Bucket list trips; Visit the Pacific ring of fire, California to Washington

Visit the Pacific ring of fire, California to Washington, fun for young and old!

We are now into 2.5 months of sheltering at home – reflecting on past and future travels. States across the west are entering into phased re-openings, as well as national parks, now’s the time to firm up one or more of those bucket list trip destinations. With California’s Joshua Tree, Redwoods and Lassen National Parks announcing re-openings, as well as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and several of Utah’s iconic parks, here is an ultimate trip in the West.

Take a dramatic “volcanic legacy” trip, to Lassen National Park, Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake National Park and Mount St. Helens National Monument, about 1800 miles round-trip. Guaranteed to thrill both young and old, vivid in its scenery and showing off our most wonderful national parks, it’s sure to please the entire family. Traveling northward, see the highlights of Lassen, Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood and Mount St. Helens in memorable week or 10 days.

A frozen Lake Helen (in early July) with Lassen Peak looming behind…

Northern California is studded with active and dormant volcanoes, so let’s start with Lassen National Park, only 250 miles north of San Joaquin County. East of Redding, Lassen is part of the “Pacific ring of fire”, a ring of volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. Mt. Lassen achieved national notoriety when, in 1914 and 1915, eruptions belched ash 30,000 feet into the sky and blasted huge boulders for miles.  

Start a tour at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Center explaining various volcano types and how they shaped the surrounding landscape. Beyond the visitor center, scenery becomes increasingly interesting, with views of Lassen looming in the distance. Soon you arrive at Sulphur Works, an area of eerie hot springs and smelly, burbling mud pots.

Sulphur Works steams away, smelling of sulphur, beside Lassen’s Hwy. 89.

Continuing through the park on Highway 89, find Bumpus Hell; an easy hike takes you to this lively area full of thermal wonders, much like a small version of Yellowstone Park. East of Lassen’s peak, find the Devastated Area which will wow the kids, offering an easy hike past 25,000 pound boulders blasted off the summit of Lassen in 1915, landing three miles away and knocking down many miles of forest like they were matchsticks.

Manzanita Lake, with a stunning view of Mount Lassen, offers a lovely campground near the park’s northwest entrance. The lake provides marvelous fishing (catch and release only) and the campground with secluded campsites, showers, store and museum. Due to COVID19 restrictions, check with the park; usually, two places offer food in the park, the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and at Manzanita Lake. The historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch, accessed from Chester via the Warner Valley, offers overnight lodging, with trails to Devils Kitchen and Boiling Springs Lake.

View from Mazanita Lake, with Mt. Lassen rising in distance.

Headed north, Mt. Shasta is visible for 100 miles, a dormant volcano towering 14,180 feet with active steamy sulphur vents near the summit, dominates Northern California. But, we are headed further north, about 3.5 hours, to Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake “Is unlike any other natural wonder in the world.  It is the Jeweled Sapphire of the Cascades, set in a matrix of peaks and castled walls; we may look upon it but once then wear it in our hearts forever”, said author and poet Stanton C. Lapham in 1931. In all our visits across America, it’s one of the true jaw-droppers, along with Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and a few more.

Wizard Island rises from the azure waters of Crater Lake.

We camped at the Mazama Village campground (check with the park; it usually includes a cafeteria, store, showers, ranger talks in evening, fire rings and 200 spacious trailer and tent sites).  We do our own meals, though the park has several other places to purchase prepared food like Crater Lake Lodge.

Crater Lake, which filled the volcano’s caldera some 7,700 years ago, is the bluest blue you’ll ever see.  The lake is 5 miles across, and 6 miles long; two islands appear from the azure waters, Wizard Island, the larger, and Phantom Ship, at the lake’s north end. Walk from the Crater Lake Lodge area on Rim Drive’s southside.  The old lodge is a treasure in itself (celebrating its 105th anniversary in 2020); treat yourself to a meal there!  Walking to the crater’s nearby rim, that first view remains always inspirational.

The historic Crater Lake Lodge lies right on the lakes rim, with marvelous views!

There are several “must dos” while enjoying the park. Visit Steel Visitor Center at park headquarters and watch the graphic film that explains the chain of volcanic events that formed Crater Lake, and presage a future eruption!  Then tour the 33 mile Rim Drive, by auto, or by bicycle (though, with almost 4,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, one best be in good biking shape; we saw scores of cyclists). 

Heading north, the Cascades are lined with old volcanoes, and Mt. Hood is hard to miss, just east of Portland. Make a final stop at Mount St. Helens, just into Washington State, the volcano that exploded on May 18, 1980, killing 57 people, destroying mountain homes, bridges and leveling the forest for miles to the northeast. Ash/pumice plumes rained down on Yakima, Spokane and drifted across northern America. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument preserves the dramatic aftermath of this violent natural occurrence.

Mount St. Helens jagged crater looms over Spirit Lake, created by volcanic ash and rock flow.
Mount St. Helens explodes into the May 18, 1980 sky (NPS photo).

For more info: For California travel insights, visitcalifornia.com ; for Oregon travel, visitoregon.com; for Lassen National Park,  nps/gov/lavo; Crater Lake, nps.gov/crla: Mount St. Helens National Monument, fs.usda.gov. Camping can be booked through recreation.gov.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; find his archive, recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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