Laguna Seca Trip: Day 6 – Lassen to Willows, CA

Thursday, July 14

Today will be an easy day. It’s only about three hours to the motel in Willows. So I took my time getting packed up. Chatted with a fellow from Huntington Beach who used to own a Porsche Speedster. The car gets a lot of attention on the road, but very few people approached me to talk about it in the campground.

With some time to kill in the park, I decided to hike to Terrace Lake. There are actually two lakes here, almost adjacent, the other being Shadow Lake. On the map, Shadow Lake looks pretty big and the trail goes right along the shore. Should be tough to miss. I head down the trail, encountering quite a bit of snow. At times it’s a little tough finding the route. A few minutes later I arrive at a trail sign: Terrace Lake is .3 miles down the trail to the right.

I head down the trail to the right. I hike quite a long way without seeing any lakes at all. Before long I figured I’d gone a mile but I decided to carry on. I soon reach another trail junction. This one says Terrace Lake is 1.7 miles up the trail I’ve just come down. Clearly, somebody moved these lakes. You’d think somebody capable of finding more than eighty lakes in RMNP should be able to follow a trail to a couple of lakes here. How can both signs be wrong?

Shortly after turning around my mind wandered back to the question of “what if it erupts now?” This time it would take me an hour to get back to the car, but everything is in the car, so that’s good. I’m amused that I went down this line of thought once, let alone twice. The chances of this thing going off are orders of magnitude less than of me getting hit by lightning or getting in an auto accident. I never ponder those things.

There’s a large down tree that crosses the path; a section has been sawn out. The diameter of this tree trunk is four and a half or five feet. I was curious how old it was but the cut was old and rough so I couldn’t tell. Gave it a good look both times I passed it; it may have been the most interesting sight on the hike.

I arrived back at the trailhead just as a guy is starting down. He had spent the night at the same campground, but Loop A instead of Loop B. He hiked as far as Cliff Lake yesterday, said it was the best hike he’d been on. He asked me what I thought of Terrace Lake. I told him I couldn’t find it. He aborted his hike. I’m sure he’ll find it eventually, as he lives in Red Bluff, only about an hour away.

I stopped at the visitor center on my way out and bought a shirt. Still no cell service here, but another text message arrives. I’ve heard quite a few odd accents and foreign languages so far on this trip. A German family was in line in front of me. I’ve heard Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Polish, Korean, Japanese and probably a couple more.

On the road again, I turn right on CA 36. Very quickly, two motorcycles and a giant truck catch me. I’m only doing 5 over. The bikes pass me on double yellow. They pull off at a country store a few miles later so the road in front of me is clear. The big truck is getting big in the mirrors. I pull over and let him pass. It’s a big timber truck, with no cargo. He’s carrying his rear wheels rather than pulling them. Before long he’s out of sight. We hit a series of increasingly tight turns: 35mph, 30mph, 25 mph. I finally catch him but when the road straightens out, he’s pulling away again. At an intersection he pulls off to the right and waves at me as I pass, then he makes a left turn (where a fully loaded timber truck is arriving).

By now the road has fallen about a mile. The high point, at the summit parking lot, is about 8,500’. Now we’re around 3,000. No longer in subalpine forest we’re in widely dispersed scrub oak and yellow grasses. Still falling, we drop through vineyards. In the end, we fall to almond orchards and olive orchards fifty feet above sea level. We may as well have fallen all the way to hell: the sun is harsh here, and hot. And the air is hot. I’ve been cold quite a bit so far on this trip; I haven’t complained because I knew I’d remember it fondly.

I have lunch at the Applebee’s in Red Bluff. I sat at the bar. Everybody knows the bartender and waitress; they’re all locals.

It’s hotter than hell here. My phone says it’s 87, but it’s gotta be more like 100. I have 45 miles of Interstate to deal with next. I-5 is heavily traveled and carries lots of trucks. Most of the cars are left-laniacs, never getting out of the left lane. Before long we arrive at a construction zone. Right lane closed, I think it said, but there was only one sign. I’m in the right lane. I figure I’ll do a zipper merge when the lane is actually closed. Only a few of us attempt this; we pass about a half mile of cars.

Check in at the Motel 6. No carpet, no shampoo in the bathroom but no worries, I brought my own. First on the agenda is a cool shower. Need to wash off several layers of bug spray, sunscreen, and sweat. Next is laundry. Somehow I manage to forget to wash any of my shorts, but the shirts, socks, and underwear clean. Except one pair of hiking socks cleverly hiding in my hiking shoes. Dang.

This is the closest motel to the track. There are two or three more within a quarter-mile, but this is the cheapest one. I took a short walk, not much to see. There’s a State Trooper office and two restaurants that appear to be closed in addition to the other motels. When I got back I took a look at the cars in the parking lot. A couple of nice Audis, a Corvette, an old Mitsubishi with some stickers on it. I would likely see all these cars tomorrow.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to see Bumpass Hell. That was number one on my list. I understand they’ve been working on it quite a while, and still have a way to go before they’re finished. Comparing Lassen to Bryce or RMNP, it’s more like Bryce. It’s all about the volcano. It encompasses the volcano and a few surrounding features. The road probably couldn’t have been better sited to allow access to all the interesting features of the park. This has the effect of making many of the hikes “upside down”. Many of the trails descend from the road – you hike down when you’re fresh and it’s cool, you do all the work after you’ve walked quite a way and it’s hotter. All the Bryce hikes were upside down, too.

There are 150 miles of trail in the park, 17 of which Pacific Crest Trail. Based on the amount of hiking I log in RMNP, I’d be able to hike every mile of the Lassen trail system in two summers. I really enjoyed my short stay, and I’d still like to see Bumpass Hell.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 5 – Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wednesday, July 13

I awoke about 5:30 but didn’t want to get out of the warm bag. By 6:15, rising was mandatory. The campground was quite still, no one was moving, no one was making any noise. My breakfast is in the bear box, and I was never able to open it without quite a clang so I was an early noisemaker. I had my usual camp breakfast, an apple and protein bar. Then off to hike.

I started with Kings Creek Falls. The guys I talked to last night said I could get there from the South part of our camp or I could take the easy way from the Kings Creek Falls trailhead. I elected for the easy way. It’s marked as 1.4 miles each way. Before starting, I was going to take a picture of the map at the trailhead. Figures, the SLR isn’t working today.

The trail descends from the road. Early on there are signs of recent trail maintenance. Then we get to a broad meadow. There’s a nice view of Lassen Peak from here, when you’re on the return trip. After a half mile there’s junction. Proceed down the cascade section of the trail or take the longer, less steep horse route. But there’s no choice – the cascade section is closed for trail maintenance. Two tenths of a mile from the falls there’s another junction, this one to Bench Lake.

At the falls they’ve built a viewing platform. I poked around a bit, looked at it from the platform and from creekside, but there wasn’t much there to hold my attention. I headed back to the last junction and took the trail to Bench Lake. It was a nice walk, but the lake is more of a puddle, snow fed, with no inlet or outlet stream. It’s surrounded by trees and lacks a view. It also lacks an comfy place to sit and relax, so it was back to the car. Nearly back to the trailhead the work crew, five guys, passed me heading to work. When I first arrived at the trailhead, there was only one other car parked here. Now it’s starting to get crowded – several cars there, with corresponding groups of people heading down to the falls. I reckon this hike to be 4.8 miles total.

Next was Cold Boiling Lake. The guys last night said I shouldn’t bother. I went anyway. First, it’s not like I had a full day of hiking planned. Second, the Bumpass Hell trail is closed. That was definitely on the list but has to be scrubbed. There’s a trail from Cold Boiling Lake to Bumpass Hell. I wondered how far up that trail you can get. So I went to find out.

Cold Boiling Lake is as the guys said, not really worth the bother. And the Bumpass Hell trail from this end is closed a hundred yards above the lake. But the trickle of gasses bubbling out of Cold Boiling Lake is the first sign I see of active volcanic processes. This hike amounted to 1.4 miles round trip.

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How big is it?

As expected, there is a rich insect life in the area. The bug spray was definitely a sound investment. Here at this rather drab little lake there was an abundance of dragon flies. Walking along the shore the hiker generates a cloud of dragon flies, like Pigpen from Peanuts. All around you for a short radius is a riot of dragon flies. I’m used to seeing maybe a handful of dragonflies in one spot at home. Here they were countless.

I continued south on the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, stopped at the Lassen Peak trailhead and again at Lake Helen and Emerald Lake. I briefly considered hiking to the summit. It’s 2.5 miles and about 2000 vertical feet. Difficult, but doable. I made up two reasons not to do it. There’s a lot of snow on the mountain and I didn’t have any spikes. Plus, I could do it tomorrow morning if I want to change my mind.

Just below the peak trailhead are Helen and Emerald lakes. Helen is still half frozen, deep blue water. Emerald is, well, emerald colored. I stopped at the Bumpass Hell trailhead hoping the overlook actually overlooked the place but it doesn’t. You have to hike down the canyon and around a bend to actually get to the place.

Next stop is Sulphur Works. There used to be a spa and sulfur mine here. The road goes a sidewalk’s width away from a fumerole. You park in the lot and take the sidewalk up a few yards to view it. It’s not just a view – you get a lungful of steam and sulfur. The parking lot is also the trailhead for Ridge Lakes.

After finding a shady spot to snack on my trail mix, I put my hiking shoes back on and headed up the trail. Not far from the trailhead I ran into a couple from Denmark. I asked if the trail is this steep all the way. They had only gone a short distance farther to view another bubbler. We discussed where there were hikes that yielded views. I told him that so far, the best views seem to be from the road. The answer to my question, “does it stay this steep” is “No, it gets steeper.”

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Ridge Lakes

It seemed to take a long time. I stopped quite often. Even so, I was maintaining a two mile per hour pace and caught up to a family very near the lake. At first I saw just the two boys, the older, bigger one chasing the younger with a stick. As I entered the shade they were resting in they were getting ready to continue. “Do you think it’s much farther?” Mom asks. I tell them I think it’s just over this next rise. She’s skeptical; they thought that two rises ago.

I was right, the lake was just over the rise. It was a quite gratifying hike, 2.2 miles round trip, climbing 1,045 vertical feet. Quite steep, but short and surprisingly free of people. I’m accustomed to hiking ten miles to see only six people over a three hour span. The family didn’t stop at the outlet but went in search of a nice place to sit. They took perhaps the prime spot. That’s okay, I wandered around a little.

The lake was quite scenic. Clear water, fed from melting snow. By now I was wishing I had more water. I considered getting water (and using the Steri-Pen) at the lake’s outlet. I was thinking this water would be some of the best water you could get. But I was concerned about it. The Steri-Pen will handle the biological problems, but are there chemical problems? Frankly, it troubled me how clear the water was. A few tufts of healthy looking grass grew with an inch or two of water over them, but I saw nothing growing or swimming in the water. I’d hate to ingest a bunch of arsenic or something. If I was going to fill the bottle, though, it would certainly be here, before it flows through the sulfur canyon below.

2016-07-13 13.32.24sI sat at the lake nearly an hour. A few interesting things: I saw some dirt tubes. I’ll call one a negative, one a positive. The positive are like small speed bumps, solid mounds of loose dirt. The negatives, I think, may have been tunnels but are now trenches. Are they the paths of melt water running underneath the snowbanks? Or did some creature have a network of tunnels under the snow?

I could stay as long as I wanted, thirty minutes or until dusk. Sitting, watching the world go by, sometimes the mind wanders. I pondered the emergency of an eruption. Here at the lake, I could be back at the car in thirty minutes. Quickest way off the mountain is to continue south. I’d have to abandon everything at the campsite, leaving with only the car, the electronics, and the clothes on my back.

In a gross sense, the trees and ground cover are similar to what I see at home, a mountainous pine forest with networks of streams and lakes. The trail is much smoother, though, with far fewer roots and rocks. Much of the ground cover is different. I saw no ferns and lots of Mule’s Ear, a broad leaf flower.

The family outlasted me; I headed down the trail after an hour, more or less my usual visit to an alpine lake. From Sulphur Works I continue downhill to the visitor center at the southern entrance. I got water there, washed my face and hands. I took a quick look at their terrain model of the park but didn’t browse the gift shop.

Heading back to the car I see that a guy is unloading a pallet of freight eight or ten spots downhill from where I parked. No big deal to walk the slope, but not so fun to pull a pallet jack up. I had a pull through spot, saved me the trouble of backing in to a spot. If I’d parked somewhere else, this guy would have had an easier time of it. “Don’t they let you use the loading dock?” The truck entrance is a few yards north of the parking lot entrance. “There’s already another truck there, and besides, my trailer is too long.”

One thing I wanted to do was see if I could get cell service. I almost forgot. I was about to start the car when I remembered. No cell service, but somehow I was able to receive and send text messages. Done with what communication I could perform I retraced my steps back to the campground, getting there just after three.

A lazy evening in camp, being off the trail so early. I relaxed for a while, read some of my book. For dinner I had one of the freeze-dried meals I brought: Chana Masala. The package says it serves two, but the guy at REI said it’s a decent meal after hiking all day. Whereas the rice and tuna was just short of a meal, this was more generous.

Last night we had a few bats chasing flying insects through the campground at dusk. No bats tonight. The only notable guest I had in my spot was a pretty little bird – red head, black and yellow body. Didn’t sit still long enough for a picture.

While looking for bats, a car pulled into the spot across the lane from me. A Mitsubishi Eclipse, a sporty coupe. She was the driver, blonde, skinny. He was the passenger, tall, lanky, with long dirty hair, scraggly Van Dyke beard. Not your stereotypical campers.

They got about eight big grocery sacks of stuff out of their car and spent some time trying to figure out the bear box. Their neighbor seemed to be giving them advice. I kept thinking I’d be putting the tent up if I were in their shoes. Turns out they didn’t have a tent, slept in the car. They built the biggest fire in the park. At one point, they had flames standing eight feet tall. I wondered what the heck they were going to do with all that food.

What with all the light and smoke from campers fires and the growing moon, it didn’t look to be a good night for stargazing. No matter, what else do I have to do? I wanted to listen to Holst’s The Planets but I don’t have a version of that loaded on the iPod. I do have Manfred Mann’s Solar Fire, which is partly based on Holst, so I listened to that. To cap the evening’s program off, it was Astronomy Domine by Pink Floyd.

Laguna Seca Trip: Day 4 – Ruby to Lassen Volcanic Nat’l Park

Tuesday, July 12

When I awoke, I noticed that the neighboring SUV never got anything set up. All they had accomplished was to lay out a large tarp. They spent the night in the car. That made it easy for them to leave – they were gone before I even started packing up.

I was on the road by 7:45. The town of Lemoille butts up against the wilderness area. Before seeing it, I imagined more high desert. Instead, it’s more or less a bedroom community for Elko, houses on one acre lots. A much nicer place than I imagined.

After yesterday’s events, we can add a new rule to cross country drives: Rule #3: Never pass a gas station in Nevada without topping off. I don’t care if I just filled the tank two blocks back on the other side of town – stop again anyway. So I gassed up at the last gas station in Elko before getting on I-80. There was a group of motorcyclists at this station. One said his son-in-law in Denver just sold his silver Lotus. I asked what his name was but didn’t recognize it. I’m guessing he wasn’t a LoCo member.

Today is another massive drive day – 537 miles if I don’t make any more navigational errors. First is an eighteen mile blast west on I-80, to the junction with NV 278. I take this south to junction with US 50, which I’ll take more or less to Reno. After that, US 395 to Susanville, then a couple of CA state routes to Lassen.

This first section, I-80 and the first miles of NV 278, is fairly mountainous. I-80 navigates a bridge/tunnel complex here. These miles of I-80 are out of character for rest of the road, an interminable drive that makes I-80 through Nebraska look short in comparison. It’s apt that it happens here, so close to the Ruby Mountains, which is also out of character for Nevada.

There are a number of ranches along the northern miles of NV 278, but not much traffic. Eventually the road straightens and levels, quickly leaving the ranches behind. We’re headed south through one of the many north/south valleys. About ninety miles south of I-80 we get to US 50, America’s Loneliest Road. Ironically, it gets more traffic than the road I used to get here.

The junction with US 50 is a few miles west of Eureka. There’s a mine there called the Fad Shaft. This is the site of the second richest mine, behind the Comstock Lode. The Fad Shaft was started later, went down 2,465′ where it flooded. The Fad Shaft never produced any ore. Today the site is an operating heap mine. Gold bearing rock is crushed into pebbles and piled onto a thick plastic liner. Cyanide dissolves the microscopic gold which leaches into collection tanks.

It’s already clear that Rule #3 is a good policy. The last gas station I saw was the one I filled up at. That was a hundred miles ago. There have been no signs indicating how far to the next services, and no signs directing me to any services which might exist. I’m a few miles west of Eureka. I assume there’s a gas station there, but that assumption isn’t backed up by any signage.

US 50 cuts across these many north/south valleys one after another. This is the Basin and Range province of the Great Basin. The floor of each valley is a few feet lower than the previous. Eventually, we come to a pass between these valleys that is more like a true mountain pass. The economy of signs is evident here: at the foot of the pass, there’s a sign: Curves ahead, 30mph next three miles. This is repeated at the summit. In those three miles there might be three curves that slow, but you never know when they’ll appear.

At the summit I pass two bicyclists headed the other way. These guys are nuts. There’s nothing but nothing until Eureka. I assume they’re doing this for fun. I’m not sure how fun it sounds. They didn’t seem to be carrying much gear and no support vehicle was evident. I wouldn’t even want to cover this ground on a motorcycle.

Half way down the other side is the small town of Austin. A billboard fifty miles or so back says “What happens in Austin gets bragged about.” I apply Rule #3 here, but it’s too early to eat. At the gas station, I ask how far to the west before I get to a town with a restaurant. 112 miles. That town is Fallon.

Between Austin and Fallon, we continue to traverse the valleys. The plant life varies from valley to valley – generally the pale green sage dominates. Sometimes it’s dry yellow grass. In some places, the ridges look like a sort of biological Neapolitan ice cream: yellow layer on the bottom, green pine forest in the middle, pale grass on the tops.

Later on, the vegetation on the valley floors disappears entirely to be replaced with alkali flats or salt flats, not sure which. Nothing grows there, and there are some sort of mining operations in places, working the surface.

There are occasional rest stops, but in keeping with the signless theme of the state, they are unmarked. At 75 mph they’re hard to see, blink and you’re past. They’d be invisible in the dark. They’re just rest stops, no latrines, no water. A place to sleep if you can’t make it the 100 miles to the next motel.

This route is the old Pony Express route. How far can a horse run? That’s how close together the stations need to be – about ten miles apart. There’s no evidence of water anywhere, with the exception of one spring I saw several miles from the road (a clump of trees at a gash in the ridge.) One of the old Pony Express stations is called Sand Springs. My mental image was a spring that seeps sand rather than water. Turns out there’s a large dune there.

Just like Utah, Nevada is largely federal land. In Utah, it’s largely parks and wilderness. In Nevada, big chunks of it are military. A few miles before reaching Fallon I pass a sign: US Navy Centroid Facility. A two track dirt road on the right leads a short distance to a small structure surrounded by a chain link fence. A few minutes later I see signs on the left for B-17 Range, another US Navy property. Finally, a sign that ties it all together: US Naval Air Station Fallon. This is the TOPGUN school.

Fallon marks the return to civilization. There are cultivated fields here: corn, alfalfa, hay. You go through several miles of this before actually getting to town. I stopped here for lunch at Julio’s Mexican and Italian Restaurant. I found it a little odd to have chips and salsa placed at your table in an Italian restaurant.

From Fallon to Fernley much of US 50 is four lane divided highway, heavily traveled. I get back on I-80 for 33 miles, then take US 395 north out of Reno, again a four lane divided highway for quite a way. Eventually we arrive in California. All traffic is stopped for “inspection”. Most vehicles were just getting waved through, including me. Would they have confiscated my apples?

I gassed up in Susanville. I didn’t realize at the time, but this was the last time I’d have cell service for a couple days. This town is on the cusp between desert and mountain. Leaving town, the road rises immediately into fragrant pine forest. I pulled over here to finally take the top off the car.


First sight of Lassen Peak, 10,457′

Remembering the mosquitoes, I stopped at a small gas station/general store just outside the park to get some bug spray. There were a couple of guys there with backpacks. Perhaps hiking the PCT, I decide in retrospect. I should have asked them. This is another case of not doing my homework – I didn’t realize at the time that the PCT went through here, although it should have been obvious.

The park entrance was unmanned, and the visitor center was closed. A sign at the entrance announced that one of the trails I want to take, Bumpass Hell, is closed. Stopped for a wander through the Devastated Area. This is the path the eruption took back in 1915. This is what the area around Mt St Helens may look like in another 70 years or so. Lassen and Mt St Helens are the only two volcanoes in the 48 states to erupt in the 20th century.

I arrived at the campground, navigated to my spot, and got set up fairly quickly. The campground has bear boxes for every campsite. My site is right next to the bathrooms. Probably not the best choice, but so it goes. The place is pretty crowded – tents and RVs large and small. Being next to the bathrooms, lots of traffic passes by. Surprisingly, very few people approach me about the car.

I walked a lap of the campground to check it out. One site had two small tents and some hiking shirts laid out on the hood of an SUV. Two young guys were there. I asked them if they were local, or knew the area. We chatted for a few minutes. They’re disappointed that Bumpass Hell is closed and believe the boardwalk is being rebuilt. They recommended a substitute hike, King’s Creek Falls. The also said not to bother with Cold Boiling Lake.

For dinner tonight I tried the four cheese rice with the lemon pepper salmon. Not bad, but reinforces my thought that it’s not sufficient after a long day of hiking. I mixed up some trail mix for tomorrow. I don’t know exactly where I’ll go, but I should be able to hit a number of short hikes.

Didn’t listen to music tonight. Lots more activity in this campground than either of the other two. Ruby was very quiet. Here, many people sat around their little campfires talking. Many of the RV people retired indoors but there was still quite a bit of noise. Plus there’s the bathroom traffic.

The campground is in a forest of tall pine trees so the stargazing is not good. I found a place where I could see the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn all at the same time. That one spot was near the right rear tire of the car. By the time I retired, it had moved to a few feet left of the driver’s door. The other direction, I found a place where I could hang the big dipper from the top of a tall tree. I’m sure I looked odd, in gray sweats, gray hoodie, standing in the dark next to my car.