We visited hell, devastation, chaos, and boiling mud. No, not the nightly news – Lassen Volcanic National Park, in northern California at the southern tip of the Cascade Range. We seem to be entering our “volcanic” period. I guess like volcanoes themselves, you don’t plan for this period. They just happen. Volcanoes happen, as the saying goes.
Like a few other national parks, Lassen Volcanic was an unknown national park for me (like Wrangall -St. Elias and North Cascades, as examples). This is a really interesting place – it makes me feel like I should have been a geologist, just to better understand all the natural events that led to this unique place. And the entire park is beautiful in its own right.
Certainly not as large, well recognized, or recent as the eruption on Mt. Saint Helens (1980), the eruptions and resultant avalanches over time at Lassen (as recently as 1915) have created a landscape that is truly amazing – if for no other reason than its diversity.
If you were a geologist, you would know that all the rocks in this park originated from volcanoes. In this park can be found all four types of volcanoes – shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome. Lassen Peak, according to the park brochure, is one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world. So there. Admit it – you know you love me for my depth.
Lassen Peak, although just one of the volcanoes in this park, is the scene of the most recent volcano (1915), and is central to the story.
The Devastation Area does not feel like a devastation area until you look at the pictures from the volcanic eruption in 1915 and see the impact. Where we were standing, in a thicket of Lodgepole pines and other trees, was an area (about 3 miles from the eruption) that was decimated by the lava and ensuing avalanche of huge boulders and debris. Pictures captured at the time by Frank Loomis really capture the extent of the explosion itself.
The Manzanita Lake campground, where we stayed (within the park), is a great little (?) campground. The campsites can be a tight squeeze, have limited, arbitrary hours for a generator, and no services (dry camping), but the location is great.
If you understand that not far below the surface of the park is this boiling cauldron, then you will not be surprised to see boiling mud-pots at certain points, where that cauldron is a little closer to the surface.
We wanted to visit Bumpass Hell, a steaming cauldron situated in the southwest corner of the park. The hike in on the Bumpass Hell trail was closed due to restoration, but we found out that if you hiked about a 5+ mile hike starting at the King Creek picnic area you could get up to Bumpass Hell. So we did. This place is wild!
And once you make it to Bumpass Hell you have an entire new view of this part of the world. This boiling cauldron of hell is so butt ugly it is beautiful, and indeed interesting. The magma below the surface heats the ground water and voila – hell! By the way, since the Bumpass Pass Trail was closed, and perhaps because people were not aware there was another way in or that it was longer, at the time we were there (we did see others on the trail) we were the only ones there. Maybe it wasn’t hell – it was heaven! Not that I am averse to people, mind you. OK, a small lie.
The hike in and out to Bumpass Hell is stunning, not only for its views, but for the wild flowers growing along the trail!
Spending time here almost makes you want to be a geologist – there is so much interesting geological things happening here it seems endless. There is the Cold Boiling Lake for example, where gases from under the ground cause this lake to just bubble up.
Like probably most national parks, we only got to see a small fraction of this park (much of the park is designated as wilderness, which is a good thing), so plenty of additional places to see within the park next time around. But we just wanted to share our little trip to hell!