Lassen Volcanic National Park is a living testament to our planet’s fiery origins. When Lassen Peak began erupting on Memorial Day, 1914, the volcano would produce more than 390 recorded eruptions before settling into dormancy in 1917. Those fiery origins are still alive and visible today in places bearing names like Bumpass Hell, The Devil’s Kitchen, and Little Hotsprings Valley. While Lassen Volcanic National Park is overshadowed by its more famous siblings, Lassen is a small and shining jewel and, in many ways, this is its appeal. As is the case with many national parks, stray from the road just a short distance and any crowds fall away dramatically. Summer is the high season and sees about half a million visitors annually. After Labor Day, the Park suddenly empties out with the exception of a few day hikers and week-end visitors. Fall is a spectacular time to experience Lassen.
Lassen Volcanic National Park enjoys many distinctions. You will find all four types of volcanoes–the stratovolcano (ancient Mount Tehama), shield volcano (Mount Harkness, Sifford Mountain), tephra cone (Cinder Cone, Red Cinder Cone), and volcanic dome (Lassen Peak is the world’s largest plug-dome). Most types of geothermal features are found in the Park, though no true geysers exist here. Terminal Geyser is technically a fumarole. Bubbling mudpots, hissing steam vents, and colorful hotsprings comprise the many geothermal areas.
Lassen Volcanic National Park possesses 51 lakes within its boundaries, most of which are the result of Lassen’s past glacial activity. Exceptions to that are Manzanita and Reflection Lakes at the Park’s north entrance. These two lakes formed when a large portion of Chaos Crags, a cluster of four lava domes, collapsed some 300 years ago, setting off a massive rockfall-avalanche, damming Manzanita Creek. Snag and Butte Lakes formed when one of Cinder Cone’s lava flows dammed Butte Creek.
Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range, Lassen Volcanic National Park lies in a transition zone for four major biological provinces–the Cascade, the Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin of Nevada, and California’s Central Valley. Over 700 species of vascular plants reside here, including the endangered skunk-leaved polemonium, which grows only at or near the summit of Lassen Peak. The Park is also home to some 200 species of birds–and mammals include the pine marten, red fox, bobcat, mountain lion, and black bear.
While many of the major features are visible from the Park road, untold worlds are to be discovered in Lassen’s backcountry. Cinder Cone is a personal favorite. ‘Otherworldly’ best describes Cinder Cone and its associated lava flow, the Fantastic Lava Beds. This 100 foot-high mass of block lava spewed forth during one of its eruptions, and is responsible for the formation of Snag and Butte Lakes. The Painted Dunes, with its rich, multi-hued earthtones, is also the result of Cinder Cone’s two or so eruptive events. Largely devoid of vegetation, this area truly does take on a feeling of another world.
For more information contact: Lassen Volcanic National Park (530) 595-4444. Website: www.nps.gov/lavo/
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