“When a mighty mountain speaks, even in a whisper, the world sits up and listens.” – Michael E. Dittmar, journalist.
We drove across northern California headed to Lassen Volcanic National Park harboring some concern with existing fires in the general area and knowing that our route might change on a moments notice. Everything appeared exceptionally dry in California; the trees, plants, grass all looked ready to go up with just a spark.
We arrived at Manzanita Campground, located about a mile beyond the northwest park entrance, and had the pick of campsites. Taking our time we drove through all the loops to find the best site. Ultimately we decided on a campsite that backed up to the tent only loop where generators are not allowed. We have started to become choosy about campsites after learning that some people will sit in their campers and run generators all day long with no concern for others enjoyment of the outdoors. At times, we have to leave our campsite to get a little peace and quiet! Not cool.
From our base in the northwest corner of the park we set out to travel the 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway that connects the north and south park entrances. It’s an excellent way to take in the many varied features, overlooks and differing landscapes of Lassen Volcanic. The drive to the center from the north takes you through a fairly level rocky area with a couple of lakes thrown in to highlight the trek. However, as you near the center of the park the road follows the landscape rising, falling, and meandering as only nature can dictate. Eventually it passes the Kings Creek area and then on up to the Lassen Peak trailhead found at the roads highest point at 8,512 feet.
Lassen Peak is 10,457 feet tall making it the largest plug dome volcano in the world and easily the centerpiece of Lassen Volcanic Park. On May 30, 1914, Lassen Peak awoke from a 27,000-year-long slumber, blasting steam out of a newly formed vent. One year later on May 19 and 22, 1915, two more outbursts swept clean forests, pastures, and homesteads in the valleys below Lassen Peak’s northeast flank. No surprise then that on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic was established as a National Park. Eruptions stopped in 1921, but Lassen Volcano is not extinct which we found only adds to its allure and mystique.
Continuing on we passed Lake Helen and Emerald Lake where we stopped to see if we could capture the reflection of Lassen Peak in their waters.
Next stop was Sulfur Works where we could see steam rising up around the road. As we parked and walked over for a look, the smell of rotten eggs assaulted our noses and then the bubbling of waters caused our sunglasses to steam up. Giving us a laugh and causing a coughing fit, a sign posted the curious recipe for Mudpots: heat (from deep within the Earth); hydrogen sulfide gas; water; thick layer of volcanic rock; heat-loving microorganisms (thermophiles); and minerals.
Getting back in the car we then drove another beautiful stretch of road cut into the mountainside where turns open up into yet more gorgeous views of the park. We then arrived at the Kohm visitor center to enjoy the park film and to plan a couple of hikes with the help of the park rangers.
We asked about the Lassen Peak hike and found, unfortunately, that we could only admire the peak from a distance as the Lassen Peak Trail was closed approximately 1.3 miles from the parking area for trail restoration. Bummer! We soon decided to hike Kings Creek Falls and Bumpass Hell.
Bumpass Hell is a three-mile moderate hike over rocky terrain to a hydrothermal basin area reminiscent of our visit to Yellowstone. Again assaulted with the smell of rotten eggs, we made our way down to take a closer look at the many mudpots and fumaroles.
The hydrothermal areas are well marked and a boardwalk is erected over particularly fragile or dangerous grounds. The very real possibility of falling through an area that looks solid but is actually a thin crust hiding pools of acidic boiling water is well illustrated by the name Bumpass Hell, derived from a guide named Kendall Vanhook Bumpass who fell through and burned himself while showing this area off to a reporter in 1865. It’s a terrific hike and at three miles it’s a win for all who visit.
We found the Kings Creek picnic area to eat lunch. Afterwards we embarked on the three-mile hike up to Kings Creek Falls that takes you through Kings Creek meadows and forest before dropping steadily down to the cascades and falls. The falls were beautiful and we scrambled to the bottom to get a better view and to feel the cool spray on our flushed faces.
On our return to Manzanita Campground, we stopped at the scenic pullout to imagine the power of the 1915 hot lava rock slide racing nearly 100 miles an hour down Chaos Crags to create Chaos Jumbles. Indescribable power!
The day we broke camp the sun was rising to cast its splendor across the near cloudless sky. Without a doubt we knew we had to stop to take a look at the effect of the sunrise on Reflection Lake.
The problem was that one of us needed to drive the trailer to park it at the entrance station located a quarter mile up the road and we were pressed for time upon leaving. The more adventurous of us (hee hee) jumped out of the truck and ran back with camera in hand and a plan to rendezvous back at the entrance.
While walking back, a car pulled over to offer up a bear sighting just around the upcoming corner and a word of warning. All the way back to the trailer (the longest ever!) said more adventurous (but perhaps not as bright) person clapped and whistled loudly, on high alert, until reaching the safety of the truck.
Up Next: Lake Tahoe