Medicine Lake is a pretty little lake.When we walked along its shores at sunset the day before, it was calm and quiet with a few fly fishermen, mothers reading to their children and couples strolling. The afternoon’s last light lit up the other side, also fringed with trees and small meadows. The water level here is low, too – as most lakes are in California in this drought – but not miserably low like some.
In the morning, we take out the kayak. There are a few motor boats out already but not enough to be obnoxious. Most of the visitors here seem to just want to take it easy. It’s a nice hour or so of kayaking – just enough to create blisters at the base of my thumbs – and there’s a dip in the lake afterwards to substitute for the missing showers.
“Do you want to stay another night?” I ask Big Dog.
“No, we better move on to Lava Beds. It’s still the 3rd.”
We are already into the Independence Day Weekend, but alright.
You have to go down another dirt road to Lava Beds, but thankfully, only for 16 miles.
The landscape is completely different. Whereas Medicine Lake was wooded and cool, it is now open and HOT. We find an unoccupided campsites that’s pretty level and has a pad where we can set up our screen house and then head off to see the sights of Lava Bed. Which are not really lava beds at all but are the caves created by lava tubes. We know all about them from our visit to Volcano National Park in Hawaii years ago.
Big Dog read up on Lava Beds before we left so we are prepared with gloves, knee pads and flashlights. We don’t have hardhats but we don’t expect to take on the more challenging caves. The park guide rates them from easy to moderate to difficult and we decide to do the easy and moderate ones.
The visitor center also has flashlights, gloves, and even hardhats. And an unusual number of Asians. In my experience, Asians are usually the smallest minority at National Parks.
Part of the demographics mystery is solved when the ranger gives us leaflets on the Tule Lake Internment Camps. Ahhh, so that was the draw.
As you might well know, during World War II, Japanese Americans in the United States were incarcerated in camps in the interior of the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration with Executive Order 9066, and all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire West Coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona.
As the war continued, in both Europe and the Pacific, the War Department hoped to recruit “loyal” Niseis into military service and circulated a questionnaire designed to assess the “Americanness” of the respondent. The final two questions on the form asked whether one would 1) be willing to serve in the armed forces and 2) forswear their allegiance to the Emperor of Japan.
Most camp inmates simply answered “yes” to both questions, but others gave negative or qualified replies. Many worried that expressing a willingness to serve would be equated with volunteering for combat, while others felt insulted at being asked to risk their lives for a country that had imprisoned them and their families. Some believed that renouncing their loyalty to Japan would suggest that they had at some point been loyal to Japan and disloyal to the United States. Can you imagine what it must have been like for people who had been upstanding citizens to suddenly have their lives so scrambled, property taken away and imprisoned?
The Tule Lake camp was specifically for those who did not take the loyalty oath. Wouldn’t that really make these Japanese-Americans more “American”? They were the ones who understood what an injustice this was and were not going to bow down. The more Japanese Japanese-Americans were used to following authority, no matter what, right or wrong, but these citizens felt that it was so wrong for the United States to imprison them for their race that they did not swear to be “loyal” unconditionally. I doubt any of them wanted to defect to Japan, though after decades of living as Americans and suddenly forced to sell or abandon your property because of your racial heritage, some might have thought, well, maybe I AM Japanese, no matter what my citizenship says.
Sorry for the rant. I am digressing, because Lava Beds is really all about caves. There are a couple dozen caves here that we can explore. Some are easy and for the casual visitor, others are a bit harder, and then there are those that are for the real enthusiasts. Talk about DARK! At one point in one of the caves, I make Big Dog turn off his flashlight just to see how dark it is. It’s darker than dark. As dark as dark can be. This is what it will look like when you are buried alive!
Caves mean bats and Lava Beds is also an important bat habitat. Before going into any of the caves, you have to answer a questionnaire to protect bats from white nose syndrome. But don’t worry. Even if you’ve been into caves in Europe or east of the Rockies in North America, you are not banned. You just can’t take any clothing or equipment from these caves into the western caves.
Back at the campground, our things are all awry. The wind blew our screenhouse away and kind campers next door had retrieved it for us and weighted it down with their spikes. Thank you, kind campers!