Lake Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, September 4 and 5

Having seen Sequoia and King’s Canyon on Saturday, we did pretty much nothing on Sunday. It was hot again (105 or so), and we spent time indoors (where again the Dutch Star stayed quite comfortable with only 30 Amps of air conditioning) figuring out where we wanted to go for the remainder of the trip. We would have departed early, except it was still the Labor Day weekend and thus impossible to find a place to stay.

On Monday morning, we got a pretty early start, about 8:15, headed for Redding California, which is near Lake Shasta. We took California 198 west to Route 99, and followed that for a few hundred miles, with the last 150 miles or so on Interstate 5. Most of the way, we were in the agricultural heart of California – San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. Temperatures were between 100 and 110 , but the irrigated crops and trees were green and healthy-looking despite the heat. In contrast, everything that wasn’t irrigated was brown and dry, a constant reminder of California’s dry climate. On Route 198, about 30 miles west of Sequoia, we passed Lake Kaweah. It is a pretty large lake, or rather it would be if there was more water in it. As it was, it was about 40 feet below full, and that is despite the fact that California actually had a pretty wet winter of 2016-17, after six or eight years of drought. It struck me that we don’t have a shortage of water in this country, we have a distribution problem. Houston gets 50 inches of rain in under a week, and California as a whole averages less than 20 inches per year (and of course less in drought years). At any rate, we all should hope that California gets more rain – it makes a huge contribution to feeding the rest of the country.

The terrain in the central valley is pancake flat, and California has a speed limit of 55 for trucks and any vehicles towing, which we stayed pretty close to. Those factors led to our best gas mileage of the trip, a bit over 8 mpg. We pulled into the campground, Mountain Gate RV Park at about 5:00, with the odometer reading 6700, for a distance of 412 miles.

Wild Turkeys at Mountain Gate RV Park

With a few hours of daylight left, we unhitched the Jeep and drove about 20 miles further north on I-5 to see what Lake Shasta was like. It is a very large lake, California’s largest reservoir, with a surface area of 30,000 acres. It too was down about 40 feet from full pond, but that is a much smaller percentage of its average 150-foot depth, so it doesn’t look anywhere near as forlorn as Lake Kaweah. We got off at Holiday Harbor, which is a hiking/boating area with a marina. There were about 80 houseboats on floating docks there, some of them for rent, and there were also smaller sport boats and jet skis for rent. We looked into it in case we decided to return on Tuesday to do some boating on the lake.

Floating Dock at Holidah Harbor
Boat Ramp at Holiday Harbor

It is unfortunate that those are the only two pictures we took at Lake Shasta, as it is quite pretty despite being far from full (as you can see in the second picture). We thought we’d be back the next day, but in fact, Therese consulted her book about the National Parks and determined that we should instead visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, which was about 60 miles southeast of the campground. Trying to beat the heat (forecast for the high 90’s), and any possible crowds, we got rolling about 8:00, arriving at the North entrance about 9:00. Our first stop was the visitor center, where we watched a good 20-minute video about the park’s geology, history, and scenery. The most recent volcanic activity was a series of large eruptions in May of 1915, one of which was the first volcanic eruption in the US to be captured on film. The photographer, Benjamin Franklin Loomis, was also instrumental in getting Lassen designated as a National Park. Lassen is one of the few places on earth where all four types of volcanos are found (shield, cinder cone, plug dome, and composite, for you geology enthusiasts out there). It’s a rugged landscape, with altitudes ranging from 4000 feet up to Lassen Peak, which is 10,457 feet. A road winds through the western part of the park, you have to be a serious hiker to visit the eastern side of the park.

From the visitor center, you can take a 2 mile hike around Manzanita Lake, a very picturesque mountain lake with clear cold water. That was when we discovered that we had forgotten our fancy new camera, so all the pictures from Lassen are taken with Therese’ Samsung phone. At least it doesn’t conspire with the OpenPress software to make all the pictures come out upside down. The lake was completely full, with healthy inflow and outflow from snow on the surrounding volcanic mountains that is still melting from last winter.

Manzanita Lake
Therese at Manzanita Lake

Back on the winding park road, we stopped at Hot Rock, which is a 300 ton rock that was carried five miles by the avalanche that accompanied the 1915 volcanic eruption.  It’s at the edge of what is called the “Devastated Area” where the forest (all evergreens at that altitude) was buried and/or bulldozed by the avalanche. 100 years later, it is on its way to reforesting, and the 100-year time lapse photographs of that process are on display at the visitor center.

Lassen Volcano Hot Rock

The whole park was gorgeous, particularly since large parts of it were nice and green. They got a huge snowfall last winter, so the streams were still running and the lakes were full. Maybe the higher than normal temperatures were accelerating the melting of the remaining snow and causing a high flow in the streams. While it was a comfortable temperature range of 70-80 degrees at park altitudes, it’s usually colder than that when not in the middle of a heat wave.

We stopped at every scenic overlook, since the park was not crowded, and every one of them was spectacular. We had a leisurely picnic lunch at Summit Lake North picnic area, with a great view of the mountain lake and ideal temperature at an altitude of 7000 feet.

Picnic area at Summit Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

At the Kings Creek overlook, we were intending on a short walk down to a meadow that we could see from the parking area, but when we got about half a mile down, we ran into some other hikers who suggested we continue on to Kings Creek Falls. They said it was only another mile or so, but their distance estimating ability turned out to be pretty pathetic, and the total distance we covered was closer to 4 miles, with a pretty challenging switchback section. Since we hadn’t intended any more than a short walk, we didn’t bring any water with us, and although it was not particularly hot, parts of the trail were out in the sun and we experienced a certain amount of TTGS (Thirsty Therese Grouchitis Syndrome) and maybe even a little TBGS. Part of the walk was right next to Kings Creek, which looked like the cleanest water on earth, but Therese refused to countenance any drinking of it. While on the trail, we ran into about six National Forest Service rangers who were looking (in the wrong place, as it turned out) for a hiker who was reported to have cut his head. Just as we were finishing the hike, we heard that they had found him on a different nearby trail.

Meadow on way to Kings Creek. Taken by congenial French guy who didn’t know a word of English.
Kings Creek on way to Falls
Kings Creek Falls

We continued on to the Bumpass Trailhead, where you can walk a few miles down to some calderas and hot springs, but at that point we were hiked out for the day. The final stop was at the Sulphur Works, where there are boiling mud pits and steaming holes in the ground and a distinct rotten egg smell.

Sulfor Works thermal activity zone
Steaming vent at Sulfur Works

By this time it was after 4:00, so it was good that we were near the South entrance of the park. We left that way and headed west on Route 36. Unfortunately there was a stretch of about four miles that was under construction, and we waited about half an hour to get through.

Our next stop was supposed to be Redcrest, California, from which we were planning on seeing Redwood National Park. However, the only feasible route to get there was California 299, and that was all but completely closed by a forest fire adjacent to it. The website and AM 1610 radio message said they were letting traffic through at 9:00 am and 1:30 pm, but there were also construction delays. We decided that was too much hassle, since we have both seen the Redwoods before (they are spectacular, and we’re sorry to miss them). So we called our first audible of the second half and headed up to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon two days early. Therese called them to change our reservations, and they told her that there was no problem changing the reservation, particularly since they had a lot of cancellations due to a forest fire in the vicinity of the park. Barry, ever the optimist, assumed that they would put it out, or the wind would shift, or something, and voted in favor of going there anyway. Therese, although reluctant, spotted a possible “I told you so” opportunity and acquiesced.

We’ll let you know how that went in our next installment.

In the meantime, we are keeping an eye on Hurricane Irma, which is headed for Florida, where we have a house and multiple siblings, cousins, and friends likewise have houses. Hopefully that doesn’t turn into the catastrophe that seems to be shaping up as of this writing.

(We have had pathetic internet and cellular data coverage, which is why this post is so delayed. A few more are coming soon!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *