Lassen Volcanic National Park

November 15, 2020 at 10:15 am (California, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography)

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park

I left on a road trip to visit my son’s family in Seattle four days before my 65th birthday. California had had a week of smoky skies since the August 18 barrage of dry lightning, and the drive north from Paso Robles was through a dreary, smoke-drenched landscape.

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge amid smoky pall

First stop was at Colusa NWR, part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refge system, but no water in the ponds meant no birds, so I moved on to the mother refuge. There I found white pelicans and Clark’s grebes, some with aggressively peeping young telling mom and dad they should hurry with those fresh fish.

White pelicans and double-crested cormorants

However they were too far away for really decent photographs.

I love refuges that have auto drives for viewing wildlife. Sacramento is an amazing mecca for birds and birders in winter, but even in late summer it was a sweet drive.

Next stop: Lassen Volcanic National Park. I found a campsite in the North Summit Lake Campground – $12 a night with my senior pass. Unlike many parks, it had a very nice restroom. I blame a nasty campground shower at Grand Canyon 35 years ago for my toenail fungus. If we would fund our parks as if they were truly “America’s Best Idea” we would deserve them more.

Likely due to COVID-19 and the thick smoke, the park wasn’t crowded at all.

Helen Lake at sunset

As it had for many days (and would continue for two more months in California), the sun was tinted orange as it set and rose. So was the moon.

Moon at sunset

After I looked at the places I wanted to visit enroute, I realized this road trip had a volcanic theme. Other than Mt. St. Helens, Lassen was the most fascinating in this regard.

Smoky dawn, Day 2 of road trip

The place I most wanted to see was Bumpass Hell, a Yellowstone-like bowl of boiling water and steaming mud. It was to be the most challenging hike since my hip replacement surgery five months earlier.

Glacial errata at Bumpass trailhead

The 8,000 foot elevation added to the difficulty, but I took my time on the 3-mile roundtrip trail. I did not see the pikas that were supposed to be near the trailhead, or in the rock slope which generally harbors them. I’ve seen pikas at Mt. Rainier and Colorado’s Maroon Bells, but they eluded me here.

Dusky grouse

One advantage of getting on the trail early is that wildlife is more plentiful. This dusky grouse was unfazed by my presence. Though the elevation loss/gain was only 300 feet, it wasn’t easy. My hip was fine, but arthritis also owns my knees. The cardio, however, was a step in the right direction.

Bumpass Hell

The chilly temps allowed for dramatic steam. Lassen, like most of the Cascade volcanoes, is dormant. Meaning it can come to life again. The last major eruption was in 1915 but there is still geothermal activity.

The trail started to get “crowded” around 10 am. Most people seem to need to sleep in and eat a leisurely breakfast, but we photographers and folks who like solitude tend to be crack-of-dawn types. About 60 percent of hikers pulled up masks when passing, which indicates that too many of us are anti-science eejits.

At the south entrance visitor center I got a latte and lovely turkey sandwich, where COVID protocols were being followed. Then I motored to Manzanita Lake for gas, but they were out. (How rude!) I had to drive an extra 15 miles to Old Station to fill up. I wanted to get a nice image of Lassen Peak reflected in the lake but it was too darned smoky for that. So I stopped at the Devastation Trail. The story there was fascinating.

Giant boulder

There were several giant boulders attesting to the strength of an erupting volcano. They had been hurled during the May 19, 1915 eruption and carried three miles below the summit by the avalanche. (A side note: Mt. St. Helens erupted May 18, 1980, nearly 65 years to the day.)

This one is red dacite formed 27,000 years ago when Lassen Peak first erupted.

Black dacite is one of the various types of rocks on the trail, but is a much younger age at 105 years, having been formed during Lassen’s last eruption. It is thought the joining of hotter basalt and cooler dacite magmas within caused that eruption.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

An even larger and more devastating eruption occurred three days later. This trail, more than any in the park, helps explain what happened when this volcano blew.

Helen Lake from picnic area

Helen Lake
Lassen Peak and Helen Lake at sunset

On the morning of Day 3 it was time to move on. Only early risers like me get to see dawn light on Lassen Peak. Thankfully most of the park was above the worst of the smoke, but a truly devastating wildfire scene awaited as I drove north…

First light, Lassen Peak

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
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