“An open, exposed trail leading to two caves with pictographs left by Native Americans.”
— QuinTCM TCM
You must first obtain a White-nose Syndrome Screening Pass from the rangers at the visitor center before entering any caves.
Individual caves are often closed during some portions of the year to allow bats a place to nest and care for their young.
Features: Cave — Wildflowers
Dogs: No Dogs
Take the Skull Cave Road to the first parking area on the north side of the road. The trailhead is easily located at this parking lot and is marked by a large sign. Follow the exposed trail northwest as it winds over and next to the Modoc Crater Lava Tube System. The collapsed portions of this system are easily visible from the trail and the black lava rock that fills them stand out against a backdrop of sage bushes, juniper trees, and wildflowers.
About 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead, a short trail heading southwest leads to Big Painted Cave. More like a large opening than a cave, it is possible to discern pictographs on the surfaces of many of the smoother rocks. A small, dark opening in the back of the cave leads down to a short shoot with an ice floor at its terminus.
Continuing along the main trail, and very shortly after Big Painted Cave, the trail reaches Symbol Bridge. The pictographs at Symbol Bridge are more definite and dramatic than the ones at Big Painted Cave and offer a great opportunity for reflection.
From here, you can either continue underneath Symbol Bridge by scrambling over rocks along a route that appears moderately traveled or turn back the way you came. If continuing beneath Symbol Bridge, after making your way underneath, it is possible to exit the collapsed lava tube by crawling up the wall on the south side and then following a lightly used trail back to the entrance of Symbol Bridge. From here, take the main trail back to the parking area.
The book "Lava Beds Caves" by Charlie & Jo Larson is an excellent resource and guide for exploring the caves of Lava Beds NM. It is available for purchase at the Visitor Center.