One of the reasons for our stay in Redding was to visit the Lassen Volcanic National Park, about fifty miles to the east. But there have been some very strong fires between here and the park causing both main roads leading there to be closed. One of the fires is the Ponderosa Fire which was big national news all last week.
But the fires are now under control so this morning (Monday) we headed to the park on the motorcycle along highway 36 toward the southern entrance, hoping that the road through the park would be open. We knew Rt. 36 was open but the park road was still listed as closed. If it remained closed we would take a much longer ride all the way around the park, but miss some of the best scenery.
About fifteen miles from the park entrance we came upon a Scenic Vista pull-out, so we stopped to check out the view. There were only two vehicles in the lot and both were small firefighting vehicles. One of the drivers, Tina Rose, was a fire information official from Cal Fire. Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) is California’s agency responsible for fire protection in state owned land. Cal Fire is also the largest full service all risk fire department in the Western United States and operates more fire stations year round than do the New York (FDNY), Los Angeles (LAFD), and Chicago (CFD) fire departments combined. Tina told us that the Ponderosa Fire was started in the valley in front of us from a strike of lightning.
The bank in the picture below was burned by Cal Fire in a controlled fire to provide a protective line for the highway. It did it’s job as the fire never made it to the highway.
The valley below is where the fire began and is completely charred. They had a DC-10 fire plane dropping liquid on the area last week. It must have been quite a sight.
After leaving the overview, we didn’t see any more burned areas but did ride through some beautiful green forest.
After a brief wait for some road construction we arrived at the Lassen Volcanic National Park Visitor’s Center. We asked about the road and the ranger at the gate said it was scheduled to open at noon but she hadn’t heard anything yet (it was just before noon when we asked).
As the name of the park implies, there has been a great deal of seismic activity in the area over the centuries. The last serious volcanic eruption occurred in 1915, not that long ago. Just up the road from the Visitor’s Center you can see a mud pot. We had visited a number of these during our stay in Yellowstone, but this one was neat to see (but not to smell!).
The road through the park is quite steep in some spots, but the views are great. At the highest point on the road you are at 8,500 feet, very high when you consider that Redding is only at a little under 500 feet.
The highest point in the park is Mt. Lassen, at 10,500 feet. The picture below is of the south side and all the snow is gone. There is still some on the north side. This is heavy snow country and it is not unusual to have ten feet on the ground. The road we are on is closed in the winter.
There are many turns and switchbacks going up and then down but the road is in very good shape.
The rock below is called a glacier erratic – a boulder out of context. A glacier plucked the boulder from the side of the mountain and engulfed it into the ice mass. Gravity moved the ice mass down slope over the surface rock. By the time the boulder reached this location, the glacier melted and set the rock at rest here.
The park has many small lakes filled with clear, bluish water. Below is Helen Lake.
After descending down the north side of the park we came to an area recently burned with many trees intentionally cut down and moved. This was where the road had been closed to traffic. Just past that was a large area filled with equipment, supplies, and tents. It is the camp where the firefighters stayed last week. Many were still there but most had been released to head home or sent to other fire areas. We were told that they will closely monitor all fire areas until October. Large tree stumps can smolder for weeks so flare ups are always a threat, especially if the wind picks up.
What a great day to visit this park. Most young people are back in school, the weather was beautiful, it was a Monday, and the road was closed during the morning so traffic was very light. Too bad the park was closed all week, as there are many hiking trails we would have liked to try. But more parks loom in our future, so many great hikes are coming.
Tomorrow it’s on to Sacramento. More on that later . . .