August 28, 2012 by Deb W. Trotter
This week I’d like to introduce you to my all-time favorite National Park. The Park that is a part of me. The Park that raised me – as much as any Park can do that. The Park that I have returned to more than any other, always with family, and will continue to return to as long as I am able – Lassen Volcanic National Park at the southern tip of the Cascade Mountains in northeastern California. I would estimate that I have visited Lassen Park well over 200 times in the past five-plus decades, the majority of those times when I was still young and living at home. On summer weekends my family hiked its trails and climbed its peaks. At times we struck out on our own, unable to resist my dad’s boundless enthusiasm and topo map, and discovered parts of the Park that are not in the guide books.
On winter weekends my sister and I skied the slopes of the tiny, but challenging, ski area that is no longer there, paying fifty cents to ride a school bus to the Park from the high school tennis courts in our town 50 miles away (weather permitting) and back again at the end of an exhilarating day.
In my life I have embraced this Park, and whenever I return I feel its embrace of me. No matter where I am, I feel the rhythms of Lassen Park somewhere deep inside me. From the beginnings of snowmelt in late spring/early summer when the streams and waterfalls come back to life, to summer when the wildflowerspush up to into the visible world, to autumn when the breezes are drier and the shadows are longer, to winter when snow closes the road through the Park, some part of me is aware that all of this is going on.
Although it’s been decades since I lived just 50 miles away, we are in northern California, and we get back to the Park at least once a year, more often, if possible. Before we were married, my husband became part of our family tradition of hiking in Lassen with my parents and various siblings. After we had children, we took them hiking there often as they were growing up, combining a drive north to visit their grandparents with a Park experience. What could be better than that?When our kids were very little, we carried them on the trails, in backpacks, front packs, whatever worked. When some of them could walk, we went on “starter” hikes that they could manage, and eventually we graduated to climbing the Park’s highest peaks. In the world beyond Lassen Park, almost all of our family vacations were planned around staying and hiking in other National Parks. As a result, all four of our children have reached adulthood with an affection for solitude, wilderness, outdoor exercise and mountain air.
If you’re still with me, here are a few specifics about Lassen Volcanic National Park. Mt. Lassen itself (elev. 10,457 feet) is a dormant volcano that last erupted from 1914 off and on until about 1921. It became the centerpiece of the National Park that was created in 1916 in recognition of the area’s active volcanic environment. While it is no Yellowstone, Lassen Park has accessible geothermal features, notably, the Sulphur Works (right off the main road), Bumpass Hell, Boiling Springs Lake, Devils Kitchen and the Terminal Geyser, with bubbling hot mud pots and hot steaming fumaroles. I will take you to some of these sites via future blog posts.
Many of Lassen Park’s treasures and natural marvels can be enjoyed simply by driving through the Park and looking out the windows or stopping at vista points, or by taking easy to moderate hikes from trailheads at the Park Road. Getting to other parts of the Park requires a little more time and venturing off the main road. But even one day spent there will nourish your soul.
So, if you’re looking for a National Park that is small enough to be knowable, that has lakes, streams, waterfalls, forests, hiking trails, wildflower-filled meadows, mountains to climb, clean air, unusual geothermal features, and campsites from which you can see all the stars at night, check out Lassen Volcanic National Park. And take your kids, if you have any. You’ll be glad you did.