Wednesday, August 28, 2013

There Be Dragons: Lassen Volcanic National Park

We left San Francisco on the second day of our road trip and headed out to Lassen mostly on time. Sure we had a minor tiff over my ability to listen to James’s detailed routes he had painstakingly planned out, but other than that we were golden. We still had our satellite radio at that point and being on the road was fresh and exciting. Our first park! We were ready!

Unfortunately, 35 miles down the road that leads you to the park there was a loathsome ‘Road Closed’ sign. After a couple choice words, I hopped into the drivers seat for the first time (I know, I’m awful) and booked it back toward the freeway. Luckily this was a 55 mph road, so I could drive relatively safely at 60 and probably less so at 65. Regardless, I made it back to the interstate in record time where we realized there actually had been one, measly little sign warning you about the closure. Just one sign though! I feel like that warranted a couple “Are you sure you want to drive down this road that closes?” signs along the way, but hey, what do I know?

This whole ordeal added quite a bit of time to our schedule as the secondary route was littered with two-way, one lane roads that required you to hastily pass the litany of sluggish trucks towing trailers, boats, horses, etc (perhaps this would have been less scary if our car had even an adequate amount of pick-up, but we had a ton of shit in there and its acceleration is only marginally acceptable on its best day). So, like San Francisco, we wound up getting to the park late and hightailing it to the main attraction.

Yes, I did pronounce it bump ass  hell the whole time. I’m quite mature.

Anyway. Bumpass Hell is an area of sulfurous hot springs and mud pits that, to the modern ear, sounds a lot like a giant construction site until you get to the clearing and realize the noise is coming from the hot air escaping the depths of those bubbling caverns. It also has boardwalks zigzagging throughout so you don’t fall through the crust and burn your sweet, little legs off (like Mr. Bumpass, the area’s namesake, did).

I can’t stress enough that it is quite loud with all the hissing and rumbling of the hot springs and the ground constantly billows up clouds of lovely smelling steam. If you were an early explorer stumbling across this veritable cornucopia of geothermal fun, you’d definitely think there were dragons here.

Because of our lengthy detour, we essentially had the whole place to ourselves. Unfortunately, we also didn’t have a lot of daylight left. I have a friend who had been to Lassen a couple weeks earlier and told us that her favorite part was hiking past Bumpass Hell. We didn’t have the time to do that, so I’ll always wonder what mysteries of the earth we missed out on.

However, this was plenty good for me. James has been to Yellowstone and insinuated that it was perhaps a little better, but being my first encounter with geothermal hot springs, I found Lassen to be plenty exciting. Sadly, the delay meant we had to stay at a different campsite than originally planned, which also meant we were too far away from the cinder cone that James wanted to hike the next day. That was a bummer, but it was really hot the next day and I’m pretty sure that hike would have completely drained us on only the third day of our trip. So in the end, I think it all worked out for the best!

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