Lassen Volcanic National Park

Mount LassenFollowing an uneventful exodus from Oakland, we made several unpleasant discoveries. Joe had forgotten his camera. Lisa had forgotten her binoculars. And we collectively had forgotten not only the Frisbee, but the cribbage board! With stiff upper lips, resolving never again to leave packing until 9 AM the morning of, we headed toward our now uncertain future. Would it be a true vacation for our heroes?

Lassen Peak and its smaller (to use the term loosely) companions are the remains of a giant extinct volcano called Tehama. Lassen itself last erupted in 1914. It's part of the acclaimed Ring of Fire and also marks the junction of the Cascade Range and the Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Shoe TreeOnce we were within fifty miles of the park, the landscape drastically changed. We had been driving on flat terrain, farmland on either side of the road, mountains in the distance. Now the air was hot and arid, a real desert. We drove into rolling hills covered only by dry grass and boulders. There were so many rocks, scattered so consistently, it looked as if a giant had dumped his rock collection over several hundred square miles. It was obviously volcano territory. Then, around a bend in the road, we passed the strangest bit of landscape we'd seen yet. Pulling over, we saw that it was a tree covered in shoes, hundreds of them.

We continued on into the mountains, passing altitude signs — 1000 feet, 2000 feet, until we finally reached 8500 feet, putting us well over a mile higher than we'd begun the day. On the winding road through the park were a couple small lakes. One of them, the aptly named Emerald Lake, was a beautiful deep green. As we drove, we admired the view and studied the park map to decide where to go. When we saw that we were approaching a place called Bumpass Hell, we knew what we had to do.

Entering Bumpass HellBumpass Hell was discovered by a gentleman by the name of Bumpass back in the 1800s. He stepped on a soft spot in the ground, letting loose some white-hot steam and, simultaneously, losing his leg. Hence the Hell part. Bumpass Hell is a place of fumaroles and mudpots, steam and sulfur. As we neared the end of the 1.5 mile trail to get there, we heard steam surging out of the ground and smelled the oppressively pungent sulfur. We certainly couldn't eat anywhere near there and nearly lost our lunches from how long we stayed. It reminded us of the Bog of Eternal Stench from the movie Labyrinth.

The water in the pools is about 250 degrees worth of hot. Signs everywhere warn visitors not to stray from the path — "Don't make Bumpass Hell your hell!" A boardwalk allows people to walk safely over the very soft ground. Steam gushes everywhere, sometimes from pools of bubbling mud (mudpots) and sometimes right from the ground (fumaroles). Streams of cloudy water flowed amid the rocks, leaving yellow-orange sulfide deposits. In some crevices you can spot yellow sulfur crystals, and in other places the rocks have a green sheen. The place was strange and unfriendly, but beautiful.

The grouse we sawThe northwest is filled with wildlife. On our hike back from Bumpass Hell we nearly tripped on a blue grouse who was standing in the path as we approached. She scuttled away just as we got there, but didn't seem particularly frightened and didn't go far, so we took a picture of her. We were also fortunate to have a ground squirrel pose for a picture.

Summit LakeWe camped that night at Summit Lake. (To our slight disappointment, Summit Lake is only at 7000 feet elevation; Lassen Peak reaches about 10,000.) Up there, the air constantly hummed with insect song, and we nearly got buzzed by a few dragon flies. We visited the lake at the golden hour and then hiked around it after the moon had risen. The moon was incredibly bright, and we hardly needed our flashlight. Upon returning to our tent, we needed something sweet. Lisa had brought some Pims chocolate-raspberry tea cookies/biscuits, and they were so good! Having sated our need for cookies, we were able to sleep in peace.

Leaving Lassen the next day, we were treated to many more nice views of the landscape. We even saw a whole family of deer in the gift shop's parking lot. We had never heard of the park before planning our trip, but it is very beautiful, we enjoyed it, and we recommend it.

More photos (click to enlarge):
pool closeup of water the mudpots Squirrely Joe by the shore Mount Lassen Deers

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