Lassen Volcanic National Park

“We had been camped on the road two days, Mrs. Loomis and I, waiting for an eruption to occur, with the camera focused and trained on the mountain. . . At about 9:45 Sunday morning, June 14, our vigilance was rewarded with success. I saw the smoke ascending from the crater the moment the eruption began. I ran to the camera, put in a plate holder and exposed, getting what we call photo No. 1.”

Benjamin Franklin Loomis

On June 14, 1914, B.F.Loomis pointed his old box camera at Lassen Peak and began taking pictures.  Six photographs that he captured were published throughout the nation as they heralded the news of the first volcanic eruption on the U.S. mainland in known times.  His photos, as well as subsequent eruptions the following year, fueled efforts to create a national park in northern California.  On August 16, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park was created as California’s fourth national park and our nation’s seventeenth.

Making our way up the state of California, Lassen NP, located in the Cascade Mountains in the northeastern part of the state, was our next stop.  We confess that we had never even heard of this national park until we began researching where all of the 59 national parks we are visiting are located.  Once we got here, however, we could see why this place was set aside.

B.F. Loomis, 6.14.1914, Lassen Peak eruption

From 30 volcanic peaks [incidentally, this is the only place where the four different types of volcanoes — shield, cinder cone, plug dome, and composite — can be found all together]… boiling, gurgling mudpots… steam vents (called fumaroles) and other active geothermal features… beautiful lakes… quiet meadows… snow-capped mountains… this park offers all of this plus an abundance of flora and fauna in this beautiful wilderness setting.

Snow arrives early and stays late here, and we were surprised to find snow on the ground (in June!) and a couple of the popular trails [Bumpass Hell, for one; we wanted to take it just because of the intriguing name!] still not open because they were icy and dangerous and still under the cover of snow.  Snow didn’t stop us from hiking Lassen Peak, however.  We did have to navigate some snow fields, and I sat it down three times while descending as the melting snow was slick!  We made it, though — we and about 10 other brave souls — up to 10,547′ and into the cone of this ‘young’ volcano born only 27,000 years ago.  Fred also hiked up to and around Cinder Cone on another day and was rewarded with more spectacular views from atop another of these mountain/volcanoes here in the park.

We enjoyed several other parts of this park, as well.  Winter snow and summer rain feed the hydrothermal system that lies deep underground in this area, and it is this water, heated by molten rock, that rises to the surface of the earth creating the remarkable geothermal features found here in Lassen.  Bumpass Hell, mentioned above, is actually a basin which features the largest concentration of these hydrothermal features in the park.  

Bubbling mudpots

The area gets its funny name from Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a crusty old mountaineer who lived in these parts back in the 1860s. One day, while leading a group into the area of bubbling pools and steaming fumaroles, K.V. slipped and broke through the crust of a boiling mudpot, severely burning his leg. The area called Sulfer Works and these features in Bumpass are evidence that this volcanic area is still active, and indicate that it’s not if this area will erupt once again, but rather when….

Click on photos to open gallery in Flickr –

Fishermen on Lake Manzanita with Lassen Peak in the background
Paradise Meadow in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Another wonderful area in the park that we enjoyed is Manzanita Lake. Located at the northwestern entrance to the park, this was our main come-and-go place, and the lovely lake beckoned us to walk around it a couple of different times. The Loomis Museum here at this Visitor Center includes photographic exhibits on the eruptions of Lassen Peak, from the first recorded one in 1914 recorded by Loomis, up through the last one in 1917. Another section of the park, The Devastated Area, shows the devastating results volcanic activity had on the landscape, and an interpretive trail tells the story of the May 19 & 22, 1915, eruptions that filled a bucolic western meadow with mud, ash, snow, and hot rocks and scoured trees right off the slopes of the mountain. Although grasses and trees have cloaked much of the debris field once again, the area is still known as The Devastated Area.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, while not likely on most folks’ radar screens, is one that we’re sure most would enjoy, and we highly recommend anyone trekking around in northern California to detour out to this area, for visitors are rewarded with the beauty and wilderness serenity of yet another of our country’s awesome national parks.