17 November 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park In Just 3 Hours

Do you like volcanoes? Do you like really big volcanoes? Then you'll love Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California - home to the largest plug volcano in the whole wide world! Not only is America home to the super size meal, it is also home to one honking huge volcano. And if you're too lazy to get out of your car to see this gigantic volcano because you've eaten too many super size meals, you're in luck. You can drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park and see the highlights from your car in just three hours!

Start off by entering the park on the northern entrance on Route 89. Stop at the Visitor Center at the Loomis Museum and ask a ranger for suggestions about what to see when you only have a short amount of time. They're used to people whizzing through the park in their cars. So used to them, in fact, that they have a special auto tour guide that you can buy. We passed on the guide and just winged it using the free map and newspaper that they hand out. 

After stopping at the Visitor Centre, drive a short ways to the Chaos Jumbles. The name sounds exciting, doesn't it! Imagine what happens when naughty Giants get angry and start throwing boulders at each other and then don't bother to clean up the mess. You get something like the picture below. {I'm sure there is some more scientific explanation but (a) I can't be bothered to google it and (b) my giant theory probably makes more sense anyway.}

Don't spend too much time looking at the Chaos Jumble because who knows when those naughty Giants might return. They have poor eyesight and are always mistaking humans for giant kielbasa sausages. And they love kielbasa sausages (who doesn't?), so don't take the risk, get back in your car pronto and drive to Hot Rock. Another exciting name, isn't it? Here it is.

Turns out the rock isn't really hot. Which is a shame as my hands were cold and I was hoping to warm them up. But once upon a time, it was hot. Honestly, I didn't get why this was such a big deal. It looks just like the pet rock I had when I was a child, but of course much bigger. {Spoiler alert - there are a lot of huge rocks lying around the park.} Fortunately, they had a sign which explained why it was a big deal and why it had the special name, Hot Rock. The Reader's Digest version is that after the eruptions in May 1915, B.F. Loomis (and some other unnamed people) discovered this rock lying miles from the volcano. And it was hot. Really hot. Volcanoes tend to make things hot. You can probably tell, I learned a lot about geology during our three hours at the park.

Next stop...the Devastated Area! Makes me think of the Planet of the Apes movie where what's his name walks out in the desert and sees the Statue of Liberty lying there half buried in a clearly devastated area. This was nothing like that. But it was still pretty cool. Guess what? There were some big rocks there.

You can do a short 1/2 mile loop trail in the Devastated Area and learn more about geology, volcanoes and what happens when they erupt. Even the laziest person can manage this walk. You can probably do it while eating some french fries at the same time. Before you leave, turn around for some nice views of Lassen Peak.

You must be exhausted by this point, so get back in your car and drive to Kings Creek and walk down to the meadow. Very pretty! But cold. By this point I was wearing a wool hat and gloves and wishing those rocks were still hot.

Wow, way too much walking. Time to get back in the car. As you drive around the park, you see lots of present-day devastation in the form of forest fires. They used to be considered a bad thing (and of course they still are if they threaten people and their houses or their boats), but nowadays, the National Park Service views forest fires as a good thing. They help to rejuvenate the forests and are essential for some species to thrive. But what they leave in their wake is still spooky to look at.

There are a number of lakes in Lassen, but most of them require a hike to get to. Fortunately, there are two that you can see without too much effort - Lake Helen and the Emerald Lake.

After taking a look at the lakes, your next and last stop are the Sulphur Works. You just know that this is going to be smelly. And it is. But the oozy, bubbly sulphur pools are worth a look. And, you don't have to walk to far - bonus!

After the Sulphur Works, head on out the park through the southern entrance. Three hours well spent, a little bit learned about geology, an awesomely big volcano and naughty Giants, what could be better?

We did our whistle stop tour of Lassen Volcanic National Park on 22 October 2014.

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