument.
“The abstract petroglyphs carved on the cliff walls are distinctly different from other types of rock art found throughout California. They are said to 'tell a story' but the precise details are not publicly known.” Photograph © Dustin Naef 2016.
Much of the rock art found throughout Lava Beds is dominated by intricate geometrical symbols and mysterious patterns, it is uniquely different in character and more abstract than other examples found elsewhere; the exact meanings of the rock art is not known to outsiders, however most people who view them come away feeling that the imagery speaks of spiritual visions, and reflects all the mysteries of the night skies above, which become a cavernous gateway into the cosmos after the sun goes down.
“Lava Beds is a favorite spot for star watchers and night photographers as the heavens can be seen with exceptional clarity and depth here, there is no haze or light pollution.” (Photograph Credit NPS public domain)
I created a short video exploration of one of my excursions out to Lava Beds, where you can follow me through an eerie underground tunnel called Sentinel Cave, located on Cave Loop road not far from the visitor’s center. If you’re ever visiting the Mount Shasta area, and are not afraid of exploring real caves and tunnels which lay beneath an ancient civilization, Lava Beds National Monument is well worth a visit.
Top Image: “Full moon rising over Mount Shasta, as seen from northern valley.” Credit: Dusin Naef © 2016