lassen reflections   12 comments

Posted at 12:37 pm in california,geology,trees

the clear, reflective waters of Emerald Lake

As mentioned in past posts, this autumn’s trip route had to be adjusted almost daily due to rapidly changing weather conditions. My plan had been to spend time closer to the coast early in the trip, then move eastward at the end. However, as the days and miles rolled by, we ended up moving ever east and southward. I would get up each morning, check out the current weather around me, read the weather forecasts emailed to the blackberry by my brother back in Canada, and then map out the next move while munching on breakfast. After a time, it began to feel like a strategic game – as though California was an enormous chessboard of sun and clouds, blasted by roving storm systems. If I moved here, it was likely that I’d be clobbered by rain. If I moved there, strong winds out of the north might dump snow on me. The trip route became entirely improvisational, often wandering off over some mountain range or down some highway I’d never even considered before breakfast.

The trip over Mount Lassen became one of the many route modifications on my journey. Twice in past years, I’d intended to visit Lassen, only to be thwarted by early snows blocking off the main road through the park. On this year’s trip, Lassen seemed to be among the few areas with stable weather so it was simply a seize-the-moment decision to go. Under clear skies, we followed Route 89 as it entered the park boundary to begin the winding ascent over the summit.

Lassen Peak, reflected in the waters of Lake Helen

Being both driver and trip documentarian, I didn’t take many photos along this route. If you’ve driven through Lassen, it’s likely you’ll know why. A narrow highway, occasionally topped with patches of icy melt, winds ever upwards, while the often narrow shoulder dives abruptly several hundreds of feet down screes unbroken by trees or any other solid objects. For the acrophobic (such as myself), concentrating on keeping the van on firm pavement occupied most of my time. Clicking while driving, even at a snail’s pace, was not a temptation.

Lassen, reflected in the waters of Manzanita Lake

Fortunately, there were turnouts from which to photograph the several beautiful lakes along the route. Emerald Lake was, true to its name, a wonderful translucent green, reflecting even the most minute patches of snow from the slope beyond (top photo – click on all photos for larger views). Similarly, Lake Helen (above), and Manzanita Lake (also above) provided “post card” opportunities for shots – the kind of thing I suppose we come to expect in a national park.

surface eddies in the crystal waters of swift flowing Hat Creek

However, for me, it’s the smaller places or objects that tend to capture my attention. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to landscapes where a White Pine is often the tallest point in view. Or, perhaps it’s that I tend to spend a lot of time looking down at my feet, focusing on insects and other tiny beings. I took greatest delight in watching mysterious eddies form, disappear, and then reform across the surface of the swift, crystal waters of Hat Creek (above), or measuring a massive corn-cob-like conifer cone against my shoe.

a more than foot long cone dwarfs my foot (ID anyone?)

We camped at two sites within Lassen – at Manzanita Lake, near the northeast park boundary – and then at Butte Lake, which is accessed from a road leading south into the park from Route 44. At Butte Lake, it seemed that we might be the sole campers, until late in the evening when a car pulled in and someone pitched a tent well-removed from our site. The campground is sheltered by a towering Ponderosa Pines. The sound of the breeze through their needles was unbroken by human-generated noise. There are lava flows – massive jumbles of black rock pressing against the forest and a large tongue extending into the lake (click on photo below to see an area of the flow in the background). I would have liked to hike the trail leading to the Painted Dunes, but dogs cannot be taken on the park’s trail system. Instead, we settled on wandering around nearby the campground where we came upon one of the largest and most beautiful Ponderosa pines that I’ve yet seen while traveling in the west. I wish I’d thought enough to have Sage and Sabrina sit in front of it for scale, but take my word – it was quite a tree (see below). The next morning, leaving Butte Lake, we traveled east to Susanville, and then south down the eastern side of the Sierras. More about that soon.

massive Ponderosa pine, against lava flow near Butte Lake

Written by bev on December 19th, 2009

12 Responses to 'lassen reflections'

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  1. Your photos make me want to jump in the car and drive to Lassen right away. It looks so beautiful there, and to think I’ve never made after all the driving we’ve done up and down this crazy state. We’ll probably have to wait until some time in late spring, though before venture up there. It does look like a good place to explore.

    I’m pretty sure that very large pine cone comes from a Sugar Pine. We found a few a couple of weeks ago and did a little online research and found that Sugar Pines produce the largest cones. Check this out:

    robin andrea

    19 Dec 09 at 3:21 pm

  2. robin – Thanks. I believe you’re right about the Sugar Pine i.d. By the way, the cone and the bark of a huge tree nearby had quite a bit of resin dripped here and there. The cone was much larger than any I can remember seeing in the east.
    Lassen is a beautiful place, and I think it would be possible to find peaceful areas within in the park, even during peak season. My guess is that the greatest tourist concentration would be along the main road, especially around the volcanic features. The forests and meadows are probably much less visited, especially during the shoulder season.


    19 Dec 09 at 3:34 pm

  3. Those pictures of Lassen are just simple pure B-E-A-U-T-Y.
    Thank you so much for sharing them. There is something soothing in those visions. So I can only imagine how it was to actually be there, physically there.
    Travel safe.


    19 Dec 09 at 6:05 pm

  4. Looks like a place that could quickly make me feel at ease and part of the larger world.


    19 Dec 09 at 11:40 pm

  5. what absolutely gorgeous scenery Bev! the reflections are mesmerizing and I could relate to you watching the eddies form/dissapear so well.. water is so very healing and soothing. I love those large pine trees and the cone is a great find. I have some large cones that a friend sent me from CA, but they’re shaped differently. Thanks for sharing this most special place.


    20 Dec 09 at 4:11 pm

  6. Lassen pictures at last. I lived at Lake Tahoe for a while in the 70s and always noted Lassen on the map. But I never made it there. It’s still on the list, but I’m not sure I’ll ever make it.


    21 Dec 09 at 12:11 pm

  7. Bev, these images are lovely and following you along in your travels has been a rare and precious treat in the last months and weeks. Stay warm and feel free to do a little rambling for me! I am (alas) not allowed out right now.


    22 Dec 09 at 6:04 pm

  8. Spectacular photos Bev, best wishes for the festive season!


    23 Dec 09 at 4:45 am

  9. John – You would definitely find that you could relax and feel part of the larger world at Lassen. The views in almost every direction are wonderful.

    Cindy – Hat Creek was very beautiful. The photos don’t really do it justice. It was so pretty there that I could have sat and watched the water for much of a day.

    Mark – If you get the chance, definitely be sure to go for a visit. The scale is pretty large. Actually, I liked some of the meadows down below the peak about the best. There’s so much of geological interest if you’re into volcanic activity. I would have liked to have spent some time checking out more of that, but couldn’t as I had my dogs and they aren’t allowed on those trails. I’m sure they wouldn’t have liked that part anyhow, as the gases are fairly strong in those areas.

    Cate – Thanks! I’m glad that I’ve been able to take you along with me, even if it is only through photos and writing. I hope you won’t be confined indoors for too long and will be able to get out to do some rambling around of your own soon. Take care.

    Duncan – Thanks! Best wishes for the festive season to you and Coral as well!


    23 Dec 09 at 1:55 pm

  10. The air is so clear there. My favorite is the photo of the Ponderosa pine. Deep shadows. Bright light.


    23 Dec 09 at 5:31 pm

  11. Such wondrous things you show us, large and small.

    All the very best for Christmas and the New Year; I look forward to following your wanderings.


    24 Dec 09 at 5:26 pm

  12. am – That was such a beautiful pine. So immense. Such beautiful bark.

    Lucy – Thanks! I’m glad that you are coming on this journey.


    12 Jan 10 at 12:00 am

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