Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Lassen Volcanic National Park and Wilderness Area

Last weekend we went to Lassen for our geology field trip class. Susan came down with a cold during our stay, and now I think I've caught the cold too. But we still managed to have a good time while we were there. We had both been camping there before, but I hadn't been there since I was about nine or ten years old, and neither of us had seen all the same parts of it before. Also, it was the fourth geology field trip class we've taken with the same professor; we took the first one less than a month after we met, so they've become a sort of romantic tradition for us.

Here I am on a boulder outside the recently built Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The professor reserved two group campsites at Butte Lake for the class. Susan and I were the first to arrive and set up our tent, so we tried to figure out where the other students would be least likely to place their tents, because we didn't want to be near other tents. We decided on a spot right in front of the post (visible in the picture) labeled "Campsite Boundary." This worked out very well for us; even after everyone else had arrived and set up their tents, the entire area you can see in this picture remained empty except for our tent.

The other tents were crowded together closely, as you can see in the background behind Susan. We had this picnic table all to ourselves, despite the proximity of other people's tents to it. Susan made deviled eggs on the camp stove for the class pot luck. I helped shell the eggs.

Here is Susan again, outside the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center. The visitor center was a very long drive from our campsite at Butte Lake, but it was the location for our first class session at Lassen.

Here I am, still at the visitor center too.

The visitor center was in the process of spreading mulch and putting in plants for ecological restoration around the recently constructed hardscape. It basically amounted to a native plant garden. This is desert mint (Monardella odoratissima) in their ecological restoration area.

The next place we went was called Bumpass Hell. I vaguely remembered having been to Bumpass Hell when I was a kid, and Susan remembered seeing pictures of me at Bumpass Hell in my parents' photo album. In the parking lot at the Bumpass Hell trailhead, this boulder was deposited rather haphazardly by a glacier.

Here is the view to the left of that boulder.

And here is the view to the right of the boulder, sloping down from the parking lot. The clump of white flowers in the foreground is the same desert mint species that was in the visitor center's ecological restoration area. The flowerless, mint-green plants surrounding it are lupines.

The hike to Bumpass Hell was about three miles long. Here is a typical scene along the way.

Bumpass Hell itself is a group of smelly sulfurous fumaroles, including, according to a sign posted there, "the hottest fumarole - within a non-erupting volcano - in the world. The steam temperatures measured here reach as high as 322°F (161°C)." The sign also informed us, "That's mighty hot." Bumpass Hell is named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, who fell into one of the mudpots there and was so badly burned that he had to have his leg amputated.

This is the sulfur-filled stream that flows out of Bumpass Hell.

And here is Bumpass Hell itself.

In this next picture, you can see the wooden boardwalk in the distance that visitors must walk on, because the ground is fragile and can easily crumble away, dumping anyone who stands on it into the boiling sulfur. The mudpots are continually expanding; a sign in Bumpass Hell indicates that the boardwalk used to extend farther in one location, until a few years ago, that portion of the boardwalk was engulfed by a mudpot.

You can tell which mudpots are hottest by the absence of plants around them. In the non-boiling areas, plants grow right up to the edge of the sulfur streams and pools.

And sometimes even inside the sulfur streams and pools. Would you ever guess that a place this pretty would be named Hell?

Here I am in front of some of the hotter pools.

This plant was growing very near a stream of sulfur. I eventually managed to identify it as purple mountainheath (Phyllodoce breweri).

On the hike back to the parking lot, I stopped to photograph rushes surrounded by lupine . . .

And a grasshopper.

After eating lunch in the parking lot at the Bumpass Hell trailhead, we next hiked about two miles of the Spatter Cone Trail. Spatter cones are a type of volcano in which the lava is spattered out in mostly liquid clumps. Susan hiked far enough to see two of them; I only hiked far enough to see one. The trail led through a desert-like area with mostly sagebrush and manzanitas, although there were some pine trees as well.

There was a trail guide booklet that identified points of interest along the trail, including this plant, pinemat (Ceanothus prostratus).

I also saw quite a bit of rabbitbrush (the yellow flowers below) mixed in with the sagebrush and manzanitas.

Near a lava tube, I found a small-leaf horsemint (Agastache parvifolia).

And near the first spatter cone, I found a buckwheat.

This is a portion of the inner crater of the first spatter cone. Susan and I - and the rest of the class - were sitting on the rim of the crater, and I was photographing across the crater to show a different portion of the rim. You can see from the shape of the rocks the way the bits of lava went splat.

That was the end of the classwork on Saturday. We had a pot luck dinner with the class that night, and met again Sunday morning to hike to the top of the Cinder Cone. This is Butte Lake, which is located at the Cinder Cone trailhead (and more or less adjacent to our campsite).

I didn't take a photograph of the Cinder Cone from below, so if you want to see it from that angle, just Google. It's really just a huge, cone-shaped pile of cinders. We hiked 1.2 miles to the base of it and 0.8 miles to the top of it, for a total of four miles round trip. But it felt much farther, because we were hiking the entire way in sand. That includes the 1.2 mile hike to the base of it; in fact, even our campsite was close enough to it that we were camping on nothing but a huge pile of cinders with no normal soil in sight. So with every uphill step we took, our feet would slide a few inches back downhill. Here I am at the top, looking somewhat exhausted (and with my hair blowing wildly; it was windy at the top).

This is the crater at the top of the Cinder Cone.

From the top of the Cinder Cone, we saw another lake . . .

And Mount Lassen . . .

(Here's a closeup of Mount Lassen, which I climbed when I was nine or ten years old; it was completely covered with butterflies.)

And the Painted Dunes. The colors are caused by the oxidation of iron in the cinders; iron that oxidizes in the presence of significant amounts of water (in the low spots on the dunes) turns yellowish, while iron that oxidizes in air (in the high spots on the dunes) turns reddish.

Most of the Cinder Cone has no plants on it at all, but at the very top, there are a few plants. The smaller plants all seemed to be buckwheats. This one is called naked buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) due to having almost no leaves. (There are a few small leaves around the base.)

And I'm not sure what kind this one is, but it's definitely a buckwheat.

After the Cinder Cone, we ate lunch and drove to a scenic overlook. A forest fire the previous month had destroyed most of what would traditionally be called scenic, but for geological study purposes, the fire made it easier to see the lava patterns on the ground below.

Our last stop was the Subway Tunnel, a huge lava tube that we had to bring flashlights into to find our way through. Here is the sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) outside the tunnel.

And here are two miniature spatter cones on the floor of the tunnel. Tiny volcanoes, only about one foot tall.

That was the end of the class. We both got A grades. It was great fun. But now we both have colds, which isn't.
Tags: native plants, photographs, susan
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