Today we went to the lava beds in California!
The caverns there were made by lava flowing in tubes, and a sign told us there are 777 discovered caverns, as of January 2011. That's a lot! There is a loop you can drive with areas to pull off to see some of the major named caves. Ones like Hercules Leg, Lava Brook, Labyrinth and Catacomb. The first one we could walk into, but most have a steep stair going down into them. So steep that you sort of duck between or under rocks looming an inch past the railing. Sometimes it pays to be small! I would go down them facing out.
Going into them is sort of annoying. There is sunlight, and then none, and your eyes can't adjust that fast. Mine can't. It seems like your flashlight is a useless gesture, and you pick your way slowly and flash it around a lot to try and keep track of the floor as well as the ceiling. They sell hard hats for $6 at the visitor's center. Flashlights are free but need to be returned. If they don't get all the flashlights, they know someone is still out there, so its sort of nice that way, even if you don't have to take their lights.
The rock was all liquid at one point, but its not smooth like you sometimes see in tv shows or movies. Apparently as the surface cools, the inside is still liquid and moving, and is constantly breaking up the smooth surface so that the rock is all jagged and torn up. The ceiling and walls of the lava tubes are melted, like millions of tiny stalactites or candle drips. A hardhat is not a bad idea with all those sharp points hanging around. They aren't brittle. It's really rock, and I couldn't break off even tiny drips from rocks which were already on the ground (I wouldn't mess up the actual ceilings, in case I could break one- but I needn't have worried!). Also, the rock seeps water. There aren't actual drips usually, though if you stood still you could hear some drops, just millions of tiny beads of water clinging everywhere like diamonds in a flashlight beam. Combined with the yellow mineral traces left all over, we thought it was fool's gold at first. It's gorgeous.
The footing is sometimes smooth, and sometimes craggy and more like climbing. You can walk in a lot of places, but you also duck down a lot (even little ol' me) and the more extensive caverns require duck-walking or even an outright crawl to get into the deeper parts. We did a lot of the duck-walking and a few times we crawled, but you'd want more than just jeans for anything major. Sometimes the floor has as many sharp jagged points as the ceiling, which is to say ouch!
We're told the temperature of the caverns stays mostly the same, so that now they feel cool, while in the winter they'd feel warm. I want to come back in the winter-time. I feel like I should bring some knitted socks though, because they don't have toe seams, and having my feet move around in my shoes the little bit they can made me wish for better socks. I was also lucky not to step in any puddles, which sometimes were there waiting for an unsuspecting foot. Seems like they teamed with the low ceilings so you'd be more worried about banging your head and less concerned with feet, hehe. I actually only banged my head once, and that very lightly because I knew the ceiling was low and right there, but I did need my light shining down at the rocks for my foot because my other foot was losing its place. But only once! Several times we laughed when Val's helmet let out a screech as it touched the ceiling.
We joked about dungeons and dragons a lot. Anytime we came to a hole which might be a tunnel or a tight spot we'd say "send in the halfling!". They are only 3 feet tall. I did, being the smallest, get to scout out a few choices. We found one nice chamber which would make good living quarters with a possible chimney vent, and a separate area for sleeping. Neat! We rested there a bit, because it was at the end of one route we'd been following. Most of the caverns would end and you'd come out the way you went in.
After a whole morning of exploring, I think five hours, we had lunch that we'd packed- roast beef sandwiches and cookies, and drove home.
I like it here!