October 22, 2012
LEAVING THE PARK
During our last morning at Lava Beds, the sky created a particularly vivid, contrasting display. The view morphed from intensely blue space to enormous white dollops of cumulus clouds to dark stormy clouds, threatening and then delivering either rain and snow. I have often considered creating a series of cloudscape paintings. The photos below may give you a taste of their stunning beauty. Each sky scene ephemeral and unique.
After steady rain the night before, the intense fragrance of sage and juniper filled the air. It was a dose of powerful invigorating natural aromatherapy; you couldn’t help but breathe deeply and feel better. I also saw a new bird (to me) that morning, a varied thrush, drinking from a new puddle (Thanks, Allen!).
Driving north through the park, we passed the main lava flow spread out across the desert, a stark jumble of black, tan, gray and red rock. Some of it is only 11,000 years old, just yesterday in geologic terms. Although a few shrubs and trees are making headway into the flow, even after eleven millennia, it has remained mostly barren stone.
One surprising resident in these boulder fields is the Pacific Tree Frog, usually found in the coastal redwood forest. It lives here, without trees, in the damp crevices of this rocky landscape. (Have you seen my earlier blog post about the Pacific Tree Frog?)
There are two sad events in American history associated with this place. In the 19th century, conflicts arose between the Modoc Indians who had lived in this area for thousands of years and the settlers coming from the East. Eventually, the Modocs were moved by the U.S. Army to a reservation with the Klamath Indians in Oregon. Because of disharmony between the tribes and a wish to be on their homeland, a group of Modoc led by Chief Kintpuash, called Captain Jack by the army, moved back to the north end of what is now Lava Beds Monument at Tule Lake. The army was ordered to remove them and The Modoc War broke out. In a maze of lava formations, now called Captain Jack’s Stronghold, 60 Modoc warriors with 150 women and children, held back the 600 soldiers of the U.S. Army for five months. Eventually, the Modocs’ supplies ran too low and they surrendered. They were relocated to Oklahoma.
We visited this area and saw the lava mounds, caves and narrow passageways of the stronghold from which the Modoc lived and fought, seeking to keep their freedom, way of life and ancestral home. It was not a larger area. A sad place of many deaths and much hardship, now quiet and beautiful. A prayer pole decorated with sacred objects, commemorates the dead and the events of 1873.
Also in the area, was the largest relocation camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII. This land needs prayers, apologies, blessings, and forgiveness.
Much of Tule Lake was drained in 1920’s to create more farmland. What is left is used for farming, hunting and as a wildlife refuge. An uneasy balance, I would think. We stopped at two wildlife viewing turnouts to see the lake with its migrating waterfowl. This is the time of year that snow geese, pelicans, pintails, ruddy ducks and many more birds move from their summer to winter homes. Hundred of thousands of birds alight here. My binoculars and telephoto lens were too weak to reveal much detail. The most obvious birds were the large, constantly honking Canada geese, but many other waterfowl were floating nearby.
We also made a detour to a small separate part of LBNM called Petroglyph Point. Over thousands of years Modocs came to inscribe markings on a tall vertical cliff face. (Petroglyphs are carved into stone while pictographs are painted on stone.) Few, if any people, including modern Modocs know the meaning of these designs. They are unique to this area and this tribe.