Thursday, July 15, 2010


I arrived around 10pm to Lassen thanks to the exciting “running out of gas” incident from earlier in the evening. I was pretty tired. Thankfully there is a camping area right at the southwest entrance to the park. It was very dark and late so I decided to just sleep in the car. As I was arranging the passenger seat to be my bed – a process of lining it with pillows, my sleeping bag, and putting on my hooded sweatshirt, I noticed how brilliant the night sky is here. I could see so many more stars than back east. I even saw what I believed to be two shooting stars. Some of the stars were twinkling. I think that this is related to the clarity of the night sky allowing me to see the variations in the light – but then again, I did not pay super close attention in our astronomy class from last year.

Since I slept in the car, I woke up quite early – 5:15 to be exact – and got an early jump on the day. I briefly exited the park to take the compulsory photo in front of the sign and picked up a map. It was great to be able to take pictures during sunrise. The mountain peaks came out beautifully. Unfortunately they got a ton of snow here over the winter months. So much, in fact, that two of the three hikes I wanted to do in the park are closed. Bumpass Hell – which is supposed to be an amazing geothermal hike was covered in 5-10 feet of snow and closed because you could fall through the snow into a boiling hot spring or sulfur steam outlet. Then I headed up the road a bit to Lassen Peak. This would have been a great hike as it is the second tallest peak in CA and would have been the first 10,000 peak that I’ve hiked. However there were two obstacles to this hike. Due to heavy snow conditions, ice picks and crampons are required. And… this will only get you 1.3 miles up the trail – about halfway – at which point the trail is closed to all hikers. So, onward I went, stumbling upon a beautiful scene at Summit Lake during sunrise. The steam was floating above the water and evaporating appearing to dance along the water. It is so quiet and peaceful in the park at this time of day. I was even able to park my car on the road to go take pictures of the lake. Nobody else passed through in the 10 minutes that passed.

Next, I stopped at the devastation zone, which is the area which was destroyed by the eruption of Lassen Peak in 1915. The hot sulfur gas first melted the snow and created a boiling mudslide. Then lava and ash pummeled the region as well. The cool thing about the devastation zone is the vast biodiversity which has emerged during the period of regrowth. It is also interesting to see that there are still vast areas of emptiness between the trees in this area.

They are repaving a 23 miles stretch of the road through the park. As I write this, I am sitting waiting for the pilot car to take me through the site. After that I’ll be stopping at the visitors center to see if I can hike the Cinder Cone trail or if that is also under feet of snow at this time.

As it turns out, I ran into a couple of rangers who were doing their morning rounds and the Cinder Cone area is open and snow free. I drove around the park and down an 8 mile dirt road. Dirt is used loosely. It is more like a gravel road with big rocks. I know my Prius hates me for going down that road. But, it was well worth it. Cinder Cone is one of the rarest types of volcanic features on earth. As I began the hike, I noted the well developed Ponderosa Pine forest and tons of chipmunks. To my left there was an enormous bed of lava called Fantastic Lavabeds. This is the lava that came out of the Cinder Cone’s eruption in 1650. The trail was difficult at first because it was a sandy pumice that felt like a beach. However, this seemed easy, shortly. Once it was time to climb Cinder Cone, I had to go up a 45 degree incline of loose rocks and sand. For every step that I took up, I slid back a half a step. This was the hardest hike I’ve ever done. Luckily it was also the most rewarding. When I finally got to the top, my heart pounding at least 150 beats per minute, I was amazed with my panoramic view as well as a view down into the cone as well. It was spectacular. To one side, there was a snow capped mountain, to another the Fantastic Lava Bed, to another smooth ash fields that look akin to the coloration of the painted desert. I’ve never felt so fulfilled from a hike in my life. I tried to take pictures but this is one of those fantastic overwhelming sites – like Glacier and the Grand Canyon – that you cannot capture on film. It is only fully present in my head.

I flew down the trail on my return. It was a lot easier than holding my intertia back. Once I was at the bottom I had to empty my shoes as they were full of ash and small rocks. As I was doing this I saw a small lizard scamper in front of me. He was about Ecto’s size. I wonder how Ecto’s doing? I hope well. Back at the car, I made my way down the difficult dirt road and out to the highway. From here, I punched Mono Lake into the GPS.

Around noon I came around a local pizza place offering and all you can eat pizza and salad and pizza buffet for $6.99. I immediately pulled in. This continues my now three day old tradition of having one large meal a day. This works well when it is just me on the trip because it saves time and also gives me a good diversity of food for a low price. I try to eat this in the early to mid afternoon. I then have waters and diet sodas as I am driving and am too tired to be hungry once I arrive at my destination. The pizza was pretty good. I think it was called Rounds Pizza. It seems to be a local chain.
I crossed briefly into Nevada during my drive, passed through Reno and Carson City, and then headed back to California. At their agricultural station, they confiscated my old rotting peaches from the cooler even though the allowed them upon my previous entry. I then made my way to Mono Lake. On the way, I had more problems with the Prius battery getting very low on the way up mountains. I am going to get this checked out when I get back home because I have the warranty and am disappointed with the sluggishness that this causes.

Mono Lake smelled terrible. It is an inland sea – the westernmost feature of the Great Basin. This means that the water that fills this area does not drain into an ocean. Rather it is trapped and eventually evaporates from the mountain west of the USA. There were tons of seagulls and lots of flies and apparently a good deal of brine shrimp. Overall it was a very unique feature. There are calcium carbonate features that form unique shapes above the surface of the water. The gulls enjoy this. I would have liked to hike along the shore to get close up shots of these but since I am running this solo week with no reservations, I knew I needed to get into Yosemite soon to secure one of the few remaining walk-in campsites. I entered the park through Tioga Pass. The Prius batter again struggled. This coupled with my GPS randomly turning off, and the new crack in my phone’s screen from when I hit it against my sunglasses bringing it up to my ear makes for a very technologically frustrating trip so far! Oh yes and somehow there is moisture in the waterproof camera.

Anyway, back to Yosemite… I love driving through this part of the park. It is the alpine portion and less populated. It is also the home of Tuolomne Meadows. This became one of my favorite places when I visited here as a kid and scampered along the bald granite mountain tops. I was able to get one of the last stops in the Porcupine Flats campground. I wanted to go see the sunset in the valley but maybe I’ll be able to catch the sunrise or the time shortly thereafter tomorrow. It was too late after I set up my tent to get down there. So, instead, I called Kristie to confirm our plans for her arrival in Las Vegas tomorrow and am going to call it an early night. They must have a huge bear problem in Yosemite as I needed to lock all of my food in a bear box – even the food that I have been able to keep in the car at all of the other parks. Ok well goodnight!

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