Friday, September 21, 2012

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic (LaVo) is the second national park I ever visited here in the US, Yosemite being the first.  After postponing the trip to Las Vegas for Labour day weekend, my incessant desire for hiking and camping made me think about a place which is close enough for a road trip, have campground vacancies, have things to do for 3 days and still be awesome.  LaVo was the first thing that came to my mind, I went ahead and booked Manzanita lake campground for two nights.

We started driving very early on Saturday morning and drove along this route to reach LaVo by noon, with a stop over at Red Bluff for packing the lunch.  The drive along I505 and I5 was terribly boring for there's no great landscape, no curves, no traffic - I had to stay wide awake, leave the car on cruise mode and lock the steering straight for about two hours!  The entry fee to the park is $10 per vehicle and $16 per night for campground.   We stopped at the visitor center at the entrance and watched a 20min documentary about LaVo park at Loomis museum.  We then were greeted by two beautiful lakes on either side of the road, Manzanita lake and Reflection Lake.  We went straight to our camping ground which was right besides Manzanita lake and pitched the tent, after which we had the packed lunch of burrito and sandwich.

Post lunch, we went to Butte Lake since my wife wanted to hike Cinder Cone, as I had already seen a cinder cone volcano before (Vulcan de Paricutin, Michoacan).  I baby sat my son at Butte lake while she hiked the Cinder cone.  Getting to Butte lake from park center requires almost a 40 minute drive on CA89 and Old Station Road and a 6 miles drive on dust track.  Butte lake definitely was very beautiful and calm, set among the volcanic ash on one side and coniferous forest on other.  My son and I had great time in the lake swimming in the freezing water, munching snacks on the bank relishing the scenery around.  We spent about 3 hours, my wife took a dip in the lake to wash off her fatigue of the hike once she came back.  We then head back to our campground after collecting firewood nearby.  The park officials recommend to collect firewood instead of buying it in campers store for good reasons - it reduces the chances of fire, it keeps the park cleaner and you get to save quite a lot of money for the firewood at camper's store is very pricey.  The charcoal was burnt, the rum was gulped and the food was barbecued and devoured.  Quesadillas, carne asada, costillas, pollo rostizados, arracheras, assorted veg barbecue were dished out one after the other.   

The next morning, I was up by 6:15 and drove to Lassen Peak trailhead which was a good half hour drive.  The trailhead's got a huge parking and restrooms but not water fountains.  Lassen peak is the highest peak in the park and is a plug-dome type of volcano.  The trail is about 2.5 miles one way, it starts off with easy stretch with few coniferous trees and gradually gets tougher the higher you go. The flora and fauna is impeccably vivid and the view of the landscape keeps changing with every turn on the trail.  I found Clark's nutcracker, golden mantled ground squirrels, dark eyed junco and grey jays along the trail.   It took about 2 hours for me to reach the summit after having stopped many times for clicking.  The view from the top is truly breathtaking - the gigantic crater of Lassen peak filled with snow, snow-clad Shasta peak on one side and an ocean of infinite mountains with hazy tops and numerous extinct volcanoes. It was a bit tough and dangerous scrambling through the rocks to reach the final rocky stretch of the summit.  I finished a delicious tuna sandwich prepared by my wife and had lots of fruits, stayed on top for about half hour, before I started my descent.  

After the descent, I came back to campground to find my wife and son, we drove slowly on the park main road and stopped at Devastated area interpretive trail which was more like an exhibit with placards displaying some rocks that were tossed off Lassen peak when it erupted in 1915.   We stopped over and lazed on the banks of Summit Lake which is a serene lake along the park main road with camping ground besides it.  We then hiked Bumpass Hell trail and I could see my son's gonna be a hiker and outdoor lover like me when he grows up.  Since it was not a stroller friendly trail, he hiked almost half way on the rocky trail and he just loved it and didn't want to be carried at all.  Bumpass Hell trail is about 1.5 miles and an easy one, the last stretch is a bit steep but not too tough.  

Bumpass Hell is the most active geothermal area of the park with fumaroles, boiling pools mudpots and steaming ground.   When you reach almost the end of Bumpass trail, your nose will be hit with a strong rotten egg smell of sulfurous gases oozing out from the earth and your eyes would notice vivid colours of red and brown and yellow and orange and grey shades of the earth and boiling pools.  They've made a wooden pavement in the active area of Bumpass Hell which would lead us closer to boiling pools and mudpots.  A bit more technical information about Bumpass Hell could be found here.  It doesn't make sense to go to LaVo without stopping by at Bumpass Hell.  We then returned to the tents and finished off the rest of the food in ice-box by barbecuing it.

We woke up late and had corn and juice for breakfast, packed and started the drive again on park main road.  We stopped at King's creek trail head and started hiking towards King's creek water fall.  The trail is a beautiful one that passes along the creek's edge and turns into coniferous forests.   Since the regular trail was blocked, we had to take the longer tougher one and it wasn't stroller friendly trail.  I decided to baby sit my son after seeing the terrain and asked my wife to continue to the fall.  I fed my son with fruits and yogurt and walked him back to the trail head, during which he fell asleep on my shoulder.  My wife told me the fall wasn't any great.  Our next stop over was at Lake Helen for a few clicks, followed by Sulphur Works.

Sulphur Works is a down scaled version of Bumpass Hell but along the park road, so no need to hike.  It's much smaller and there were no fumeroles.  There was vivid coloured earth and boiling mud pot and that's about it.  After few clicks, we stopped at Kohm Yah-mah-nee visitor center for filling water, using restroom and buying coffee (which they ran out).  We then head out of the park and followed the route back to home.

LaVo is definitely a great place to visit.  It receives a lot less crowd and attention when compared to Yosemite, but nevertheless it's a nature lover's paradise.  LaVo has some terrific views of milky-way on a dark night (we were unfortunate on that front), very diverse fauna and flora, a live laboratory for geologists and beautiful landscapes.  I would highly recommend this place for a long weekend.

The magnificent Lassen Peak at Sunrise
A group of friends take a dip in freezing Butte Lake
A Steller's Jay on the banks of Manzanita Lake, a heaven for ornithologists
Tall pine trees along Lily Pond

Sunset at Manzanita Lake
Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels kiss each other
Trail to the moon!  Volcanic screes on Lassen Peak
An angler returns to the shore of Manzanita Lake after hours of angling
A calmer mudpot in Bumpass Hell
Lassen Peak from Hat Creek meadow

View of the valley

Snow capped Shasta Peak with Lassen Peak Crater in the foreground

Lassen Landscape

Dark Eyed Junco on Lassen Peak Trail
Lupine's on Bumpass Hell trail
Lassen Peak summit
Vivid earth at Bumpass Hell
Another view of valley
Boiling Mudpot at Sulphur Works

View from Lassen Peak
Clark's Nutcracker on Lassen Peak Trail
Lassen Peak overlooking Helen Lake
Sulfurous smoke at Bumpass Hell 
An angler throws his hook at Manzanita lake during dusk
Golden mantled ground squirrel on Lassen Peak Trail
Lassen volcano crater
Lassen park main road
A placard explaining the types of volcanoes that could be found in LaVo
Fleecy clouds over Summit Lake
Bumpass Hell
A blue lagoon at Bumpass Hell
Colorful flora on Lassen Peak

Mudpot at Bumpass Hell

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