In Lava Beds National Monument
Caldwell Butte, cave and cabin are all named for Charles Jarvis Caldwell, 1856-1906. He had a horse ranch operation out of Bucher Swamp and Canby, California, south of Lava Beds National Monument, and ran horses in parts of what is now the Monument. He and his crews would camp near Caldwell Cave where they could harvest ice for water. Later on he built a cabin nearby. Around 1900 Caldwell met Anna Lauer, 1881-1977, and they became engaged and then married in 1905. Before their marriage, Anna took an interest in Charles’ operation and in 1904 set about acquiring land in the area. One of the steps she took was to make a homestead entry on 160 acres that included the caves. Among the first whites to make economic use of this area, the Caldwell name became attached to these geographic features.
Caldwell Butte is located near the south boundary of Lava Beds National Monument across the highway from the Valentine Cave parking area [41° 41′ 58.25″N 121° 28′ 58.82″W]. Its base is at about 4600 feet elevation (1402 meters) and its summit is at 5197 feet (1584 meters) making the climb to the top almost 600 feet (182 meters). There is a nearly circular volcanic crater atop the butte with a bottom elevation of about 4,900 feet (1494 meters). A small butte called Caldwell Minor juts from the north flank of the main butte. The U.S. Geologic Survey dates the basalt of Caldwell Butte to the Ionian Stage of the Pleistocene Epoch about 781 to 126 thousand years ago. This was the time the saber toothed tiger (Smilodon), American lion (Panthera leo atrox) and Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) roamed North America and well before the first humans arrived, only about 14,300 years ago. The vents from which pyroclastic material erupted are located in the craters atop Caldwell Butte and Caldwell Minor and at a couple of points near the southern base of Caldwell Butte.
Caldwell Cave [41° 41′ 41.11″N 121° 28′ 20.22″ W] is an ice cave that is actually quite a complex system. The profile view below provides many of the details. Click the image to see a larger, readable, version.
The deepest chamber in the cave is where ice is found and was extracted for use by the Caldwell crew and their horses. In the winter, cold air settles at that point, freezing whatever water may be present. The cold air and ice is trapped there during the summer allowing the ice layer to build as water trickles through the cave. In 2011, Park Service scientists drilled into the ice as far as they could, but did not reach the bottom. They were able to date the surface ice to the late 1960’s and the ice at 2 meters at about 600 to 700 years old. Deeper ice could be considerably older.
When Charles Caldwell and his crews first brought horses to this area they would camp out near the cave. Later on, probably in the 1890’s, they built a small cabin to stay at when they visited. Remnants of the cabin [41° 41′ 41.11″N 121° 28′ 20.22″W] remain. The cabin was part of the homestead entry Anna filed in 1904. After Charles died in 1906 and Anna remarried, in 1908, she apparently decided to drop the homestead effort and by 1912 that process was ended. By 1917, the cabin had collapsed. The fact that evidence of the cabin remains is a testament to the generally dry weather, however, heavy snow probably contributed to the collapse of the cabin. As the photo shows, the cabin was made of notched logs. It had framed windows and what looks like some kind of siding over the exterior. The cabin sits on top of Caldwell Cave on cinders and pumice from the Butte. This makes for a sound and well-drained foundation.
On this adventure your pathfinder accompanied eight other members of the Klamath Basin Outdoor Group. The Group is a loosely organized bunch of outdoor lovers that get together once a month to identify the locations and leaders of their Saturday outings for the next month. Each Saturday, and sometimes on Mondays, the group heads off on another adventure.
We began at the Lava Beds National Monument visitor center where monument representatives collected the $10 per car entry fee and told us how to avoid spreading disease among the bats that live in the caves. Our visit was in January, so the monument entrance stations were closed. Remember that if you frequent National Parks, Monuments and other public lands you may want to buy an annual pass for $80, get a free annual pass for those in the military or a purchase a $10 lifetime senior pass for those 62 and older. Get all the details from the Park Service during your visit or on their website.
We then drove southeast from park headquarters to the Valentine Cave parking lot where we left our vehicles and set off on foot. The map below displays our route with a profile showing the elevations along the way. Our guide led us along the road to the north side of Caldwell Butte where we headed southwest along the base of the butte. The route follows what appears to be an old road. Some cut brush suggested that it had been used, perhaps for firefighting, in the not-too-distant past. Much of this portion of the hike was on relatively smooth lava rock covered with pumice. Along the way we spotted some large pits in the ground caused when the roofs of lava tube caves collapsed. A couple of them revealed caves large enough to enter, however we continued on.
We circled the northwest side of the butte until the brush on the slope was open enough to move through. This juniper, bitterbrush, and mountain mahogany habitat can make hiking difficult, so we didn’t begin our climb until we reached the drier west side of the butte. The butte itself is made of loose volcanic cinders. The material here was loose but held in place fairly well by vegetation. Footing was fairly stable. The butte is steep from any direction, so it is necessary to zigzag up both for better footing and for less exertion.
Upon reaching the rim, we followed it up to the highest point and ate lunch. This part of the adventure covered 1.83 miles in 45 minutes. The view from the top is quite expansive. The southern view is of the north slopes of the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano.
The view toward the north reaches as far as Mount Scott in Crater Lake National Park, a distance of about 90 miles.
We walked down from the top of the Butte on its southeast flank through loose cinders and juniper just to the right of the red cinder slope you can see in the photo at the top of this page. Along the way we saw several pack rat dens that look like large piles of sticks and twigs, usually adjacent to a tree. While there are a lot of deer in the area, we didn’t see any on the day of our visit. I was in the area a few days latter and saw several deer and tracks all over. Some tracks at the top of the butte were not clear, but may have been made by a mountain lion.
Once off the Butte we walked southeast until we hit the Caldwell Cave Trail. We followed it southwest a short distance to the cave. The cave is entered from the south end by way of a trail down into a small canyon formed when a part of the lava tube collapsed. The trail entering the cave is well marked with stones on each side. Immediately inside of the cave is a large hole that drops into a lower lava tube. That tube connects to the ice cave. The “trail” passes to the right of the hole, but since we were not equipped for spelunking we did not go any farther.
The photo shows the view looking into the south entrance of the cave. The light in the background is not the cave exit. The light is entering from the skylight that you can see in the diagram above and the map below. Click the map for a larger, readable version.
We didn’t have the diagrams of the cave at the time of our visit so we didn’t explore the various entries or do any more than a look into the south entrance and down the skylight.
Next we wandered over to the Caldwell Cabin. It is located on top of the cave just past the skylight when heading toward the north entrance. Three walls of the cabin are clearly evident. In addition there are wires, old tin cans, square nails and other debris left from the past.
To conclude our journey we walked back to the Caldwell Cave Trail and followed it northeast to the trailhead parking area. Finally we walked along the road back to the Valentine Cave parking area.
The video provides panoramic views from the top of Caldwell Butte toward the south and then toward the north. It leads you into the south entrance of the cave, then takes a look down the skylight and around the cabin area. You can find a larger version of the video on YouTube.
Brook, Edward; Lacy Little; Shane Fryer, Undated (circa 2013), A Preliminary Investigation of Cave Ice at Lava Beds National Monument, northern California, U.S. National Park Service. (Source of cave diagram and map)
Brown, Frederick L., 2011, The Center of the World, The Edge of the World: A History of Lava Beds National Monument, U.S. National Park Service (source of Caldwell family history)
The path and profile diagram was derived from data collected and displayed by the Komoot iPhone app and assembled by Jerry Haugen.
All text, photos and video are by Jerry Haugen and © 2015 by Global Creations LLC, all rights reserved.