The Lava Beds: Site of the (Forgotten) Modoc War

Originally just called “Lava Beds,” posted on Blogster on 5/11/09, slightly changed

I suspect every town has it’s local legends. Important bits of history, really, that the rest of the world has managed to forget, that never made it through the ages. My home town has a few, not very famous, so we have, to a certain extent, co-opted the Lava Beds and the Lava Beds War.

The Lava Beds National Monument is located in Siskiyou County, CA, and I grew up only a few hours from there. Actually in Modoc County. The area is a result of the volcanic activity from the Medicine Lake shield volcano, which is actually the largest shield volcano by volume in the Cascade range. Medicine Lake Volcano has been dormant for about a thousand years. Run by the National Park service, the Lava Beds National Monument is on the northeast side of the volcano, and shows off some of the more spectacular remnants of the area’s history. At the park, visitors can explore several caves, the result of complete and collapsed lava tubes.

Though I lived up there for years, I never really went to the Lava Beds, though my parents took me and my brothers once when we were small. Our flashlight wasn’t strong enough to actually see the caves that time, so we just scrambled happily over the surface rocks. So, last week, I dragged a friend of mine all the way up north and went to see it again–always wanted to be a splunker.

It wasn’t a traditional “nice day.” The wind was up and the sky overcast, and it was not much warmer than inside the caves. From 139, the park is about a 16 mile drive, 12 miles through the Modoc National Park, on a rather less than well-maintained road. It feels like it must have been forgotten, and although it has obviously been patched, there are still great gaping holes in the asphalt. Even though the park is open all year round, this road may not be, as it it doesn’t get winter maintence. The park, though, seems to be better funded than the national forest. Once you cross the border the road is much nicer. Then you have to drive to the visitor’s center to pay for a week pass, but it’s only ten dollars. Most of the caves are arranged around a main drivable “loop.” Unfortunately most of the easy caves are off of the main loop, and a further drive.

Because my friend and I aren’t even hikers–and even forgot our hardhats, we went for the easy caves. Naturally, the first one we chose was the Sentinel Cave, which is one of the few, or only, caves open to visitors with two entrances. It was actually a fairly easy walk, but the Lava Beds Park is in the high desert, so between the elevation of 4000-5700 feet above sea leve and the dry air, so it was quite a workout. Anyway, though the trail was fairly clear, one is apparently allowed to try the other branches (which we didn’t), but just because there was a trail, it was still rough. Lava caves aren’t like caves in limestone, there were lots of loose rocks and boulders, and some really steep steps. It was also REALLY DARK. Very dark. So there wasn’t much walking and looking at the scenery at the same time. You can watch where your feet are going, or see what the cave looks like. And once we made it through, we went back a second time.

Pictures really don’t do it justice, at least not with my camera. This is as close as I could get.

After Sentinel Cave, we walked the 3/4 mile to Big Painted cave and a little farther to Symbol Bridge…well, I dashed over to Symbol Bridge for a quick look. I’m glad I did, because the cave painting (to me) was far clearer than at Big Painted Cave. I’m still not sure I saw anything at the there, and barely anything at Symbol Bridge. But it did remind me that people actually lived there, and travelled there, even though it’s fairly desolate.

The Lava Beds don’t just have cool caves, the area was the site of the Modoc War. Anyone remember that? Don’t feel bad, I had a history professor who’d never heard of it either. At any rate, at the time, 1872-1873, it was in all the papers. It was the only major “Indian” war that was fought in California, and it was the only time that a US general in the regular army was killed in battle (Custer doesn’t count because he wasn’t a general when he died. So there–yeah, I don’t get it either). The US government forced the Modoc tribe to a reservation with the Klamath tribes, ignoring the old rivalries–which of course flared up again. So “Captain Jack,” or Kintpuash (one spelling) led a group of his people to their old home, but the government aimed to force them back to the reservation. Instead, they fled to the Lava Beds, where for more than six months 60 Modoc warriors held off ten times their number of US troops. Eventually, Captain Jack was betrayed, and he and several of his top warriors were hung.

The tribe gave it’s name to the county, and the general gets a little unincorporated town–Canby–with barely a few hundred people. Oh, and a cross…on a hill.

It can be hard to find information on the war so here are a few links:

Lava Beds National Monument Official Page

with a free book on the Modoc War, and a brochure(pdf).


Reflections on The Karate Kid

Just about an hour ago, I finished The Karate Kid (2010).  I don’t know what the critics and audiences thought, although I imagine it wasn’t very positive (this kind of movie–uplifting, parable-ic) isn’t often well-received. Which I think is a shame. When it comes to movies, people are too cynical.

I haven’t exactly done a lot of reflection in that time–I wanted to write this, but had to turn on the computer to do so, and of course got distracted by Twilight sporks on ImpishIdea–and did no research.

What research? Once or twice I questioned how plausible it would be to ‘master’ kung fu to tournament level, which was never really in question. But I didn’t really feel I had to question it, I was fully engrossed in the world–my belief near completely suspended. (That’s a good thing, unlike my love of excessive punctuation.)

That wasn’t all I questioned in the back of my mind: after the first few minutes, I really missed Harry. When the family (you know, I don’t actually know their names?) first found the apartment, Harry comes right up to Dre, introduces himself, and tries to make the other boy’s introduction to this new world as smooth as possible. Although his immediate offer of friendship was awfully convenient, he still encouraged Dre to introduce himself to future crush Mei Ying (spelling?) and stands up for him against the bullies–for such early teen years, he’s positively heroic (in fact, I think in many standard plots, he’d be the protagonist). And I’m pretty sure he’s shown once or twice in the background of the final tournament.

However interesting he may be, Harry’s quickly dropped in favor of romance for twelve-year-old. It’s introduced right away too. While the growing relationship of Dre and Mei Ying was cute–and by growing relationship, I mean primarily crush to friendship–and possibly ending with more friendship than relationship–it did seem a little much. Just why was it necessary?

The first kiss, well, yes it was cute, but it lasted a little long, and was a little smooth to be less than awkward.

As for Harry, the movie was too long to include him really any further, but I don’t see why he couldn’t at least have been filmed in the background of a few more scenes. Some missed potential there.

On the other side of things, the acting was excellent. I found all the deliveries to be very sincere and real, and even though there were a few wedged-in cliches and Words of Wisdom speeches, the actors pulled them off. As I read once somewhere else: cliches become cliches because they’re so useful that they keep getting used. So that I can forgive…anyway, to a certain extent it ought to be expected. He’s building on an ancient tradition, not making it up as he goes along: proverbs are an important part of the philosophy.

I love the setting. I thought they did an excellent job of…well, I have no idea how well they represented modern China, but I at least didn’t feel like I was still in the States. And that in most public scenes they were actually speaking Chinese. And even the main character eventually made an effort toward learning the same–a far cry from the early scene on the plane.  And not every little thing was translated for the audience–I definitely appreciated that.

Speaking of which, I enjoyed the way later scenes echoed the set up of the movie: like the gesture Dre uses with his best friend as he leaves Detroit, and then uses with Mr. Han.

Umm…I’m a big fan of Jackie Chan, so of course I loved Mr. Han (although I think that was a scruffy an image as I’ve ever seen him in). I love that they gave Mr. Han a backstory–although almost not enough of them: his father taught him, but he still works as a mechanic? The fight scene between the gang of bullies and the adult Mr Han felt a little squicky and awkward, but Dre does claim he let them fight themselves rather than directly causing their injuries…I did see that, but it did feel a little violent.  Still the final scene [SPOILER] where the ‘dragon kids’ (can’t remember the name of their school) acknowledge Dre’s skill, and the bow to Mr. Han–beautiful!

I was so close to applauding during that entire scene–or crying!

The pacing in the movie was incredible. I never do not question anything it seems, but even when I tripped over details, the action of The Karate Kid carried me along, and the ratcheting of the tension level in the last half hour practically had me gripping my chair. (Which I didn’t, but only because I was fiercely crossing my arms and hugging myself instead.)

For a not-really-a-remake movie, I thought it was really sweet and actually powerful. And even though it probably tripped over the line into sentimentality, it never stayed there long.

*Geez, this post is still super long.*