Barely Scratching the Surface – Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
Having lost a day to explore Lassen Volcanic National Park due to Betsy’s coolant issue, we compressed our schedule a bit and accessed the park from its northwest Manzanita Lake gate entrance. It was 26 miles south of our campsite at Rancheria RV Park in Hat Creek.
Lassen Peak is the most southerly member of the Cascade Range, a series of currently dormant volcanoes extending as far north as British Columbia in Canada. It’s eruptions between 1914-1917 brought national attention to the area and helped provide support for the establishment of Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916. It also prompted the USGS to establish a year-round volcano observatory. Seismic monitoring continues today, with nine seismometers within the NPS park monitoring ongoing rumblings from below.
Near the entrance is a small stone building displaying the only known remaining smoked-drum seismograph from those early days. It’s a reminder of Lassen Peak’s role in seismic monitoring that continues to this day. The museum was already closed for the season, so we missed the exhibits about B.F. Loomis and his role in monitoring and recording the park’s volcanic activity.
We followed the scenic drive, stopping first at the Devastated Area Trail. We followed the 1/2 mile loop that circled through the aftermath of the May, 1915 eruption. There were many huge boulders resting on the hillsides, and we learned that these were hot lava rocks that careened down from Lassen Peak three miles away, setting off a snow avalanche as they rolled all the way here.
We continued along the scenic highway and stopped at the trailhead to Kings Creek Falls. We took the 3-mile loop that lead to a roaring waterfall dropping 50′ over a basalt cliff. Along the way, the trail gave us expansive vistas as we walked through woodland and meadows:
On our way back out we followed a steep and narrow stone stairway next to cascading white waters, a 1,000′ long stream that preceded the waterfall:
Our final stop was for a peek at the southern face of Lassen Peak. There was a strenuous 2.4-mile trail to the summit, but we’d had enough for one day.
Lassen is one of the most unusual natural wonders in California, yet it gets only about a half million visitors each year. That’s partly because access is restricted much of the year due to heavy snowfall the area receives. We know that first-hand, as this was our second attempt to explore the park which closed a week after our visit.
We covered only a fraction of this wondrous place. With so many more features to see and explore – crystalline lakes, Bumpass Hell, the boiling cauldron at Devils Kitchen and the four types of volcanos that can all be seen here, perhaps a return visit someday?