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Published: September 20th 2007
Lassen National Park. The name's not very familiar is it? It wasn't to me either. A park isolated by spectacular surroundings in Northern California where the Sierra Nevada end and the Cascades begin, Lassen is about halfway between Lake Tahoe and Mt. Shasta. My impressions of the park before I visited were a bit unimpressive. But within 5 minutes of passing through the Park Service gate, I knew I was visiting the most underestimated National Park in California.
With a week off work, I was on my way to visit friends in Bend, Oregon. Having never visited the Pacific Crest north of Lake Tahoe, I was eager to discover its volcanic treasures! Especially considering of all the places in the Pacific Coast of North America, The area from lassen to Mt. Ranier is the one that most resembles Chile which has always held a special place in my heart- a place where volcanos give way to forest and travellers give way to endless beauty of geology.
3189 meter high Lassen Peak might be over 3200 meters, but an explosive eruption in 1915 lowered its summit while waking the United States up to the fact that active volcanos are alive
and well in the country. Lassen is actually a small side vent of the now extinct startovolcano of Mt. Tehama, which is estimated to have been 4000 meters high and 12 km wide. The remnants of a Tehama eroded away by succesive ice ages compose the majority of active features in Lassen- the Steam Vents, Sulphur Works, Bumpass Hell and hot springs.
For some curious reason of geography and Meteorology, Lassen gets more precipitation than anywhere in the Cascades south of the Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon. And average snowfall of 16.7 meters(660 inches) means Lassen is a magnet for snow-shoeing and cross country skiers when the roads close for winter. Lassen was created very recently, only 25,000 years ago the summit of Lassen was built up through a series of during the last Ice Age. One can only imagine the sight of an erupting volcano buried by miles of ice that Lassen created.
Lassen National Park is one of the only places in the world which contains examples of all 4 different types of Volcanos- Composite, Shield, Cinder Cones and Lava Domes. You can feel that it's alive, spewing from the earth smelly gases and boiling water.
Every rock has recently been raised to the surface of the earth from the interior. One grouping of rocks off the main road has a sign describing how the rocks are the youngest rocks in California! Strange to think how rocks, which looks so similar, can differ in age by millions of years.
Lassen National Park is also the beginning of an entirely new set of plants endemic to the Cascade Region of the Pacific Coast of North America. Over 700 flowering plant species exist in Lassen National Park, as it lays at the crossroads between the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Great basin desert and Sacramento Valley.
I spent 3 days here on my way to Mt. Shasta, summiting Lassen Peak and hiking amongst the alpine lakes and steaming mud pits. It was truly an unexpected delight! I used to think Lassen was a boring grey summit of rock. I know it now as a dynamic, colorful and young volcano that spews lava and sulphur from the center of the earth while being continuoulsy covered by unqiue and rare plants!
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