Wednesday, July 28, 2010


There are a couple of national parks that protect historical and cultural treasures within our country.  Most, if not all, protect scenic beauty and many also protect geological wonders.  Lassen Volcanic definitely falls into the latter two categories.

One of the nice things about Lassen Volcanic National Park is it is one of the least visited national parks in the lower 48 states.  Consequently, there are very few crowds in this park, even on a busy weekend.  We happened to be at the park during the 4th of July weekend and were only confronted by crowds once, and that was in the visitors center.  Once we were out on the trail or the park road, we encountered very few other people.  Even the campground wasn't totally filled on that weekend, which I found surprising, since there is a substantial population to the west concentrated in several towns in the Sacramento Valley.

Probably one part of the equation was the winter we've had in California earlier in the year.  The Sierra Nevada and the Cascade range got a large amount of snowfall this year.  Hikers we encountered on the John Muir trail spoke of walking more often on snow as opposed to terra firma.  One couple we spoke with told us there wasn't any trail to follow, so they were just following other's footsteps in the snow.

Snow in the high country isn't unheard of, but it's surprising to see that much of it, especially in late June and early July.  My wife and I were in Crater Lake National Park on July 19th, 1987, basically snowed in.  A storm had moved through Northern California and Oregon the day before and dropped a foot of brand new snow on the rim of the caldera.  The rim drive had been shut down.  It made for spectacular scenery, but it's a little disconcerting wearing winter gear in the middle of the summertime.

Lassen's elevation varies from around 5000 feet above sea level up to just over 10,000 feet at the summit of Mt. Lassen.  The high point for the road that traverses the park is 8100 feet.  As I noted in another post detailing where we would be going camping, we knew there would be snow at Lassen.  We also knew the road was closed, but I decided to gamble that the road was open by the time we'd get there.  I lost that gamble.

That didn't deter us from seeing the park.  The major thermal area of Bumpass Hell was off limits due to the heavy snow.  However, the small area of Sulphur Works, which is right by the road side was open.  We got to see boiling water, colored a mustard yellow color and fumaroles steaming away.  The smell of rotten eggs was prevalent.

The creek rushing downstream was a milk gray color from the sediments and minerals in the surrounding area.  I wish Bumpass Hell had been open, as it would have been even more spectacular than what we saw, but I guess this just means we'll have to go back some other time to see it.

As it was, because of the snow, the two earthcaches that we'd planned on getting in the park were also out of the question.  The Devil's Breath, was at Bumpass Hell.  No way were we going to be able to get out there.  I've camped at Lassen several times in the past, even hiked in hip deep snow to get to Bumpass Hell in June right after I graduated from college back in 1981.  This time, the snow was overwhelming.

By not being able to drive through the park, we ended up driving completely around the park, something that we had planned for and were prepared to do should it come to that.  That actually worked to our advantage, geocaching-wise, since instead of concentrating on those two earthcaches and possibly a couple of caches just outside the southern park border, we ended up getting over a dozen caches on our trip around the park.  We gave ourselves several hours inside the park on the south side to view Sulphur Works and drive up to the Lassen Peak trailhead, where the other earthcache, Vulcan's Mecca was located. Once again, we were stopped by the snow from getting to the peak because the trail was closed about halfway up the peak.  Next time.

On the drive down from the Lassen Peak parking lot, we stopped at a pullout to get a look at all of the snow.  Helen Lake, which is at 8000 feet elevation still had a thin sheen of ice on its surface.  If you didn't know the picture had been taken on July 2nd, you could swear you were in the middle of a clear winter's day.  It was amazing to see.

The downside is we missed a couple of caches.  There were so many upsides that it didn't matter.  The scenery was spectacular and because of our change in itinerary, we ended up finding more geocaches because of it.  Probably the best thing of all was our trip a couple of days later over to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which is to the west of Lassen.

Last year, when my older son and I drove through the same area in mid July, the lakes were down considerably, showing a bathtub ring which appeared to be fifty to a 100 feet deep.  There was no bathtub ring to be seen this year in the lakes.  Whiskeytown Lake was filled to capacity, with water right at the vegetation's edge as opposed to 100 feet away.  Hopefully, we'll get another couple of good years like this past year, so we don't have to worry about water as much as we've had to in the past.  Not enough water isn't a very good thing.  This year, at least, we don't have to worry so much about that problem.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
The Devil's Breath - by hafhas
Vulcan's Mecca - by Booty Buddies

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Sarah said...

snow in July, well I never!

those blue skies are just spectacular, especially the beautiful deep blue on the first picture

Webfoot said...

Thanks Sarah. The third picture I have as my computer desktop at the moment. It's going to help keep me cool during this hot month of August.