|Daylight flooding into Skull Cave|
|Mossy rocks at Mushpot entrance|
Don't expect other caves to be illuminated. Bring good flashlights. Skull Cave (2.4 miles from the visitor center) has a relatively large entrance. Daylight “lasts” for a while along the downhill path past its opening mouth (see top picture), but you need artificial lighting towards the tube's end to explore the ice floor. The cave is named for bones found inside: two human skeletons, bighorn sheep skulls and bones of antelope and mountain goats.
|Staircase into Merrill Cave|
In 2000, Merrill Cave's massive, thick “ice rink” began to rapidly melt. The more ice melts, the warmer the cave becomes. Consistently cold winters, along with rain and melted snow dripping from above, are necessary to sustain ice throughout the year. Though natural shifts in conditions play a role, you can now see the effects of global climate change in ice caves at Lava Beds. Average annual surface temperatures have risen about two degrees over the last six decades, while average precipitation levels have fluctuated greatly. These factors have contributed to a dramatic loss of ice in the majority of monitored caves. If trends continue, could the ice caves at Lava Beds someday lose all their ice?
Global climate change can be monitored right here at Lave Beds. Or is it only a limited microclimate change in a remote area of northeast California?
References and more to explore
 National Park Service: Lava Beds Caves [www.nps.gov/labe/planyourvisit/upload./LAVA%20BEDS%20CAVES.pdf].
 The Path Less Beaten: Lava Beds National Monument [thepathlessbeaten.com/2012/08/09/lava-beds-national-monument].
 Edward Brook, Lacey Little and Shane Fryer: A Preliminary Investigation of Cave Ice at Lava Beds National Monument, norther California [depts.washington.edu/pnwcesu/reports/J8W07100050_Final_Report.pdf].