Like a lemming, I have to make at least one yearly voyage to Mount Lassen – poorly named by outsiders. The Yahi people that lived in the hills above Chico and Red Bluff called it Waganupa – supposedly meaning, “the center of the world.” That is easy to understand as you approach this awesome spectacle from the road that leads through Lassen National Park.
Coincidentally, my family happened to time our trip during the big centennial celebration of the series of eruptions that took place in May, 1915. We noticed, there were a lot more people in the park, at the visitor center, and the various attractions that feature flush toilets. We haven’t seen so many people in the park for years.
For years we’ve snowboarded in and around the park as late as June, and as early as October. Sometimes there was so much snow they didn’t clear the road past the visitor’s center until early Summer, so we had a couple of good spots along the road just outside the entrance. In past we’ve celebrated Father’s Day snowboarding at Diamond Peak, just inside the park.
We always thought the prominent rock you can see here from the road was “the diamond,” but after hiking up there a dozen or so times, we happened to squirrel our way around the big rock, and wow, there’s a smaller rock just behind it that is shaped exactly like a diamond. The smaller rock is very conspicuous from the lower park road, it sits right up there, it’s obvious. But once you get out here on foot, wow, it’s very different. If you really want to see this place, you have to get out of your car.
Of course we were disappointed with so little snow.
One of the most incredible sights in the park is the Sulpher Works. In the days when people lived here, a man actually operated a hotel at this site. Sulphur Works is a place where you can see what’s really going on here, even today. Waganupa never sleeps.
And she hides surprises around every corner.
The Peak remains the star of the park.
We don’t go to the summit every year. This year the parking lot was busy. Really!
We’ve hiked almost to the very summit – the altitude is really something, you can taste the oxygen up there – and then boarded that face. I’ll tell you what – the up takes a loooooong time, and the down takes about 5 minutes, and that’s if you milk it for all it’s worth. But it’s incredible. At my age now, I’m glad to have it under my belt, makes me feel like I been someplace. I still remember enjoying it very much, and it gave my kids a sense of accomplishment.
The trail is up along the right side of the picture, you can just see it in the snow there. It winds up along that stand of trees, then across that upper snow line toward the ragged boulders. Those trees you see up there are as big as the trees you see lower, it’s a real haul. Sometimes we’ve seen little groups of hikers and skiers, they look like tiny ants.
Without her wintry blanket, the mountain is stark, with reminders all around of her awesome power.
It’s been a hundred years since that last big blow, and still the “back side” of the mountain looks somewhat ravaged. As you turn that corner past the summit, you will find another world – The Devastated Area. Very aptly named. This is the side of the mountain that literally blew off, taking every living thing with it, down to the bedrock. Hot ash and then lava raged down the mountain. Age-old glacial snow melted in minutes, picking up a stew of mud and boulders, ripping out centuries-old trees, and tearing down the mountain into the little valley, like a giant’s temper tantrum.
Trees have grown back, but you won’t find anything particularly huge. And everywhere you see the broken lava flow, once a river of molten rock, now a brick-a-brack of broken pottery.
People lived in the park then – besides retired businessman and “amateur” photographer Loomis, there were quite a number of fine ranches with extended families and a little army of employees living in the park. The ranches were wiped out, the families barely escaping with their lives, bought out later when the park was formed. Loomis’ house, his own painstaking work of art located safely north of the blast area, became the Loomis Museum.
The Loomis Museum lies at the northern entrance to the park. We don’t make it there very often. I like to see it, to read the story of this man who came to this beautiful place with his wife and ailing daughter to retire. We are so lucky to have had this man, his photographs of the area are unique, not to mention, he risked his life, knowing what was happening on the mountain, to record the event for history. He just barely made it out – if he had lingered much longer, he and his little entourage would have been vaporized.
The park has taken good care of the Loomis house. You’ll find a homey little museum and gift shop inside, not as “in your face” as the fancy south entrance Visitor’s Center with the gazillion dollar toilets. I love the house itself, built with love and an eye for beauty.
One of my favorite of Loomis’ pictures is of “Hot Rock.”
The rock in the picture had traveled two miles down the mountain slope. Apparently it was still warm to the touch when Loomis and his friends made their way back in the blast site. What adventurers! Whose mom would have allowed her to date a guy like that?
Hot Rock is not the only enormous boulder that was sent airborne. The mixture of two kinds of molten rock made for a regular rainstorm of “pyroclastic bombs.” Here’s another along the pricey “interpretive trail”. The little boxes that are supposed to tell you the story were broken, luckily they included reading material.
By this time, we were all stiff from the drive, decided to call it a day, turn around and go home. We found this man along a lonely stretch of highway, an adventurer.
Always we could turn out head and see the mountain, watching, always watching.