Volcanic Odyssey: First stop Lassen

A long-awaited visit to Alicia’s hometown in northeastern California quickly spurred us on a volcanic odyssey. The town, actually several small towns, are collectively known as Indian Valley, which sits nestled in a beautiful mountain meadow where the Sierra Nevadas meet the actively volcanic Cascades. Our sulfurous adventures began nearby at Lassen Volcanic National Park near Chester, Calif.

Lions, Bears and hikers, oh my!

Bubbling mud pots and other steamy sights enticed us along the scenic drive through the park on Highway 89. About halfway through, we pulled into a parking lot at a picnic area and mistakenly walked the wrong way on the King’s Creek Trail. We should have gone uphill for the Cold Boiling Lake Trail, but there must have been a signage snafu…or something. Alicia thinks maybe her glasses fogged.

At another parking area we discovered a closed sign on the landmark Bumpass Hell Trail. Two other visitors arrived  while we stood there staring at the closed sign and bright orange construction barricade. The young women, both loaded down with backpacks, were also surprised by the closure. While we stood there in denial, they laughed with unwrinkled brows. “There’s always next year,” one chimed.   We don’t think they understood our consternation at their words. Maybe they will understand in about 40 years, if a lion doesn’t eat them first.

So, we finished our drive and decided to take a small detour and see Subway Cave on our way back to camp. Hilariously, we forgot to bring good flashlights, but Stu’s phone and my weak glove-box light got us through this fun little lava tube.

For the next two days, we drove from Chester to Drakesbad, where we hiked the Devil’s Kitchen Trail one day and the Boiling Springs Lake Trail another. Both featured steamy and smelly volcanic action similar to what we missed at Bumpass Hell.

On the Devil’s Kitchen Trail, returning hikers were still chattering with arms akimbo after their encounter with several bears. We both looked at our rather insubstantial walking sticks, we pictured bears ravaging our daypack filled with pretzels and peanut butter, and then we shrugged and walked on. Maybe we should better prepare ourselves for encounters of the wild kind, especially after all the recent mountain lion, bear and wolf news in the northwest. At the halfway point, we nervously sat on a couple of rocks to eat and watch for the storied bears. We didn’t take lunch for the lake trail the next day, since it was a much shorter one.

Sadly, or luckily depending on one’s frame of mind, the only large four-legged predator we ever spied was a young bear cub at the edge of the park. We also saw a little short-legged, long-bodied critter zip across the forest road so fast, its dark brown streak was long gone before we could even scratch our heads in wonderment.

Alicia finds looking at animal tracks and signs interesting, even if she doesn’t quite know what made them. In the linked video you will see a couple of her still shots, including decomposed, bear-shredded logs, a confusing array of human and animal prints, and one big pile of poop…weird yes, but fun for her.

Horseback rides from the guest ranch looked like fun too, and would make the treks possible for those less mobile. We swear the kitchen trail was more than the posted four miles, plus, our old legs felt like it was uphill both ways! We came back for more the next day, though!

Sadly, when we were about to return to the car after that last Lassen volcanic hike, we saw a group of three young adults pass a “stay on the trail” sign, step over the barricade and walk right down to the edge of the lake, probably to see if the water really was 125-degrees. It’s people like them who will have us all banned from such national treasures in the future.

Day Trips

Besides the volcanic action, there are many interesting day trips and activities in surrounding communities! Pancake breakfasts at Masonic Lodges, an Elks Fish fry, church suppers…check local newspaper calendars of events and call the contact person listed, just to verify things. Or check event listings online here. Thrift and antique shops abound, and so do unique gifts, jewelry and collectibles. Check out all the museums, too, each offers unique insights into local people, habitats, industry and so much more!

Bicyclists might enjoy the 12-mile paved, multi-use path along the lake with just a few entrances between Canyondam and Chester. The trail might be classified as moderate due to the number of hills. Or maybe that’s just a wimp talking. Road bikers would enjoy riding the back roads around Indian Valley, either from Greenville or Taylorsville. If taking this route, detour on Stampfli Lane for even more scenic wonder. This short road across the valley is a favorite for locals who enjoy daily walks. Hundreds of bicyclists enjoy these roads each year, especially during annual rides. Here’s the link for the 2019 entry form. For other rides, check online event listings here.

Shoppers will enjoy local gift, drug and thrift shops which  feature amazingly unique collections. One thrift shop in Chester was named Junk and Disorderly, and it was great! In Greenville, there is another huge thrift shop across Main Street from Sterling and Sage, where a great adventure awaits those who enter. Pick up visitor information while there, and take the walking tor of town. Stu, an easterner, says Greenville reminds him of the series Northern Exposure, except in place of Mort, there’s probably a black steer on the loose, or at least a couple of deer and a few wild turkeys.

Crescent Country in Crescent Mills is another must-see Indian Valley gem full of local art, antiques and collectibles. Ask to use the potty while here. It’s the cleanest and probably the only public bathroom for miles in any direction.

Then head for Taylorsville, where the Indian Valley Museum features a world-class gem and mineral room full of fossils, copper ores, a dinosaur egg, exquisite lapidary and much more. The museum itself is pretty great, too! There is also the Cy Hall Memorial Museum in Greenville, right across Mill Street from the historic two-storey brick Masonic Hall.

Visitor Centers are a sure bet before adventures in the parks. There is a Lassen National Forest Visitor Center in the town of Chester, California, just across from an Air Attack Base (for fire fighting), where two red and white “Dusty” planes sit between daily exercises. There is also a visitor center at the Lassen Volcanic National Park. See map at bottom of page.

Ask lots of questions to draw out the person behind the desk. He or she might just mention the one place that will make it the best adventure ever! For example, a Lava Beds ranger told us about Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which we’d never even heard of.

Also, ask about dispersed and regular camping locations,  hiking and biking trails, and types of wildlife one might encounter in those places. Finally, ask about any special needs, such as doggy day care or restaurants that cater to vegetarians or seafood lovers.

Bonus! If you go to the Lassen National Forest Visitor Center/Ranger Station in Chester,  look across the highway at the Air Attack Base. Two red and white “Dusty” planes perch on the tarmac.

Where we stayed

Almanor Legacy Campground: Beautiful, wide open, non-reservable sites, several suitable for big rigs 43’ and more! We arrived on a Thursday in mid-August, and several sites were open. There were even a couple empty sites on the weekends. There are two double sites for those who camp with friends, but they are also available singly. Entry to the 12-mile, paved multi-use lake path is easy from camp. Two restaurants are nearby, the nearest one with full bar. There’s good power at 20/30/50 amp pedestals, good water, concrete picnic tables, and great fire rings with grills. The dump station is great, easy in/out, but hoses for sewer purposes have cut-off ends. We saw people using long hoses connected to the drinking water spigots for tank washing. There was no antenna TV at our site, and Verizon was so weak, even phone calls frequently dropped. 

bottle of wine and glass with campfire in background
Perfect ending for a day of hiking in the Lassen Volcanic National Park. We pulled  it from the “ginormous” selection at Evergreen Market in Greenville.

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