Lassen Volcanic NP was founded while Lassen Peak was still erupting. One of 8 National Parks in California, Lassen’s 1914 outburst was the first eruption in a 3 year cycle. The worst upheaval was in May,1915. The next year Congress made what was already 2 National Monuments into the 17th National Park, but Lassen Peak didn’t settle down until 1917. The southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, it began rumbling again in 1959-60, 20 years before the Cascade’s Mount St. Helens blew.
Currently, LVNP is desperately dry, which is somewhat normal. According to its 2014 Summer Visitor Guide, “Occasional drought is a natural feature of Lassen’s climate.” There has not, however, been a major fire so far this year. The last one, the Reading in 2012, burned 15 percent of the Park.
A fine 30 mile highway, partially closed in winter, takes visitors through Lassen’s western half. The journey takes them by the 2012 burn area, within 1,500 feet of 10,457 feet Lassen Peak, and close to a geothermal area where hot, grey clay boils and bubbles. The eastern half is threaded through with trails that make several large and small lakes available to hikers. All in all, LVNP offers 150 miles of easy to strenuous hikes, many accessed from the highway. 17 of the 150 are part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
This Park’s most common injuries are burns. Park names often seem like warnings–Bumpass Hell, Devils Kitchen, Terminal Geyser. My favorite is oxymoronic Cold Boiling Lake. The Visitor Guide clearly warns the curious and/or careless about the area’s hydrothermal danger in a place where thin crusts can hide hot pools. One person who sustained injury said, “It feels like I put my leg in a flame.” However, rangers still have to remind some that they can’t swim in the foul-smelling, fuming mudpots.
B. F. Loomis was the first to document the volcanic character of the Cascade’s high peaks. Born in Mantaga, Illinois, in 1857, Loomis went by covered wagon to Northern California where he built a cabin on, for now, placid Manzanita Lake, the first attraction just past the north Entrance Station. On June 14, 1914, Loomis took 6 photographs of the first volcanic eruption on the U.S. mainland in historically documented times. He reported that the rock seen in the photo above was “still sizzling in the water” 40 hours after it was ejected from the volcano’s crater. His photos grabbed the attention of scientists and aided efforts to create a Park. A few days short of 26 months later, Lassen Volcanic became a National Park. The Mac Loomis Memorial Museum and Seismographic Station is now a museum/visitor center.
There are 4 types of volcanos on Planet Earth–plug domes, cinder cones that launch lava bombs, shield, and stratovolcanoes. All 4 can be seen in the Lassen area, which can be said of few places in the world. Lassen is dry, stressed, and a hotbed of geothermal activity, but it’s also incredibly beautiful. See it before it explodes and/or burns.