Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lassen Volcanic National Park: Bumpass Hell

A Poor Man's Yellowstone?
July 21, 2013


  • Editors -- The Weight of Your Love
  • U2 -- The Unforgettable Fire
  • The National -- Trouble Will Find Me
  • PJ Harvey -- Dry
I suspect Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the lesser known parks in the system.  It lacks Yosemite's sheer beauty and Yellowstone's swaggering power, but my one day visit definitely has me itching to go back.  The best parks sink their teeth into you and draw you back over and over, and I'm already feeling the pull to return.
Sulphur Works, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
My mission for the day was a simple one.  I wanted to visit Bumpass Hell.  How could a person resist going to someplace with such a name?  Bumpass Hell.  What does it even mean?
Sulphur Works, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
I looked it up online.  The story goes like this:

There was this dude named Kendall Vanhook Bumpass.  He was a mountain man.  He discovered the area known as Bumpass Hell in the 1860s.  He eventually lost one of his legs after it broke through the thin surface near one of the boiling mud pots.  Not the first time it happened, mind you.  The first time it happened his leg was badly burned and was written up in the newspaper.  It was this write up that gave the place its name.  It was on a later trip to Bumpass Hell where the exact same thing happened, only this time his leg was burned so badly it had to be removed.

I don't know, if it was me I probably would have stayed away from the mud pots on those later trips.
Emerald Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
Entering the park from the South entrance, there are two main attractions before reaching the Bumpass Hell trail head.  The first is Sulphur Works, which has a large boiling mud pot next to the road.  The other is Emerald Lake, which is aptly named.  It's a tiny little green lake with no obvious outlet.  Both are right by the side of the road.  I was there on a Sunday in late July, which I imagine is peak season, but there weren't a lot of cars passing by so the place felt kind of remote even with the car parked only a hundred yards away or so.
On the Trail to Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
The trail to Bumpass Hell is one of the nicer trails I've ever been on.  Keep in mind, that's not saying a whole lot.  It's been a little over a year since I started going on these weekend adventures.  Before that, I didn't get out all that much.  This hike is half the fun, though.  Part of it is carved out of the side of a cliff.  It's only a mile and a half one way, slowly ascending 600 feet before dropping abruptly 250 feet into Hell.
Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
Bumpass Hell consists of a number of tightly-packed volcanic features.  It's got mud pots, hot springs and fumaroles.  There aren't any geysers, but that's about all that's missing.  Well, I mean aside from an actual lava flow.  If this was in Yellowstone, it would be just another stop on the grand loop.  Within Lassen it has its own charm, though.  This area used to be 3000 feet underground, beneath a large mountain that blew it's top scores of centuries ago.
Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
There were probably a couple of dozen cars in the parking lot.  It's a short out and back hike, so you'll bump into just about everyone there either coming or going.  It's also a narrow trail in places, so passing is sometimes a little difficult.  I've heard this characterized as an easy hike, but keep in mind you'll have a total of 850 feet of elevation gain going out and coming in.  It was sunny and hot the day I was there, and I took my time on the return, especially the steep exit out of Bumpass Hell.  I wouldn't characterize it as an easy hike, but I think it's one my seventy year old parents could handle, so it's not too tough either, especially if you're willing to take breaks going up the steep section out of Hell.
Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
There were times when the other people on the trail were pretty obnoxious, but at other times it could be very quiet.  There were some wonderfully well-behaved kids there who were really into the whole experience.  There were some rotten kids, too, the sort that should have just been left at home with their playstations.  Rotten kids suck.
Part of the Cliff Section of the Bumpass Hell Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA 
I've got a lot left to see at Lassen.  I can't wait to get back.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Year in Review, Part 2

Yosemite National Park

I've made six trips to Yosemite National Park in the last year.  Previous to that, I'd never been to the park.  It's an amazing place, and I'm still just getting to know it.

July 22, 2012

I made my first trip to Yosemite the weekend after getting back from Yellowstone.  I didn't do much or spend a lot of time there.  My goal was basically just to see what all the fuss was about.  I drove into the valley, had lunch at the grill, took a few pictures then drove home.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA
I didn't get many good pictures on that trip.  The valley seemed cramped and full of people.  I was trying to get back that open feeling I'd discovered in the Grand Tetons, but I was still a little wiped out from that trip.  I got a hint of what it is that makes Yosemite special to so many people, though.  I also found that the drive there and back was an enjoyable part of the experience.  Very few weekends have passed since that I haven't made a day trip or an over-nighter to someplace interesting.

‎September ‎28, ‎2012
This is what you do in Yosemite, you stop and you gawk
Jim joined me for my second trip to Yosemite.  I had a goal this time to go to Mirror Lake.  It's a two mile one way hike from Happy Isle.  It's a flat, easy hike that can be done either by walking on the roads (closed to all vehicles except buses) or on trails.  We opted for the trails.
Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA

The first trail we took followed the Merced River downstream.  Then we crossed over the road and headed up into the accessible lower part of Tenaya Canyon on a different trail.  As we walked through the trees we'd get glimpses of the high granite walls on either side of us.  Eventually we came to a flat sandy area.  We knew that the trail we were on was going to end abruptly due to rockfall, so we decided to cross over to the main trail here for the rest of the trek to Mirror Lake.  It was only when we got across that it donned on us that this oversized cat litter box we'd just walked across was, in fact, Mirror Lake itself.

Pfft.  What a sorry excuse for a lake.
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, CA
After the hike, we stopped at El Capitan and took some pictures.  We spent some time looking for climbers and found a few. Often, what we thought was the climber was actually his or her gear, the climber would be seen a little ways above.  I'd already noticed how the appearance of the big rocks like Half Dome change over the course of the day as the sun and clouds move across the sky.  This was my first experiance with how dramatic that change can be as the sun sets, though.  The gray face of El Capitan turned a glowing golden hue in the fading sunlight.  This was my first glimpse of Yosemite Valley's quiet, powerful essence.  This is what draws people back time and again.  John Muir spent decades trying to sum this feeling up.  I certainly don't have any hope of explaining it.
I didn't see the climber in this photo until I got home that night

December 30, 2012
Merced River, Yosemite National Park, CA
Upper Yosemite Falls
Winter in Yosemite is where it's at, if you ask me.  The valley is a lot less crowded, but I don't really understand why.  The summer months of July and August are Yosemite's peak season, but the waterfalls aren't flowing and there's obviously no snow on the ground.  All the trails are open and the Merced turns into a swimming hole in those months.  I guess I can see the appeal, and most people do take their vacations in those months, but still, I'll take Yosemite in winter over summer any day of the week.

This was my first opportunity to see Yosemite Falls.  It was still just a trickle, but the ice cone beneath the falls was already large.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA
I hiked to Mirror Lake again on this trip.  What had been an ugly little sandbox in September was now a glassy, beautiful pond.  Seeing that sight alone made the trip worthwhile.  The valley itself was amazing.  It was covered in snow above which hung a mist that gave the place an aura of the supernatural.
Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA

March 24, 2013
Yosemite National Park, CA
I brought my parents to Yosemite.  They came down for the weekend.  We'd spent the previous day at Point Lobos Nature Preserve, which is another one of my favorite day trip spots.  Yosemite put on quite a show for us that day.
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA
This was my first experience in Yosemite when the falls are really flowing.  I was surprised at how they take over the park experience.  Every season reveals a different aspect of Yosemite.

It was tough to leave the park on this trip.  My dad had his camera, and we were both having a lot of fun taking pictures.  My mom put up with us.  As the light changed over the course of the afternoon we'd pass a spot we'd already been but it would look completely different.  We hiked up to the feet of Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls.  I was a little worried about wearing them out so I tried to keep the walks short, but they didn't show any signs of getting tired.
Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA

April 21, 2013
Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, CA
So far, all of my visits had been focused on the valley.  I still finished this trip in the valley, but I was beginning to want to see what else was out there.  My main destination on this day was the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoiyas.
Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, CA
The Grizzly Giant
I have normally taken Highway 120 into Yosemite.  There are two more entrances from the West side using Highway 140 and Highway 41.  I'd heard that 41 has the most dramatic entrance into the park, so I tried taking my parents on that one but I missed the cutover (using 49, I think) and we ended up coming up 140 all the way.  140 is pretty cool because you basically follow the Merced River right up into the valley.  41 enters from the Southern end of the park, very close to the Mariposa Grove.  I managed to hit the cutover this time.

The big trees were pretty cool.  There's a different vibe to this place than in Sequoiya National Park.  The forest isn't as dense.
Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, CA
After walking through the grove, I drove up to the Valley.  I mostly wanted to experience the entrance, to see if it really was dramatic.  Coming through the tunnel is pretty spectacular.  The first thing you see is Bridalveil Falls.  As you come out of the tunnel you get an incredible view of the Valley, dominated by El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls.  I suspect the East entrance may be even more dramatic, but coming in from the West I'd say this is the way to go if you want to take someone's breath away.
Coming in through the Tunnel

June 2, 2013
Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, CA
Probably my best adventure yet in the park so far.  See my post for more details on that one.

Jim Takes Root at Olmstead Point

Friday, July 5, 2013

Year in Review, Part 1

An Epic Road Trip
June 30 - July 14, 2012

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, WY
It was a year ago this week that my friend Jim and I set out on what would turn out to be a pretty epic two week road trip.  We were headed to Colorado to make music with friends, and along the way we played six rounds of golf, visited three National Parks and came away with an enriched appreciation for the great American West.

Oh man, was that a corny intro or what?
Royal Links, Las Vegas, NV
Our first stop was Las Vegas. I'd never been there before. What a strange place. Fun, mind you, but I'm not so sure I see this as a destination that in and of itself will ever draw me back. Now, I'm sure I'll go back to Las Vegas because I think it will serve as a nice launching pad for further adventures and I definitely had a lot of fun, but I don't know that I've ever been anywhere that sums up so much of what I don't like about this country with such acute detail.  The rest of trip was mostly the opposite in that regard.  Still fun, mind you, but less manufactured and cynical.

Of course, we drank and smoked and gambled and golfed and marvelled at all of the beautiful and interesting people.  Jim won a small fortune--minuscule, really--playing craps, then lost it all on a single spin of the roulette wheel.  I made enough money playing roulette to pay for lunch for both of us the next day and to purchase a camping lantern.  We played Royal Links, which I would definitely recommend to anyone looking to golf in Vegas.  Every hole is designed after a famous hole in Britain.  It even has St. Andrews' road hole.  It just doesn't get much more Las Vegas than that.
Jim Discovers the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Our next stop was the Grand Canyon.  I'd never been there before.
Comanche Point, Grand Canyon National Park, NV
We lucked out and found a camp site in the park at the Desert View Campground.  It was less crowded there than at the Mather Campground, though I think it filled up soon after we arrived.  It was a beautiful night.  We watched the sunset near the Desert View Watchtower, which is one of the goofier things I've seen in a National Park.  It was built in 1932 to look like an old Indian lookout tower, but it's really just a tacky, Disneylandish gift shop.
Black Mesa Golf Club, Española, NM
The next day we set out for New Mexico.  I'd never been there before.  Our destination was Española, which is just North of Santa Fe and Los Alamos.  New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment, or at least that's what it says on their license plates.  Having only spent a night and a day there I can't speak for the entire state, but what little I saw did nothing to dissuade me from believing that statement to be true.  I wouldn't mind settling down out there some day.
Black Mesa Golf Club, Española, NM

We played a round at Black Mesa Golf Club.  Jim and I agree that this was the nicest course on the trip.  It's a beautiful layout that had us pausing to reflect on just about every tee box.  I've played a lot of nice courses and Black Mesa rates pretty high on my list.  After the round we checked out the nearby Puye Cliff Dwellings.  The people there were very nice and we took a guided tour of the ruins.
Puye Cliff Dwellings, Española, NM
After the cliff dwellings, we were on our way to La Veta, Colorado, where we would be staying at Bruce's house for a couple of days.  I'd never been there before.  Along the way, we took an unplanned scenic detour that added an hour or so to the drive time but we happened upon a steam locomotive on the way through the mountains.  We saw some amazing scenery on that drive.  It was one of my better mistakes.
The Cumbres & Toltec Somewhere North of Chama, NM
Bruce's house isn't actually in La Veta.  La Veta is a good fifteen or twenty minutes away.  His house is someplace else.  I wouldn't say it's in the middle of nowhere because I don't think nowhere would be as cool as this place.  He's got a nice view of the Spanish Peaks from his deck.  There are some massive boulders on his property.  It's easy to see why Bruce picked this as his home.
The View of West Spanish Peak and Jim's Big Head from Bruce's Backyard
We spent a couple of days at Bruce's house just hanging out and making music.  Bruce has a nice little studio set up.  We didn't do any recording, though, we just spent a lot of time bullshitting our way through each day and jamming in the evenings.
The Band (minus our photographer Jim)

Daring the Gods

Bruce took us up to an abandoned ski resort.  I suspect this is a place were teenagers probably hang out on warm summer evenings.  It had a bit of a Shining vibe to it, especially the outside bar.  I know, there wasn't an outside bar in The Shining, but it was still easy to imagine saddling up to the thing and being served cocktails by a long-dead bartender who looks like a skinny Elvis in a cowboy hat.

Jim and I were joined by Bruce and Marko for a round of golf at Grandote Peaks in La Veta.  Malcolm and Dave requisitioned a golf cart and joined us for the back half.  A thunderstorm broke out toward the end.  We all survived.
Grand Tetons National Park, WY
After hanging out at Bruce's for a few days, we quit the band and headed North to Grand Tetons National Park.  I'd never been there before.  We found a campsite near Signal Mountain Lodge, then hiked around Jenny Lake and Finger Lake to Leigh Lake.  Next time I'm bringing a kayak.
Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Old Faithful
Grand Tetons National Park is a great place.  We stayed there because I though it would be easier to find a campsite there than at Yellowstone, which was our ultimate destination.  It was definitely a lot less crowded than Yellowstone and we were able to find a campsite.  We only encountered a few people around the lakes and on the other little excursions we made.  I would definitely recommend the strategy of using the Grand Tetons as home base for anyone visiting the Southern end of Yellowstone.

We spent a day in Yellowstone.  I'd never been there before.  We drove the Southern Loop and made a number of stops and short hikes.  Our first encounter with the thermal features of Yellowstone was with Old Faithful.  I don't know if there's anything all that impressive with Old Faithful in and of itself other than the fact that it's so regular.  Don't go to Yellowstone just to see Old Faithful, just go to Yellowstone and don't go without seeing Old Faithful.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, WY
The real draw for me to Yellowstone was the Grand Prismatic Spring.  I'd seen it in pictures and movies, but this was something I absolutely wanted to experience in real life, it's the real reason we headed up North on this trip.  It did not disappoint.  The colors were incredible.  While nothing replaces being there, the spring is very photogenic.  It's not one of those places where you say pictures don't do it justice.
Lower Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park, WY
The power and beauty of Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone were the big surprise for me on this trip.  Again, I'd seen a lot of pictures and film, but I did not expect to be as overwhelmed as I was by these sights.  The hike to the top of the falls from the parking lot is only about three quarters of a mile.  However, it descends six hundred feet and has thirteen switchbacks (yes, I counted).  What an experience, though.  While not nearly as large as the Grand Canyon, with the waterfall roaring beneath your feet I doubt there's a view as dramatic as this anywhere in that big chasm to the South.
Rocky Mountain Elk, Yellowstone National Park, WY
It wasn't until late in the day that we saw much wildlife.  We'd seen a buffalo near Old Faithful in the morning, but that was about it until late in the afternoon.  We ended up seeing a lot of buffalo and a few elk.  Our biggest excitement was seeing a wolf on the side of the road.  I wanted to get out to take pictures but Jim insisted on saving my life.  We figured out later that it was only a coyote.  Duh.  I mean, I like coyotes, mind you.  Some people think of them as trash animals because they tend to beg along the roadsides for food, but they're alright in my book.  To have seen a wolf would have been something.
Jackson Hole Golf Club, Jackson Hole, WY
After a long day of touring Yellowstone, we spent the next day chilling out in Jackson Hole.  To be honest, I kind of regret not going back to Yellowstone for a second day.  That's hindsight.  At the time, Jim and I were both a bit worn out.  A mellow round of golf on a nice course with great views was just what the doctor ordered, and that's just what we got.  A moose had been seen on the course the day before, but we didn't see one.  We saw an osprey, though.  It was a good day.
Jim Revives the Ancient Native American Sport of Log Surfing on the Santiam River
The next day was the longest haul of the trip, from the Grand Tetons to Bend, OR.  That was probably the only not-too-great part of the trip.  I hear Idaho is beautiful, but not from what I saw.  I've often thought that if all anyone ever saw of California was what they see on I-5, aside from Mount Shasta they'd probably come away thinking California is one ugly place.  I imagine this part of Idaho might be similar.
Elkhorn Valley Golf Course, Lyons, OR
The long haul set us up for an easy couple of days, though.  We were able to sleep in and take a leisurely drive to Elkhorn Valley Golf course, where we met my dad and his high school buddy Marv for a round of golf.  I hadn't seen Marv since I was a kid, so that was a lot of fun.  Elkhorn Valley is a real asskicker.  It's the only course I've ever been to where they have a spot on the scorecard for tracking lost balls.  Of all the courses I've played in Oregon, though, this is the one that I think sums up what this area of the country is like the best.  It was extremely hot that day, as I recall.
Mallard Creek Golf Course, Lebanon, OR
Our final round of golf on the trip was with my dad at Mallard Creek.  Originally, we'd hoped to start the trip with a round of golf with Jim's dad in Reno, but that didn't work out.  It would have been a cool way to bookend the trip.  Elkhorn Valley and Mallard Creek are my two favorite course near Salem, so it was cool to play them back to back.
Mallard Creek Golf Course, Lebanon, OR
Our trip ended with a straight shot from Salem back to the Bay Area.  I've probably made that drive fifty times in my life, so there's not a lot that I find interesting about the drive.  Mount Shasta is pretty cool, I guess.  Since this trip, I've made it a point to get out of the house a lot more.  I've been to seven other National Parks since this trip and a handful of National Monuments.  I've hiked a lot more--up to nine miles in a single day--and have seen scores of different types of birds and animals, including a couple of black bear.  I'm going to highlight a few things from those adventures from the last year in my next few posts.  It all started here with this trip with my friend Jim.