The heat steams up from the bowels of the earth and the creeks boil. Mud pots erupt and you’re warned to stay on the trail or risk being swallowed by the earth. So lies the adventure in visiting this out of the way and pristine national park.
Mt. Lassen lies about an hour’s drive east of Redding, California. Any further north and we’d risk having to start another page on Oregon. A Redding Chamber of Commerce brochure optimistically says that the city is a 90 minute drive north of Sacramento. That would be if you drive like Jeff Gordon at Daytona. Realistically, it’s a good 2 ½ hour drive from the state capitol.
We stayed at the
After a good night’s rest, we head over to the north entrance to Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park. There is a 35 mile drive, north to south, through the heart of the park allowing you to make an all-day loop of it. The day we went there was a lot of construction taking place on highway 44 over from Redding. After about an hour’s worth of delays, we were glad we would not be taking this road back.
Before Mt. St. Helens blew its top in the 80's, this park was the closest you could actually come to seeing a volcano in action in the lower 48. Back in 1915, Mt. Lassen blew (with much less devastation than St. Helens). It was made a national park soon after due to the unique opportunity to study an actual living volcano.
Immediately after entering the park, we come to the visitor’s center. Inside, we see many photos of the eruption and watch a video about it. We learn that Mt. Lassen is actually a remnant of a much larger ancient volcano called Mt. Tehama and that most of the park is the crater of this old volcano.
What we’ve come to see are the ongoing volcanic features of the park which reside mainly in two areas. Bumpass Hell, a Yellowstone-like area of fumaroles, mud pots, and steam vents, and the Sulphur Works, a much smaller version of Bumpass Hell. Talking to the ranger at the visitor’s center puts the kabosh on that plan...the trail into Bumpass Hell (3 miles round trip) is not wheelchair accessible.
Disappointed at this, we nevertheless are determined to push on. The ranger gladly marks up a map of the park where all the accessible features are. It’s not a whole lot, but on the bright side, it can all easily be done in a day.
The first stop on our accessible tour is the Devastated Area. Here is where lava, ash, and rocks rained down from the mountain and landslides scoured the earth bare of any trees. 80 years have shown that the forest can make a remarkable comeback but the area can still be seen in contrast to the undamaged areas adjacent to it.
An accessible, paved hiking trail about ½ mile long winding through various types of lava rocks and scenes of volcanic destruction. You also have a marvelous view of the old crater itself from here.
On up to the next stop is a parking area at the highest point of the road. Along the way we are treated to colorful fields of wildflowers being watered from the icy cold melt water of the glaciers above. At this altitude, August is springtime.
We continue up to the summit parking area. From here the 10,457 foot peak is ribbed with year round glaciers and tantalizingly close. Alas, the ranger told us this trail is not accessible...although at least the first half mile in view of the parking lot doesn’t look like it would pose a major problem for chairs. We’ll leave it up to someone who is more adventurous to determine just how accessible it is.
Just down the road we come upon the Sulphur Works, a small geologic showplace. A large steam vent directly adjacent to the road is easy for wheelchairs to get a good look at. A bumpy boardwalk allows wheelers to go about 100 yards to see more steam vents, mudpots and a boiling creek. The view is great and ominous signs warn visitors to stay on the path or risk falling through the thin crust to a hot death!
The boardwalk continues about another 200 yards but stairs block access to the rest of it. Most of the volcanic activity is concentrated in that first 100 yards, so you’re not missing much on the rest of the trail.
Not far beyond here the road leads out the south side of the park. All wheelchair accessible activities can be accomplished in half a day. In all, the park is very minimal in its accessibility and the largest, most scenic and spectacular parts of the park are off limits to wheelchairs at this time. On the plus side, you and your party don’t have to pay the entry fee by using the Golden Access pass.
Back in Redding, we visit Caldwell Park to the south where we find a amazingly accessible trail that winds for miles through cottonwoods, beaver ponds, and alongside the Sacramento River. This is a beautiful wheelchair hiking trail. (Park next to the picnic pavilion and look for the trail head to the east.
We had a lovely dinner on a deck overlooking the mighty Sacramento River at Amigos Mexican Restaurant which has great access to the best views of the river. Back at the Amerihost, we find an old cemetery out back behind the hotel where we have a game of who can find the oldest headstone. Tim wins with 1853.
Copyright 2000 - Darryl Musick
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