Today is Ground Rodent Day – when we give a glorified squirrel a shot at predicting the weather. Seems that some lucky 🤔 people (but possibly not us) are in for many more weeks of winter. Or not – it is, after all, just some squirrel’s cousin that they yanked out of a hole in the ground. 🐿

Here it was – again – clear, sunny, and cold (26℉ / -3.3℃ at the trailhead), with nary a rain drop in sight. The LovedOne’s 18-year old car had finally reached the end of its road (so to speak), so after a three month wait, we managed to get her a new one. A roadtrip (albeit a small one) seemed in order. Having been apprised of its existence by an article in our local (real cellulose) paper, we motored over to Lava Beds National Monument to do a short loop hike to Hardin Butte (4,469 ft / 1,362 m).

We might have been the only visitors in the Monument today, but we still went to the visitor center to show our park pass and get a cave hang tag. You need one of these even if you aren’t (like we were) going into any caves.

Hardin Butte sits just east of the site of the Thomas & Wright Battle, one of the engagements during the almost genocidal Modoc War of 1872-73. The Park Service has constructed a trail to an interpretive plaque for this site on a ridge overlooking the butte. To the south is an old road – which shows on USGS and USFS maps but not on Park Service maps – that runs from the main park road out around Hardin. This old road is very faint where it intersects the park road but gets more and more evident as you progress toward the butte. From the small parking lot for Black Crater, we followed this old road out, summited the butte (huge views!), then did a little cross-country to the Thomas & Wright battle site, then followed its trail back to the trailhead.

A cold start on the old road

We think of wildfires as a forest issue but they’re not limited to that ecosystem. Between lockdowns and wildfires, we hadn’t been to Lava Beds in three years. In that time, two major wildfires (the 2021 Antelope and the 2020 Caldwell) have swept across the Monument, including all of where we were hiking today. And these were not the only wildfires that have afflicted this area in the last two decades. Small plants are already coming back, but larger shrubs will take some time, and it’s not clear when (or if) the large junipers that added some texture to the landscape will return. Certainly not in our lifetimes.

On the old road toward the butte
The butte comes into view
Schonchin Butte to the south
Mount Dome to the west
Closing in on the butte
On Hardin’s summit ridge
View to the west: (M) Mount Shasta, (S) Sharp Mountain, (G) Goosenest, (D) Mount Dome, (H) Hardin crater
Mount Shasta
View to the east
Last season’s new growth
Leaving Hardin
Hardin crater with Schonchin Butte beyond
Schonchin and contrails
The retaining wall (arrow) of the interpretive site is clearly visible from a distance
View from the interpretive site
Looking back at Hardin Butte
Contrails from fighter planes flying out of Kingsley Field
Going back of the established trail
A live tree and clouds
Contrails over the trail

This loop came to 4.2 miles (6.7 km) with a miserly 250 feet (76 m) of elevation gain. You can get massive views from atop Schonchin Butte but Hardin is a good, short, easy hike with pretty impressive views too! 😄 The old road and the interpretive site trail are easy to follow and the short bit of cross-country isn’t hard if you watch your step. Or you can just hike out-and-back on the old road. This is, however, a hike only for the cooler months. Come summer, a hike here would be like going around in a microwave. 😰

Our loop hike to Hardin Butte