I eventually got out of bed and went outside to stretch my muscles. Little Mt. Hoffman happens to be home to Talus Collomia a very rare wildflower found in only five locations throughout California. Its preferred habitat consists of volcanic talus or pumice stone. Not too far in the past, increased visitor traffic and off road travel had caused a significant decline in their population but thanks to efforts by Native Plant Societies a fence has been erected to help preserve habitat. We were lucky enough to be visiting while they were in bloom.
These flowers are tiny and would probably go unnoticed unless you were aware and looking for them. Thankfully there was an interpretive sign to clue me in.
After breakfast we set off for Lava Beds National Monument located about 16 miles north along a graded dirt road. The condition of the road was fairly good except for the occasional pothole that caught us off guard. We only crossed paths with one other vehicle which goes to show that you should make sure you have a properly inflated spare tire and know how to put it on, because if anything were to happen you might be on your own for a while.
We arrived at the south entrance to Lava Beds National Monument and I was surprised when there was not a fee booth. This park differs from most in that the fee station is located in the center of the park at the visitor center. Although most of the parks main attractions are located along the cave loop near the visitor center we decided to check out a couple of features located at the south entrance before making our way to pay our fee.
Sarah waited in the car while I jogged down a short trail to check out Hidden Valley. As I was jogging I realized how different and unique the terrain was in comparison to where I normally hike in the Bay area and Sierra Nevada. I was filled with an unusual excitement and could feel the intense earth energy emanating from the region. I continued along the path until I reached a decent overlook of Hidden Valley.
The sign at the beginning of the trailhead said .2 miles to the Hidden Valley overlook. Now I’m sure I had traveled more than .2 miles and yet the trail continued beyond the overlook I had stopped at. Perhaps there is a better overlook further down trail? With Sarah waiting for me back at the car I decided to turn around so that we could explore the next feature together.
Directly across the road from the Hidden Valley trailhead is the starting point for The Big Nasty loop and Mammoth Crater. Sarah and I walked along the short paved path to the brink of the Crater where steel guard rails line the overlook. Although not as aesthetically stimulating as some of the other features, we were both quite impressed with the depth and girth of the crater.
We drove toward the visitor center and stopped at the Bunchgrass Overlook to contemplate our next adventure.
Sarah’s energy levels were low, where as I could hardly contain my excitement. We had previously talked about hiking the steep .7 miles to the Fire Lookout on the top of Schonchin Butte but I compromised by choosing a short and level hike to Big Painted Cave.
Before our hike we spent a good amount of time at the visitor center reading up on the interesting Modoc and geological history. Many people were renting helmets and flashlights for exploring the nearby caves, but with Sarah’s claustrophobia and us wanting to avoid crowds in general, we steered clear of any subterranean adventuring.
We drove the short distance to the trailhead for Big Painted Cave and set off along the sandy trail. The trail zigzags across an old jumbled lava flow with access to a couple of smaller cave openings.
About a mile in, just before we reached Big Painted Cave, Sarah decided that she would walk back to the car while I continued onward hoping to take some photographs. I knew Sarah was spent, so I did my best not to lollygag, but when I have a camera in my hand and I’m by my lonesome I tend to quickly lose track of time.
I arrived at Big Painted Cave where I traversed the Southeastern edge of the lava crater which had a distant vantage of the cave opening and Schonchin Butte.
I managed to find some blooming paintbrush which added a punch of color to the composition.
I looped around to the actual opening of Painted Cave where an interpretive sign describes how the cave got its name.
Without a hiking partner I really did not feel inclined to enter the cave so I enjoyed the views from the exterior.
It would be fun to come back with a flashlight and actually check out the pictographs. I toyed with the idea of traveling the extra half mile to see the Symbol Bridge cave, but out of respect for my wife I paced back toward the car.
I found a small natural arch that went unnoticed on the hike in.
A short distance before returning to the car I noticed Sarah stopped on the side of the trail. She had seen a long snake and was waiting for me so that she could point it out. Unfortunately the snake had slithered away by the time I arrived and I missed a wildlife opportunity. She also mentioned seeing a giant wasp like bug that she had never seen before. After some research I’m guessing it was a Tarantula Hawk.
We made it back to the car and although I was itching to do some more exploring, it was evident that Sarah preferred to call it a day. I couldn’t complain, considering if she always went along with what I wanted to do we wouldn’t end up with much leisure time; And with as fast paced as our society is, leisure is something that is much needed. After all, we are on vacation.
As we drove back toward Medicine Lake we pulled over at the Doorknob Snowshoe Park and took advantage of their picnic tables by having a relaxing lunch in the shade. The whole area seems to be a winter hot spot amongst snowmobile enthusiasts.
On our way back to the lookout we stopped briefly at the day use lot for Medicine Lake. There we walked out onto the small beach area that looks out over the lake. Dozens of small frogs crawled along the sand and we were careful not to step on any as we made our way to the shore. We felt the water which wasn't too cold and if the weather would cooperate it would be nice for swimming.
We then drove past the four campgrounds along the north side of Medicine Lake on our way back to Little Mt. Hoffman Lookout. After driving past Little Medicine Lake (more of a lily pad covered pond) we noticed a water spigot. This is helpful to know because there is no running water at the lookout and this is the closest available water.
We arrived back at the lookout and went into relax mode. Threatening storm clouds seemed to be a accumulating and we were treated to a unique double rainbow over the lookout without the wet weather. I was unable to capture an image showing the two half circle rainbows encompassing the lookout tower but I did manage to snap off a few frames that portray the experience.
It was turning out to be an unforgettable trip.
We spent the rest of the evening living the dream and enjoyed yet another vibrant sunset.
There is undoubtedly good medicine at the Medicine Lake Highlands!