Monday, October 2, 2017

Tabernacle Hill Lava Tubes near Meadow, Utah

After visiting Meadow Hot Springs, it was time to check out the lava tubes near Tabernacle Hill. This is another location featured in the Millard County travel guide that I hadn't had a chance to visit. 

The day was getting late, but I knew that it wouldn't matter if we could find the entrance of the lava tubes, as we had helmets and headlamps for visiting underground. We didn't have very good directions to the lava tubes, and the roads aren't marked well, but fortunately we made it. And it was apparent we were going to have them all to ourselves (see photo above).

So, directions: From Meadow, Utah, interstate exit, head south on main street to center street and turn west. There's a sign for White Mountain. Continue on this road about 6 miles. It changes names to  W4000 S, S 4600 W, W 3900 S, S 6400 W. The important thing is to turn left at W 2300 S (this is not marked, and where it would be easy to go the wrong way; the turn is just before a big pivot (circular-irrigated field)). Go 1.8 miles, then turn left at the Lava tube sign, and go 2 miles on a bumpy road. Passenger cars could probably make it, but would have to go very slow. The lava tubes are at the end of the road, near an obvious turn around in front of Tabernacle Hill, a low hill (see photo above).

There is lava all over, but from the parking area, you can see some big entrances. We decided it was a nice enough night that we wouldn't set up the tent but would instead sleep in the back of the truck. That meant minimal set up time and let us get right into caving. We put on helmets, headlamps, and kneepads and set off towards the huge entrance to the west.

We found nice, easy walking passage, with lots of skylights.

Did I mention lots of skylights?

We kept going to see what else we would find. The kids liked being the leaders.

I was surprised by the size of the passages. These lava tubes at Tabernacle Hill are part of the Black Rock Desert (not to be confused with the one in Nevada). Here's an overview from the USGS Volcano Hazards Program.

We exited the lava tube and the kids wanted to head back, so we found a way to scamper up the lava to the top. But it was obvious that the lava flow continued, sans roof, towards the middle of the cinder cone.
Next we tried to get a campfire going, but had forgotten anything to start a fire with. Oops. So instead we looked up at the stars and I gave them a mini-constellation tour.

After they fell asleep, I went out with the good camera to get some night sky photos with the lava tubes.

It was tricky getting the lighting how I wanted (and I never did), but it was good practice and beautiful.

The next morning I woke up when it started drizzling. Gone were the almost clear skies. The kids didn't want to get up, so I climbed up Tabernacle Hill on my own. Looking to the north is an area of really, really black lava. This lava flow is the youngest in the state of Utah, only 600-720 years old. There were people nearby when it occurred! Wowzers. It's called Ice Springs lava flow or The Cinders. Far off in the distance is Pahvant Butte.

The view to the east was amazing. So much lava! I'd love to go back and explore more.

At the top of the ridge, I could look at the remnants of the cinder cone. This central crater used to hold a lava lake, according to the USGS website. I could see the entrances to more lava tubes and was eager to explore.

I walked back to the truck, woke up the kids, and we geared up. Here's another great entrance.

And the view the other way was where we had been the previous night.

We saw some cool spiders. At night, I also saw bats and a mouse (Peromyscus sp.). And there were also bird nests and woodrat sign. These lava tubes are home to a lot of creatures.

A cool orbweaver.

Unfortunately we found a lot of fire rings. Fires in the lava tubes are rather rude, as it's like having a fire in someone's home. The heat, air pollution, and general uncleanliness (we found a lot of garbage near the fire rings) are not a good way to treat the animals who live here. Plus, this whole area has been designated as an Area of Critical Environemental Concern (ACEC) by the BLM, so it should get some extra protection.

Please help keep these lava tubes a great place to visit plus a nice home for the native critters.

Something else that impressed me is that the skylights had such interesting life--all sorts of lichens and mosses that weren't at the surface. The protection of being in the lava tube, even though without a roof, allowed for so much more to grow.

Many species of lichens:

And cool mosses:

Back underground we found some interesting colors. Lava tubes aren't all black.
We explored until we had to leave to get to our next event. The kids were ready to go, but I could have spent a lot longer underground.

You can learn more about the amazing volcanic features in this area on the Utah Geological Survey Geosights website.

Here's an approximate route that we took through the lava tubes. We parked at the circle, then followed along the yellow line (not all in order, but you get the picture).

This is a fascinating place to visit, and I hope to return. I've been trying to find maps of the lava tubes but haven't been successful. If you know of any, please let me know. And if you visit, please treat these unique places with respect.
Moon rising over Tabernacle Hill lava tubes


Unknown said...

Not sure how I found your blog but I love following your family's adventures. I am a native Nevadan who was lucky enough as a young child to have gotten into Boy Scouts with a scout master who worked for the Nevada Bureau of Mines and he had two twin sons my age. He took us all over Nevada to the most remote and unusual places (one of the reasons I love your site). As I grew older I continued my love of the outdoors by regularly exploring this great state of ours. There are so many hidden wilderness gems in Nevada. Finally, I must say, you are the best mom a child could ever hope to have.

Desert Survivor said...

David, thanks for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoy the blog and it brings back some good memories.

Upriverdavid said...

Hey Gretchen..I scrolled down to where I had read with pictures before..I then went back up and the photos I had trouble with were right there.
Modern Tech. what do I know, I'm an old..(er) guy...
Keep on with your blog.It's fun!

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