A Near Disaster for Betsy, a Waterfall and Lava Tube – Hat Creek, CA

We were excited to move on to our next stop at Hat Creek, CA as a home base to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park.  This was our second attempt, since heavy snow had turned us away the first time in 2016.  As we were humming south on I-5, we forgot that we were crossing into California and had to go through an agricultural checkpoint.  But our lemons and other fruits passed muster and we were waved through – for sure it was nothing like the stress of crossing a U.S. border!

Welcome to California, where you must show the fruits and vegetables you’re taking into the state

Along the way we admired the volcanic beauty of Mt. Shasta, and got a brief look at Mt. Lassen:

Mount Shasta as seen from I-5
A peek at snow-covered Lassen Peak

About 50 miles short of Rancheria RV Park on highway 89, alarms started sounding on the dashboard and the “Stop Engine” light illuminated.  Steve diligently monitors engine conditions while driving, but this alert showed the engine had overheated rapidly, indicating something had gone seriously wrong.

After quickly shutting down the engine we walked back to discover that the lower radiator hose had come off, emptying all of the engine coolant in seconds.  Fortunately, the clamp was still on the hose.  Although the strength of the clamp was in question (part of our annual maintenance includes checking all hose clamps) Steve was able to re-attach it.  We had no choice but to fill the system with 10 gallons of tap water without coolant – me fetching the water and him pouring it in – thankfully we had just enough in our fresh-water tank!

This was all of the coolant that remained after blasting out of the radiator to cover Betsy’s butt and the car

We were very happy that we had enough water and the needed tools onboard to get us back on the road 🙂

My mechanic got right to work…
Many cars and 18-wheelers roared by, inspiring us to complete the job as quickly as possible

Onward we went to our campground after a one-hour delay.  I followed in the car so I could give Steve a heads-up if I saw any signs of water leaking or pouring out.

I also kept glancing at Mount Shasta behind as we drove on

At the campground, Steve spent the afternoon and the next morning purchasing a new clamp and the coolant we needed so he could drain and refill the system again.

We considered this a near-disaster because we were concerned that the turbocharger or engine could have been damaged by the overheating, but everything seemed to survive OK.  Being over 40 miles from the nearest town on a Sunday and in an area with no cell signal didn’t help, but that’s a given, right?  And thinking about Betsy having to be towed was really scary, as we know that large motorhomes can incur a lot of damage from tow operators who don’t know what they’re doing.

Steve checked the coolant PH with a test strip and found that we were good to go. Whew! Now with that episode behind us, we focused on exploring the area and have some fun!

Burney Falls

We didn’t know about this place until we read the RV park’s brochure.  The centerpiece of McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, it’s one of the most spectacular waterfalls in California.  It can be viewed from near the parking lot, but we also followed the Falls Loop Trail to the foot of the falls, then over a stream and behind the falls before descending to the valley floor:

Snow melt from Burney Mountain 15 miles upstream feeds the falls.  The main falls are two large streams cascading from the top with sheets of water streaming over the cliff face,.  They are fed from underground springs and create a curtain of water.  It was still gushing this time of the year, and we imagined what it would be like in springtime with the snow just starting to melt.

My photo doesn’t do it justice, listening to the thundering water and feeling the mist make you feel the magnificence

The trail led us along Burney Creek, through Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and a variety of oak and basalt talus slopes:

Basalt talus slope along the trail
Viewed from across the creek
The creek reflects the hues of autumn leaves

Subway Cave

About three miles from the campground was another unexpected pleasure to explore.  It’s an easy third of a mile walk through the underground world of a lava tube where we viewed the effects of volcanism.  If you don’t like caves or darkness this isn’t for you.  But we enjoyed it, and it was FREE!

With flashlights in hand, we entered the tube

In terms of geology, this tube was created less than 20,000 years ago during volcanic eruptions near present-day Hat Creek.  The lava on top, exposed to the air, cooled and formed a hard cap, while molten lava continued to flow beneath.  Eventually, the molten lava drained away leaving a hollow cave, and this is what we explored in the dark:

Although no lighting was provided, we were able to read interpretive signs with our flashlights

It was a chilly 46º degree in the cave, and we enjoyed our haunting exploration
Exiting the cave

The above natural attractions were unexpected bonuses to our main reason to stop here, which was to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park.  And that’s what’s up next…




    • I went to college in Northern California, many times visiting Larsen Park, but never had heard of Burney Falls and the cave. Defineately added to my list! Thanks for the introduction. Jana

  1. It’s so nice to have a knowledgeable and handyman on board. Glad you were able to get to the campsite safely. Lava Tubes are really cool and that one looks like a fun one. Beautiful waterfalls.

  2. I’m glad Steve was able to fix Betsy. Burney Falls is beautiful. I want to go there again. I would be too scared to go in the lava tube. You are brave. I’m glad you back in California. Have fun!

  3. So glad Steve was able to fix the coolant problem and that no one hit Betsy while you were stopped! Three cheers for your onboard mechanic!!!

  4. Yow-yow-yow, that was scary even though I knew everything ended up OK! Having such a handy hubby sure is nice. I’m not sure which is scarier, having the hose come off or having to lay under the rig next to zooming traffic.

    Nice surprise outings to be rewarded with! Love it when that happens ☺️

  5. Scary stop! We had a coolant leak our first year on the road, so I know that scare. So glad you were able to fix it quickly! Very interesting cave.


  6. We love Burney Falls and have stopped there a couple of times, mostly as a rest area and to see the falls on our way from Portland, Oregon, to Reno, NV. We have not hiked the loop trail yet. Next time. And we like lava caves…have been in many of them throughout the northwest and in Hawaii, there are some as well.

    We are glad your roadside breakdown turned out the way it did! It’s awful breaking down beside a highway!

  7. So glad both of you and Betsy are fine. That is scary breaking down on the side of the road. I am impressed with the interesting things you find to do in the areas that you travel. We just came through the same area and did not even know about the “subway”.
    Safe travels…

  8. Your adventure with Betsy sounds awful! It’s terrifying to have to pull over on the interstate for any reason, much more so when you actually have to do some kind of repair. I’m so glad you guys were able to safely get back on the road.

    As far as the agricultural inspection station, that has always been the biggest pain in the butt for us living in Oregon and traveling through California. We’ve had citrus, corn, and other veggies and fruits taken away over the years. One time I refused to give up the organic cherries I had just bought, and so we pulled over and ate two pounds at the agricultural station. That was kind of a mistake, LOL.

    By the way, I am NEVER going in that lava tube so I’m glad you did it for me. Love the waterfall, though.

    • I can imagine you a mouthful of cherries, and munching them in half an hour!
      He was calmed I was not 🙂
      I know the cave was kind of spooky but it was an adventure in the dark.

  9. So good that we have such calm and knowledgeable drivers with us…..scary situation on the side of the road! Good job Steve! I’m glad you investigated the cave for the rest of us. We scrambled around, in the dark, in an ice cave and I decided that I didn’t need to see another one – ever! Beautiful waterfall.

  10. So glad you avoided a major issue with Betsy!! The waterfalls are stunning. Some great ideas for when we finally get to that area.

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