Friday, April 2, 2010

Spelunking in the Ice Crystal Cave

One of our biggest joys of road tripping is finding random new destinations to discover, and on top of that, little hidden gems that aren’t seen by many people. I happened to stumble across information for Lava Beds National Monument while planning a road trip to California this past spring.

Lava Beds National Monuments is only 10 hours from our home, and was on route to our road trip destinations in California, so we figured we would add it to our trip.

This was a really unique experience for us, as we got to go spelunking in lava tubs that were left over from volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. Although there are 20 different lava tubes to explore in Lava Beds, we chose to do the ice crystal cave because of its spectacular ice formations and exclusive nature. We happened to be travelling through Lava Beds mid-march, and the ice crystal cave is only open from December – March. So it seems we picked a perfect time to go exploring.

Some facts about the ice crystal cave:


We were told that they only let down about 100 people per year, only on Saturdays, and only in small groups of 6 or less. The ice crystal cave is only open for 4 months of the year to help preserve the ice formations in the tubes. CO2 emissions from human breathing erodes the ice formations in the cave, and in an effort to preserve this natural wonder, the ice crystal cave exploration is highly regulated.

About the tour:

You can only go into the ice crystal cave with a tour guide from the park. We booked our tour about 2 weeks before heading to Lava Beds, and were the only ones to do the tour that morning. The entrance to the cave is not only hidden and very hard to find, it’s also protected by a locked gate to keep people out.

This was our first time spelunking in any kind of cave, so it was pretty exciting for us. The ice crystal formations found through the cave are said to be formed from years and years or rain water gathering in the tubes through evaporation and condensation. It’s the dripping effect, and the cold air in the cave, that form the ice crystals.

Another interesting fact about this cave:
By the time the ground absorbs water from the winter months, and flows into the tubes, it’s actually spring out. And as the ground starts to absorb water from the summer months, we enter the winter months. This is another big factor for the park regulating foot traffic in the ice crystal cave, to preserve the air flow cycle so not to disrupt the formation of crystals and crystal structures in the cave. This is also why you can only go into the cave from December – March.

Cost of the tour:
It’s actually free to do the tour with a guide; all they ask is that you pay the $10 park entrance fee in the visitor center before doing your tour. Our guide provided us with the necessary safety gear to go spelunking in the cave.

Our experience: 

When you first enter the cave, you crawl down a ladder and land right onto a huge sheet of ice. You then have to pull yourself across the ice sheet to get to the other side. This is so you don’t slip and fall on the ice. We trekked through the cave, looking at various ice formations until we reached the popular “rocket” ice formation.

The tour itself took about 2 hours, and we got to crawl through some pretty small holes in the cave. For those who are claustrophobic, or don’t like being confined in small spaces, this might be a trek you want to skip. This was a beautiful/unique experience that we’re happy to have done.

Have you been spelunking in the lava tubes at Lava Beds National Monument before? Leave your comment below, and let us know which caves you explored!

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