Lassen Volcanic National Park

November 10, 2015


It was on August 8 of 2015 that our family caravanned into the foothills of California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. Not surprisingly, never before had Connie and I and Greg and Michelle explored the park together. “Not surprisingly,” given that Lassen is outside the loop of normal national park visitation. Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Death Valley, and Joshua National Parks are integral parts of such a loop; Lassen is alone, and consequently its visitations are much less.

So, for starters, let’s see how Lassen became a national park in the first place. Chances are that if it had kept its cool by remaining merely just another dormant volcano, it would have remained unknown. But at 9:43 a.m., on June 14, 1914, Lassen erupted. It erupted 389 times more between 1914 and 1921, when it finally settled down again. To preserve this living volcanic laboratory, Congress created the Lassen Volcanic National Park on August 9, 1916.

The result today is the 106 ,372 acre park. It is especially interesting because it includes four different types of volcanoes. First of all, Lassen Peak may be the largest plug-dome volcano in the world; and older, layered stratovokano (also called composite volcano); shield volcanoes, where basalt forms low, smooth domes; and cinder cones. In addition, every hydrothermal (hot water) feature found on Earth, except for geysers, appears here.” (White, p. 391).

Lassen Park (10,457 feet) is the highest point in the park. It receives lots of snow, often forty feet a year.

Bumpass Hell Thermal Area

Bumpass Hell Thermal Area

Our extended family drove up high into the park then hiked to the volcanic area known as Bumpass Hell, named for K. V. Bumpass, a local guide who in the 1860s fell through the thin crust covering a sizzling mud pot, badly burning his leg. We were able to explore this large area via the extensive network of elevated boardwalks. It is the only place in the Cascade Range where such thermal activity takes place.

Later, we explored the new multimillion dollar visitor center and took full advantage of the fascinating exhibits and film on the many dimensions of the park. We have discovered that these films created for each national park visitor center are well worth the time it takes to see them; and they greatly enhance the park visitation itself.

* * * * *

Not until the 1980 eruption of St. Helens in Washington did another volcano erupt in the lower 48 states.


Richard Ellis, Lassen Volcanic: The Story Behind the Scenery (Wickenburg, AZ: KC Publications, 2011). Illustrations taken from it as well.

White, Mel, Complete National Parks, (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2009)

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