Last weekend, the Beloved had a business trip to the way north of California and we decided to make a long weekend of it and see a little more of the Golden State. Her business was up in Eureka, but we’d spent some time exploring there a few years ago and opted to make a trip about four hours east to the area around Mt. Shasta.
Our base was the tiny town of McCloud, which was essentially right under Mt. Shasta and could have doubled for the town that Linda Hamilton was the mayor of in Dante’s Peak. Fortunately for us Shasta didn’t erupt while we were there and we did not need Pierce Brosnan to save us.
After a hearty breakfast, we set out for McArthur Burney Falls State Park, which was about an hour outside of McCloud and on our way to Lassen. It was suggested to us as a stop by a couple of the Beloved’s colleagues. Near as we could figure it, we were pretty much the only people there — and were treated to one of the most spectacular waterfalls that you’d ever hope to see.
There was a mile-long trail that went down to the falls, crossed the stream a little downriver, switch-backed up the other side and crossed back again above the falls.
I suppose there are more beautiful places in California, but on last Saturday morning? I doubt it.
After tearing ourselves away from the Falls, we headed south to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen is one of the most least-visited Parks in the system, getting about 10% of the number of visitors that the “big parks” get, including its geothermal cousin, Yellowstone.
Lassen is dominated by the the volcano that gives the park its name. In 1914, it became the Mt. St Helens of its day, exploding out its north face. The remnants of that eruption are still visible a century later in a landscape strewn with volcanic rocks. We stopped at great ranger station and picked up a lot of the history of the eruption and the park.
The road through the park winds up and around the volcano. The trail to the summit was closed for maintenance, so we chose to go on a hike that was about 3 miles each way to a thermal spring called Bumpass Hell. It’s named for a man (Bumpass) that guided people to the area in the 19th century that lost his leg during one trip in which the thin mantle he was standing on collapsed and he fell into a bubbling mud-pit.
The area seems like another planet. Or maybe it’s a backward glimpse at primordial times. The rotten-egg reek of hydrogen sulfide is thick in the air. Steam pours in great gouts from fumaroles in the ground. Pockets of elemental sulfur dot the ground. Mud pits burble and small ponds boil, their waters tinged green with metal salts. It is awful. And it is awesome.
And as an added bonus, I didn’t poison myself.
We wound our way through the park stopping at a few other places for views or geothermal oddities. As we made our way back, I kept thinking how few people were here enjoying these wonders on a beautiful Autumn day — and I want to tell folks “Go here!”, but maybe we’ll just keep it to ourselves for a while longer.