Waganupa – the center of the world

Waganupa!

Waganupa!

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.

Hwy 89 winds through the park toward the peak.

Hwy 89 winds through the park toward the peak.

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.

Here is Diamond Peak, if you look real hard at about center you will see  what I call "the fake diamond." The real "diamond" is smaller, to the left, and mostly obscured by the trees.

Here is Diamond Peak, if you look real hard at about center you will see what I call “the fake diamond.” The real “diamond” is smaller, to the left, and mostly obscured by the trees.

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.

While it's really exciting to see any snow right now, if you're familiar with the park, this is shocking. The terrain is almost foreign without a blanket of white.

While it’s really exciting to see any snow right now, if you’re familiar with the park, this is shocking. The terrain is almost foreign without a blanket of white.

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.

My family has watched this mudpot grow from a tiny crack in the ground to a vat the size of a small hot tub, in about 10 years.

My family has watched this mudpot grow from a tiny crack in the ground to a vat the size of a small hot tub, in about 10 years.

Sulphur Works is a good place to pay attention to the signage.

Sulphur Works is a good place to pay attention to the signage.

And she hides surprises around every corner.

It was nice to see Lake Helen was still pretty iced over, even if it was thin ice. We need a sign like this for the front door of Chico City Hall.

It was nice to see Lake Helen was still pretty iced over, even if it was thin ice. We need a sign like this for the front door of Chico City Hall.

The Peak remains the star of the park.

Ever watching, all seeing, all knowing, the sleeping giant.

Ever watching, all seeing, all knowing, the sleeping giant.

We don’t go to the summit every year. This year the parking lot was busy. Really!

At the summit parking lot we encounter people from all over the world.  One year an extended German family arrived in their emmaculate Mercedes Benz motorhome. Another time we met a Japanese couple who had a fascination with volcanos. This time we met a lady from Boston  - "oh yeah!" she launged, "I came all this way and I can't get away from snow!"

At the summit parking lot we encounter people from all over the world. One year an extended German family arrived in their immaculate Mercedes Benz motor home. Another time we met a Japanese couple who had a fascination with volcanoes, they’d traveled all over the world visiting “hot spots”. This time we met a lady from Boston – “oh yeah!” she laughed, “I came all this way and I can’t get away from snow!” The couple in the foreground is getting ready to take a quick hike with their cross-country ski’s.

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 all seeing eye. It knows everything.

The all seeing eye. It knows everything.

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.

A moonscape with trees - the "Devastated Area".

A moonscape with trees – the Devastated Area.

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.

Here is the series of photos taken minutes apart by North State legend B. F. Loomis, showing the magnificent explosion that left square miles of wilderness completely charbroiled and scrubbed cleaner than a soup bone.

Here is the series of photos taken minutes apart by North State legend B. F. Loomis, showing the magnificent explosion that left square miles of wilderness completely charbroiled and scrubbed cleaner than a soup bone. 

Wow, I would have hated to be standing here when the lava hit the fan.

Wow, I would have hated to be standing here when the lava hit the fan.

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.

I love this beautiful building, it's worth a trip almost to Red Bluff.

I love this beautiful building, it’s worth the trip. 

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.

See how Loomis laid these bits of volcanic glass into the stair railing.

See how Loomis laid these bits of volcanic glass into the stair railing.

One of my favorite of Loomis’ pictures is of “Hot Rock.”

These people would be facing the road, surrounded by trees today.

These people would be facing the road, surrounded by trees today.

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?

Here it lies, Hot Rock. Imagine looking up and seeing this thing bouncing down the slope at you.

Here it lies today, Hot Rock. Imagine looking up and seeing this thing bouncing down the slope at you. The picture above was taken on the opposite end of the rock, facing the other way.

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.

We were disappointed to find this spendy stuff doesn't work. The feds just spent a bunch of money on Lassen - all high tech nonsense.

We were disappointed to find this spendy stuff doesn’t work. The feds just spent a bunch of money on Lassen – all high tech nonsense.  But the picture is cool!

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.

A man and his bike.

A man and his bike.

Always we could turn out head and see the mountain, watching, always watching.

Always.

Always.

 

 

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One thought on “Waganupa – the center of the world

  1. Pingback: Mt Lassen – I haven’t been able to get up there yet this year, but here’s some pix from old trips | worldofjuanita

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