Volcanoes are an intriguing natural phenomenon. Most of the remainder of our national parks road trip revolved around these amazing geologic creations, and the next stop was Lassen Volcanic National Park.
We were refreshed and clean as we departed the hot hazy parking lot of the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV on Monday morning. We ate a tasty breakfast in the casino cafe and then hit the road anxious to gain our first look at the sparsely populated northeastern corner of California. It was not long before we encountered a smokey haze that continually wafted across the landscape. The combination of the smoke cloud, the constant smell of burning wood, and the hot August air temperatures conveyed the feeling of being a resident of the underworld. I have never been in the underworld, but it matched the descriptions I read. As bad as the atmosphere seemed on our route to Lassen, we would learn that it was modest compared to areas that we would pass through later on our trip.
When we reached Susanville, CA we stopped at a Safeway to restock the cooler with ice and food. We were planning for four nights of camping meals in Lassen and Crater Lake, and Susanville appeared to be the last significant town that offered a supermarket. I also made an impulse buy of a 22 ounce bottle of Eagle Lake Ale that was brewed at the local brewery, Lassen Ale Works. From Susanville we angled westward on route 89 and passed through some small towns before we entered Lassen National Park from the south. Almost immediately we encountered a visitor center and made a quick visit. I spoke to a young park ranger at the counter and discovered that he was from Westminster, CO and a fly fisherman. He pronounced the fishing on the south side of the park a non-event due to the drought and low warm water, but he did mention that Hat Creek on the north side offered some decent angling. I was not planning to fish, but I am always interested in scouting out new water and talking about fly fishing.
We found a picnic table in the shade of some huge evergreens at a campground next to the visitor center parking lot, and we paused to make our lunches before continuing. Some raucous stellar’s jays eyed our food and fluttered about from tree to tree as we munched. We conjectured that they were accustomed to frequent handouts from the tourists and campers that pass through Lassen.
After lunch we continued on the main park road, and our first stop was the Sulphur Works. Here we learned that Mathias Supan started a sulfur mining operation in 1865. Initially he sold medicinal products from the sulfur mine, but as profits faded, he wisely converted to a tourist spot with mineral baths, a restaurant and gift shop. In 1952 the government acquired the Sulphur Works site from the Supan family. Today one can stop and inspect a large bubbling mud pot situated adjacent to the sidewalk. In fact a plywood board is nailed to the fence to protect tourists from splashes of hot matter, and a rope barrier prevents sightseers from moving too close.
We jumped back in the car and continued along the main park road for another three miles until we reached the trailhead for Bumpass’s Hell. We read about this in the Fodor’s national parks book, so we found a scarce parking spot, and prepared to complete the 3.2 mile round trip hike. It was now early afternoon, and the air temperature was pushing the thermometer toward ninety degrees. This along with the parched vegetation and the increased amount of smoke particulates created an eerie scene at the start of our hike.
We marched along on the well defined path and passed some pretty hillsides covered with light purple flowers. Based on the shape of the flower and the leaves, I speculated that the wildflowers were some form of lupine. After forty-five minutes of climbing and baking in the sun, we reached an overlook where we could see a large section of the landscape filled with many thermal features. The addition of mud pots, sulfur steam from fumaroles, boiling hot springs, and toxic ponds made the already bizarre landscape even more akin to an inferno.
We stopped to read the signs and learned that we were in the spot where Mt. Tehama towered 11,000 feet above sea level half a million years ago. The magma pool that fueled the volcano continues to reside below Bumpass’s Hell and the Sulphur Works, and this explains the thermal activity. Additional thermal outlets exist to the east in the form of Devils Kitchen, Boiling Springs Lake, and Terminal Geyser; but we did not elect to take time to make the drive. The magma pool below Mt. Tehama is the source for all the geothermal features cited.
When we returned to the car, we once again continued to the northeast for another eight miles until we reached Summit Lake South. We reserved a campsite in the Summit Lake South Campground, so we cruised the road until we found our loop and campsite. We set up our tent and then took a quick bike ride to check out the Summit Lake Trailhead as well as Summit Lake North Campground. As we pedaled back through our loop we spotted a mother grouse perched on a tree stump monitoring her two chicks as they fed along the side of the road.
After we reached the campsite and stashed our bicycles, we hiked along the eastern edge of Summit Lake to the north shore where Jane waded thirty yards into the clear cool and shallow water. She insisted that she totally enjoyed the experience and tried to coax me in as well, but I am note a fan of cold water.
Our day in Lassen Volcanic National Park was quite enjoyable, and we learned quite a bit about volcanoes and geothermal features. We had a great time, and we looked forward to new adventures on Tuesday.