In September my husband and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to northern California. Lassen is a park we wanted to visit a few years ago, but in late May the roads were still closed due to a huge amount of snow. We stayed below 8000 feet in the Eastern Sierras/Mono Lake area, so it wasn’t hardship. This time we weren’t hampered by snow, but by trail closure. The main area of volcanic activity is the Bumpass Hell trail and it was being renovated so no boiling mud.
Well kinda. This is Sulfur Works which is right next to the main road through the park. It’s just north of the Visitor’s center and is very popular since it takes no effort to get to at all. So we consulted a ranger and asked where no one else goes and he gave us some ideas.
There is only one other area of visible volcanic activity and that is the Devil’s Kitchen – clear on the other side of the park. Bring it on, we said. Parts of the trail get a little mushy in spring so have boardwalks to protect against too much damage.
Mostly it isn’t human feet that cause it.
The trail passes near a guest ranch that is in the park and some folks got to Devil’s Kitchen the easy way. Closer to the hot mud area is a place to tie the horses since the trail is too difficult for them to manage. At that point you’re very close and can start to hear and smell the fumes.
Another thing that we found on the way were these little paddle wheels. I think they’re a craft project designed to keep kids at the guest ranch occupied. There were a lot of them on this little section of creek.
The first parts of the area are pretty thick with trees, grasses and other vegetation. I’m not sure if it’s the same one with the paddle wheels, but the brook that runs through here is quite clear unless it’s picking up minerals from the various hot springs and mud pots.
As you get up higher, the water and fumes bubble to the surface. It’s hot, wet and smelly, but it’s really cool. In some spots you can hear the water boiling even though you can’t see it.
I have more footage (so to speak) that I’m working on editing, but here’s a quick cell phone video –
It’s amazing. We saw a few people in this part of the park, but not many and pretty much all you could hear was the wind and the boiling mud. Here’s a shot for some scale of one section. That’s hubby there in the red shirt.
You can’t see it in this next shot, but on the mud near the water were lots of butterflies. I think they were attracted not only to the moisture, but the minerals.
I believe it’s sulfur that makes it yellow, but I’m not sure what makes the water itself a kind of milky blue.
Next up…the Cinder Cone!
Funny, just yesterday I was recalling my visit to Lassen NP — mostly in contrast to the knee problems I have now that keep me from hiking. Back in the mid-70s when I was a lot younger, I climbed Mount Lassen — pretty much oblivious to how steep the trail was (a 15% grade, I think — at least in some places, and especially near the top) and what it’s like to hike between 8500 and 10,500 feet. I remember thinking I must be in bad shape because as I neared the summit, I would have to stop every few feet and take a breath. It hadn’t occurred to me that at that altitude, you have only 2/3rds as much oxygen as at sea level, where I was from.
We didn’t climb the big peak…opted for the places less traveled. We did see it though. It’s hard to miss! And yeah, the altitude is a factor. I remember trying to hike in the mountains that form Death Valley. After coming from below sea level just an hour before, it was not a pretty sight. lol