We spent our last week in California camped next to Eagle Lake at the Merrill National Forest Campground. The theme of the week was rain…again. It rarely rained all day, but it did rain every day, with afternoon storms being the norm. Needless to say, the positive attitude I had about the rainy weather the previous week was greatly diminished by the time Friday rolled around and brought with it almost 24 hours of cold rain.
Despite the crappy weather, the week was not a total loss. We got out for one bike ride and several walks around the campground.
Our stay coincided with Memorial Day weekend and by the end of the week, the campground was full of families celebrating the traditional start to summer. Unfortunately, summer didn’t show up to the party. With temps only in the low 50s on both Friday and Saturday, most people spent the weekend under tarps and awnings while huddled next to smoky fires for warmth. The whole campground looked like a giant, smoky tarp city. None of that for us though as we chose to stay inside our tiny house with the furnace on.
Even though we were both feeling a bit stir crazy by the end of the week, all the inside time meant we got some extra things done. Boring things like work stuff, but also fun stuff like adding to and firming up our very loose summer plans. We even made a few reservations for the weeks around the Fourth of July. We plan to be in a busy area at that time and it will be nice not to have to worry about finding a spot at the last minute.
Our camping style seems to have shifted over the past year with boondocking and finding new free spots to camp pretty low on the priority list. The shift is due in part to Tim’s more demanding work schedule, but also because our priorities have changed. We still favor natural areas and primitive campgrounds over crowded private RV parks, but right now neither of us want to spend half a day driving down dirt roads looking for that mythical, scenic, and secluded spot with great cell service. That was fun for a few years, and it might be fun again, but right now we’re perfectly happy with nice national forest campground or state park. As we approach our 6th year anniversary of full-time RVing I find it interesting to observe how different our travel style is compared to when we started.
Sunday morning we awoke to bright blue skies and not a cloud in sight. As all the other campers crawled out from under their tents and tarps, we packed up and headed out. It was time to visit some lava caves!
Lava Beds National Monument has the largest concentration of lava caves in North America. We have visited a LOT of caves around the country — including a few other lava caves. My inclination is always to think that it will just be more of the same, but the thrill of exploring underground never gets old and every cave ends up being unique. The majority of the lava caves at LBNM are located off a two-mile loop road. Because we had the Airstream with us, the easiest way to see the caves was by leaving it at the visitor center and riding our bikes around the loop.
There are about a dozen caves off the main loop road (and more in other areas of the park). Four were closed due to baby bat birthing season (I’m sure there’s a more technical term for it), and several others were simply too challenging for us. When the description says you will need to crawl through a 500-foot long underground tunnel with a max height of 2.5 feet, we’ll pass. Neither of us has a problem with tight spaces, but we draw the line at donning knee pads and helmets so we can crawl through a cave.
We ended up exploring four different caves. Two were easy with no ducking required (at least for me), one required a small amount of route finding and some minor crouching, and one was more challenging with areas of standing water and lots of tiny spaces that we didn’t explore.
We finished up with the caves in the late afternoon and set out to find a place to park for the night. There is a campground in the national monument (and surprisingly good cell service) but we instead drove north to the town of Tulelake so we would be closer to our planned destination for the work week. The Butte Valley Fair campground in Tulelake was perfectly fine if a bit on the expensive side with dry camping in the field going for $30/night.
It was peaceful, quiet, and most importantly, not raining, which made for a very pleasant final night in California.