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PHOTO GALLERY INDEX > Full of Surprises

Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA   07/23-25/08 (Day 649-651)
Full of Surprises

We’ve been lucky enough to have spent time in dozens of National Parks since embarking on our Trans-Americas Journey in April of 2006 so we can say with some degree of expertise that all of them are amazing in their own unique ways—Yellowstone’s geothermal marvels, Denali’s wildlife,Wrangell St. Elisas’summits. Then there are parks that offer a little bit of everything.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Bear
A golden-colored black bear in search of a snack along the
road into Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Take Lassen Volcanic National Park for example. It’s got geothermals, wildlife and summits plus volcanoes (all four types) rolled into one diverse package and over three days of utterly perfect temperatures, we manage to see and do most of it from our base in the Summit Lake North campground.

Cinder Cone Lassen Volcanic National Park
Do not be fooled by the gently ambling lower section of trail that leads
to the base of one long, steep, slippy slog up Cinder Cone.

As a warm up before tackling 10,457 foot Lassen Peak, we decide to climb Cinder Cone. During the drive to the trailhead we spot a honey colored black bear a few hundred feet off the road and he's busy ripping apart dead tree trunks in search of a snack. The Cinder Cone trail starts off pleasantly enough (except for the disturbing new signs warning visitors about a recent river otter attack in the area), but the route becomes very steep and very exposed at the base of the Cinder Cone itself.

To make matters tougher, the trail runs through deep black cinders, which makes it feel like we’re walking through sand as we inch our way up the side of the dormant cone (one step forward, two steps slid back).

As usual, the harder the walk the greater the reward and at the top Cinder Cone reveals a classic deep crater with a trail right down into it and a lovely path around the rim.

Cinder Cone Lassen Volcanic National Park
The summit of Cinder Cone rewards hikers with an accessible
inner crater and a trail around the rim.

The next morning it’s time for Lassen Peak. The trail is busy but not packed–we see maybe 40 other hikers—and, it must be said, it’s an easier walk than we’d anticipated (perhaps because Cinder Cone was so much tougher than we’d expected). At the top we find a couple of flat rocks and break out our gourmet picnic: bbq pork sandwiches on onion rolls, grilled corn on the cob and boiled then grilled red potatoes. Not bad for leftovers (thank you Airsteram refrigerator!).

Lassen Peak
Lassen Peak in a precious smoke-free moment.

As we eat, thousands of butterflies appear all of them flying around the peak in the same direction (clockwise). It’s something we’ve never seen before and it makes us remember what it feels like when you’re scuba diving in a swirling school of barracuda—lucky and bewildered. What we have seen before are the swarms of chipmunks ruined by too many human handouts. The little beggars are shameless.

Lassen Peak
The last section of the climb to 10,457 foot Lassen Peak.

On the way down a doe and two frisky fawns cross the trail just a few feet behind us before scampering off into a small meadow (mom in perpetual pursuit of her two energetic wanderers).

The next and final morning in the park we reserve for the Bumpass Hell trail where we learn that there really was a Mr. Bumpass (we presume he pronounced it Bum Pass) who used to guide visitors among the area’s sprawling fumaroles and boiling pots until he broke through the crust one day and burned his leg so badly they had to cut it off. Hence, the “Hell” part of the trail name.

Before we even reach the geothermal area we hear the action—a kind of airport runway jet engine roar and hiss that seems to be coming from all directions at once. After a few minutes of stupidly searching the sky trying to spot the planes that must be making all that racket we finally figure it out.

Bumpass Hell Lassen
Bumpass Hell.

Within Bumpass Hell itself are an array of steam vents and patches of bright yellow sulphur and boiling pools of colorful water and putty-colored mud every bit as impressive as what we've seen in Yellowstone National Park (minus the bison and the elk, of course).


** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **

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