Lassen Volcanic National Park, Air Race Championships and a Major Oops in Reno NV


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North America » United States » Nevada » Reno
September 19th 2017
Published: December 8th 2017
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The Small Museum Is Reminiscent of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Project FacilityThe Small Museum Is Reminiscent of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Project FacilityThe Small Museum Is Reminiscent of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Project Facility

Loomis Museum - Lassen Volcanic National Park - Mineral CA
In some extremely remote, rural parts of the U.S., there is one outstanding feature that makes an area worthy of a visit, i.e., Grand Canyon National Park. In other areas, the cumulative effect of numerous worthy attractions justifies a visit, i.e., the abundant Revolutionary War-era historical sites in New England. In some areas, there is not a single attraction nor a cumulative effect from numerous attractions that causes an area to be added to the “let’s go visit” list. Such is the case with the inland areas of northern California. Had I been making a pass through this zip code a year ago and been pulling with my old Ram, I probably would have made the trip a Point A to Point B journey, but the diesel has given me the confidence to electively tackle hills I might have previously avoided. Likewise, I think “less-than-week-long” stops have become more enticing with the Bighorn due to easier set-up and take-down. You know, there really is no good antonym for set-up?

As I planned my drive from McCloud Dance Country RV Resort in McCloud CA to Bonanza Terrace RV Park in Reno NV on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, I noticed that I would be passing through the general area of Lassen Volcanic National Park in Mineral CA. Since the drive to Reno from McCloud would be relatively short, I decided to investigate. After using Google Earth to check out the parking situation at the visitor centers and scenic vistas, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity for a spur-of-the-moment visit. I began by heading south and east on CA 89 until I reached Loomis Museum and the park’s northern entrance, the beginning of the 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway.

Loomis Museum was built just outside the park boundary in 1927 by Benjamin Franklin Loomis, a local homesteader and photographer who documented the 1915 eruptions of Lassen Peak and who was instrumental in the 1916 establishment of the national park. Northeast of the museum stands a small seismograph building built by the Loomis family in 1926 that features three large windows that allow visitors to view the working seismographic equipment. In 1929, Loomis donated the museum building and 40 acres of surrounding lands to the National Park Service, which since then has used the structure as an interpretive center. The museum and seismograph station were placed on the National Register of Historic Places
Yes, Boys and Girls, That Is a Mighty Big HillYes, Boys and Girls, That Is a Mighty Big HillYes, Boys and Girls, That Is a Mighty Big Hill

Mount Lassen Trailhead Parking Lot - Lassen Volcanic National Park - Mineral CA
on February 25, 1975.

This museum is almost exclusively related to the history, natural features and geologic mechanisms of the Mount Lassen area. Placards explain hydrothermal features such as fumaroles, hot springs and mud pots and note that all of them can be seen at Bumpass Hell. I guess not having that information beforehand and, therefore, not investigating Bumpass Hell beforehand is a major disadvantage of sightseeing with the Bighorn in tow! The volcanic formations exhibit explains composite, shield, plug dome and cinder dome volcanos while the volcanic rocks display highlights over a dozen different types of volcanic rock, including dacite, andesite, basalt, rhyolite and pumice. Photographs show Mount Lassen immediately after the 1915 eruption as well as the natural recovery processes 20, 50 and 80 years after the eruption. Across the road lies Lily Pond and the Lily Pond Nature Trail, a 0.7–mile loop trail. I walked about half the Lily Pond Nature Trail before I decided it was time to be, “On the Road, Again.”

I made stops at a handful of scenic vistas and a couple of lakes on my way through the park before I reached the extremely spacious parking lot for the Mount Lassen trailheads. Prominent placards caution the visitor that the rocky, 2.5-mile trail ascends 2000 feet (a 15.15% grade) on its way to the 10,457-foot summit, that the air is thinner at these elevations and that most people take 4-5 hours to make the hike. There was sufficient information therein for Uncle Larry to make his decision, the most limiting factor being the time required – yeah, right! Portions of the parking lot were wet from nearby melting snow, but the patches of lingering snow could not lure me to make a snowball. I truly have no use for snow, don’t even order snow cones at the county fair and prefer Twinkies over Sno Balls!

I made a brief stop at nearby Emerald Lake and learned that the color is caused by the algae growing on the shallow bottom while the aqua blue glacial lakes are deeper and, therefore, unsuited for algae growth. My next stop was at Sulphur Works. Just in case the vibrant palette of yellows, oranges and reds doesn’t get your attention, I’m sure the smell of hydrogen sulfide gas (rotten eggs) or the steam rising toward the sky will succeed! Placards explain that magma boils groundwater to form steam which rises through cracks in the Earth to create the fumaroles (steam vents), mudpots and boiling springs found here and elsewhere in the park. One also learns that sulphur was mined at Sulphur Works for twenty years in the late nineteenth century. Additionally, one learns that NASA astrobiologists are studying the microorganisms that thrive in these 212-degree-plus environments for clues into extraterrestrial life as well as the creation of life in the universe. These microorganisms consume some of the hydrogen sulfide gas and convert it into sulfuric acid which, in turn, breaks down the rock to form the clay that mixes with water to form the mudpots, yada, yada, yada. The entire dealythingy is just one big incredible cycle!

Near the southern park boundary, I made a stop at Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. Here the visitor learns about the “Ring of Fire,” a series of volcanos that encircle a large portion of the Pacific Ocean – places where plates that form the Earth’s crust collide, resulting in an ocean plate being forced under a continental plate (subduction). The heat generated by the collision (friction) increases the temperature of the rock to its melting point. This magma,
The Outward Appearance of the Volcano …The Outward Appearance of the Volcano …The Outward Appearance of the Volcano …

Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center - Lassen Volcanic National Park - Mineral CA
molten rock, is forced to the surface and is released creating a volcano. I suppose we all can now call ourselves volcanologists! Other displays tell of the native peoples of the area and the influx of Anglos. Another display presents interactive models vividly explaining the characteristics of the four types of volcanos – composite, shield, plug dome and cinder dome – I had read about and seen pictures of at the Loomis Museum.

I want my readers to know that everything in the park is geared to a northward journey vs. the southern route I undertook. An Audio Tour is available that provides a narrative at each of sixteen stops along the 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. I also want my RV readers to know that the highway is extremely steep in places and saturated with hairpin curves in others. Sometimes both occupy the same stretch of roadway – I suppose a motorcyclist’s delight. I took considerable time examining the roadway with Google Earth 1) to assess the width of the roadway at sharp curves; and 2) to assess the spaciousness of the scenic pullouts and parking lots along the highway. Be forewarned, this is not a drive through
… Yields to Reveal the Unseen Dynamics… Yields to Reveal the Unseen Dynamics… Yields to Reveal the Unseen Dynamics

Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center - Lassen Volcanic National Park - Mineral CA
City Park. Make sure you have an adequate engine and cooling system. The grades were no match for my diesel but would have been extremely challenging for my old gasoline-powered Ram. Make sure you have good brakes – after all, what goes up must come down. Everything said, Lassen Volcanic National Park should be on everybody’s “A List.” The only similar attraction I have visited is Yellowstone National Park WY, and that was before I set out on The Great Adventure in 2010.

I continued south and east on CA routes 89 and 36 to Susanville CA where I picked up U.S. 395 to Reno and Bonanza Terrace RV Park. The drive went without incident. I had selected Bonanza Terrace RV Park because of its proximity to Stead Air Field, the location of the National Championship Air Races, and had been assigned a “pull-thru” site when I made my reservation about a month prior; however, upon arrival the park manager suggested we walk to the site to investigate. I suspected something was amiss. Upon surveying the site and the approaching roadways, I determined there was no way I could “pull-thru” the site and would have to back in. That was tricky because of the crowded conditions but was doable; however, there was a two-foot drop in elevation from the right–front corner of the Bighorn to the left–rear corner, as demonstrated in the accompanying Google Earth picture. That made leveling with the Bighorn’s hydraulic self-levelers a challenge – a challenge that would have been impossible with the mechanical levelers in the old Pilgrim. Knowing the length of the Bighorn, I never should have been assigned that space, PARTICULARLY since other sites were available. I learned and will protest such shortcomings in the future!

Some of you might have noticed that I had moved from McCloud to Reno on a Tuesday instead of my typical Wednesday. I had cut my “week” in McCloud short by a day because the air races began on Wednesday, and I didn’t want to miss any of the action. As I was relaxing and watching TV on Tuesday evening, I heard an abnormal, single pop and noticed smoke billowing from the Dish Network receiver. Like a good firefighter, I pulled the electrical cords for both the receiver and the television from the outlet, disconnected the remaining cables from the receiver and set it on the kitchen countertop. Other weird stuff happened simultaneously, like the microwave display was flashing zeros and beeping. With moderate thunderstorms in the area, I thought there had been a lightning strike and an accompanying electrical surge. So much for attending the air races on Wednesday, and so much for harvesting the financial advantage of buying a season pass before the XXX deadline!

Wednesday morning, I heated my left-over coffee in the microwave, as usual, and wondered if the lightning strike had fried the television. The TV fired up fine but flashed “no signal.” As a fluke, I reconnected the Dish receiver, and, amazingly, IT WORKED!!! Some issues, like the microwave, had seemingly resolved spontaneously; however, there were several other oddities occurring, so I found a mobile RV repairman who was booked Wednesday but said he could be arrive first thing Thursday morning. So much for attending the air races on Thursday! The RV repairman arrived as promised and, after two hours (and two hundred dollars) of “this makes no sense” and “that can’t be,” determined that the issue was a back-feed (whatever that means) at the pedestal, resulting in a doubling of the voltage entering the electrical supply cord to
EMS and Crash Rescue Were on Stand-by, Just in CaseEMS and Crash Rescue Were on Stand-by, Just in CaseEMS and Crash Rescue Were on Stand-by, Just in Case

National Championship Air Races - Reno NV
the Bighorn. The highest voltage I saw on the test meter was 239 volts. These high voltage events occurred ONLY WHEN A LOAD WAS APPLIED. That phenomenon is a single leg, double leg thing I DO NOT understand and have no desire to learn!

An RV park maintenance man was working on the electrical system of the space–adjacent pedestal and related that there had been some problems with my pedestal but that he had “fixed” the problem a couple of hours before I had arrived the previous day. Yeah, right! I believe “thought I had fixed” might have been the proper wording. My RV repairman told me he would be leaving for a three-day weekend on Friday morning, but that he would keep Monday morning open to resolve any issues I found in his absence. Before he left, he reinforced my belief that the RV park was responsible for the damage. After he departed, I moved to Site #2 in the Google Earth photograph, but problems persisted. My rooftop satellite dish was making a horrendous grinding noise SOMETIMES while it seemed to work normally at other times. SOME electrical outlets worked while others did not. The GFI outlet in the bathroom was not tripped, and I could observe no pattern to the outlet insanity.

Even though I had switched it to propane, my refrigerator was not working when I arose Friday morning. I called the RV repairman before he departed and told him of my refrigerator woes whereupon he asked if the twelve-volt lights were getting dim by bedtime Thursday evening. When told they were, he suggested I put a battery charger on the RV batteries to get them to a level adequate to supply the propane igniter in the refrigerator. I have a new, “very smart” battery charger. It advises when the cables are connected to the battery correctly and informs (and turns off) when the charge is complete. By 9 or 10 AM, the charger indicated the batteries were fully charged but by noonish my refrigerator was still not cooling. When I bought the Bighorn, it came equipped with an aftermarket auxiliary refer/freezer combo (dependent on the temperature setting) in its belly, but it was not working either. Since cooked food spoils more slowly than uncooked food, I started a cooking frenzy to salvage what I could from the refrigerator and the freezer but still had
The Texas Flying Legends Performed an Initial Flyby …The Texas Flying Legends Performed an Initial Flyby …The Texas Flying Legends Performed an Initial Flyby …

National Championship Air Races - Reno NV
to discard some questionable commodities. So much for attending the air races on Friday!

Since there was nothing I could do to mitigate my situation, I set out for Stead Air Field on both Saturday and Sunday. Some of the races were exciting while some were routs, but not knowing the players made all of them less relevant. I picked the brains of some nearby aficionados and got an Air Races 101 lesson. Sometimes my forward, uninhibited nature is an asset. Air races are not really conducive to still photography, and I (mostly) ended up taking stills of the planes and racing action on Saturday and videos of the competitions and the “non-race” performances and exhibitions on Sunday.

The National Championship Air Races is much more than a race, it’s an event. Numerous flight-related performances and – Huh? What? - one motorcycle ramp-jumping exhibition kept the audience entertained between races. Anybody who has attended an air show has probably seen The Texas Flying Legends Museum. In Reno in 2017, there were four planes entered in the competition and six planes that performed in exhibition. The U.S. Air Force A-10 Heritage Flight Team performed with an A-10 and a P-38. A U.S.M.C. AV-8B Harrier, the only short takeoff,
… Before Making a Strafing Run… Before Making a Strafing Run… Before Making a Strafing Run

National Championship Air Races - Reno NV
vertical landing jet aircraft in the U.S. military’s current inventory,t performed a take-off and a landing (Harrier Vertical Take-off and Hover – YouTube – 2:38). A B-2 Stealth Bomber (2015 Rose Bowl Flyover - You Tube 0:48) with an unrefueled range of approximately 6,000 nautical miles performed a fly-by; Brad Wursten (Brad Wursten Airshows YouTube – 1:24) performed amazing aerobatic feats; and Livfast Freestyle FMX (YouTube – 1:05) performed motorcycle trick jumps between races.

On the racing side of the docket, there are Unlimited, Jet, Sport, T-6, Biplane and Formula One classes that race on four overlapping courses which vary in length from 3.12 miles to 7.91 miles. The Course & Pits web page depicts the four different courses that have seven to ten pylons each and share a southern stretch that runs directly in front of the pits and the grandstands. The program typically consisted of one or two races followed by an exhibition and lasted from about 8 AM until about 5 PM. The fan had to decide when to take a lunch break.

Fans of the Lifetime and Hallmark Channels better grab a box of tissues. On Saturday, there were two couples sitting behind me (with whom I had been chatting) when a lady arrived at the seats two rows in front of me carrying a very large, Kentucky Derby-style straw hat. Being socially proper, the unaccompanied lady bypassed me to ask one of the ladies behind me for a favor. I could not help but overhear the conversation. The unaccompanied lady said she was from California, that her husband had died almost a year earlier (she will now be referred to as Widow Lady) and that she hadn’t seen her son since his father’s funeral. Widow Lady said that her son lived in Reno, that today was his birthday, that she had bought air race tickets for him and his wife for his birthday and that Widow Lady’s attendance was to be a surprise. Widow Lady said the daughter-in-law was to text her as they entered the air park grounds and requested the lady behind me (Photo Lady) take pictures of her son’s arrival and reaction. In 30-60 minutes, the expected text arrived, Widow Lady positioned herself in the middle of the three seats she had reserved, donned a large pair of sunglasses and her parachute-size hat (that almost covered her shoulders) and turned away from the aisle where her son would approach. Widow Lady’s son arrived, double-checked the ticket stubs and the seat and aisle numbers and tapped Widow Lady on the shoulder. When she turned around, there was a very brief “you look just like my mother” double-take that crossed his face followed immediately by a realization of what had transpired. Photo Lady caught all the action, but I merely watched – not a conscious decision but rather a failure to connect the dots beforehand. The entire event was pretty cool.

I really didn’t know what to expect from the competitions since the only air racing I have seen is the Red Bull Racing international air racing series broadcast on television wherein the competitors have to navigate an obstacle course in the fastest time. In the Red Bull series, the pilots must turn the airplane 90 degrees to pass successfully between two pylons as there is insufficient room to make the pass between the pylons with the wings in a horizontal position. The format of the Reno races is just plain, good old fashion “let’s-make-fast-laps-around-this-ovoid-course” racing. The races were very interesting, and offered some much-needed entertainment value; although, from a non-financial perspective, in hindsight and truthfully, I was not disappointed that I had missed the Wednesday through Friday (preliminary) competitions. Racing for 10-15 minutes followed by 15-20 minutes of idleness for fifteen hours was sufficient. Forty hours might have proven unbearable. At least I pared my bucket list and got to see the finals, the best of the best.

Monday morning, my RV repairman called and arrived as promised. He checked to see why the refrigerator was not working in the propane mode and found the batteries were charged to only 7 volts – insufficient to fire the refrigerator’s propane igniter. He checked my charger and found it too was only emitting only 7 volts. My RV batteries, four in all, have three caps (actually, whatever lies beneath the caps – cells, I guess) each. Back in the day, this indicated a six-volt system, whereas more modern systems (late 1950s era and beyond) had six battery caps (cells) indicating a twelve-volt system. He told me my three-cap batteries are, indeed, twelve-volt batteries but because there are only three cells each my “very smart battery charger” believed them to be six-volt batteries and charged them to that standard. I don’t do electricity so don’t ask me to explain!

Further investigation revealed that the power inverter had been fried by a prolonged surge, and he advised me that I might or might not have other issues. Only time and on-going monitoring would tell. He also advised me that if the RV park ownership tried to avoid financial responsibility, he was willing to appear in court on my behalf if that became necessary. That was a sincerely appreciated gesture. On a proverbial Monday morning, this quarterback is guessing that, since reheating coffee for 1 ½ minutes didn’t cause an issue, the water heater probably cycled on during Tuesday evening causing a prolonged “surge” on the circuit, the frying of the power inverter and the resulting DISH receiver smoke, yada, yada, yada.

Back in the early summer, before I had discovered the air races dates, I had been planning only a one-week stay in the Reno area, however, after I had accelerated my itinerary to accommodate the air races, I was left with several additional weeks to fill before I returned to Phoenix metro and decided to fill one of those weeks with a stay in the Carson City/Virginia City area. Any Phoenix metro arrival before November is merely asking for heat stroke! While I was addressing the electrical issues, I developed an agenda for Carson City NV and decided to spend a week after departing Reno. Just before bedtime, I had an eyebrow, eyelash or head hair irritating my right eye. Apparently, during the night I had vigorously (probably violently) rubbed my eye and abraded the cornea. Tuesday morning, I awoke with my right eyelids swollen and matted closed with discharge. I went to the RV park office to provide an update (the communication line was always open, two-way and congenial from the initial incident forward) and told the manager I had a one-week stay planned for Carson City during which I would continue to investigate the electrical surge issue. Old one-eye drove to Camp N Town in Carson City, about a thirty-minute drive, cheeked in, set up shop and returned to Reno and the VA hospital emergency room in mid-afternoon. I found a street side parking spot and walked about three blocks back to the hospital where I rounded the corner and walked into the ER. In due course as a non-emergent patient, I was seen by the ER physician on duty, prescribed antibiotic eye drops and given a referral to the eye clinic.

When I left the ER, I made a right turn to go to my truck. It wasn’t there. I must have walked 30-40 blocks checking and double-checking. Yes, I should have made note of the nearest intersection but hadn’t, and yes, everything looks much different after nightfall than it does in broad daylight. Since it was quite chilly and I had no jacket, I returned to the ER waiting room to call 911. The police officer arrived to take the stolen vehicle report and asked if I had spoken to the VA security people. I had not since the incident hadn’t occurred on VA property. He did, and while I was writing my narrative for the report, the VA security folk were busy looking for my truck. I told the officer I’d be the happiest guy in the State of Nevada if I had to eat a plate of crow over this episode. Just as the officer was ready to go looking for my missing truck in his patrol car, the admissions people in the ER office got a radio report that, “They found it.” The police officer took me to my truck. There was no crow to eat, and both officers said the most important thing is that there was a good outcome. My mistake had been that instead of making a 90-degree right turn upon exiting the ER, I should have made a 180-degree U-turn! I had “walked to my truck” on the wrong street! Had it been daylight when I left the ER, I might have noticed the landmarks were different and realized the error, but at night….

I was seen by a resident at the eye clinic, and she became aware of my vagabond lifestyle. She informed the attending physician, who told me that I had a severe corneal abrasion, stated that it probably would take more than a week for it to resolve and asked if there was any possible way I could defer my departure. Back at Camp N Town, I inquired at the office. They were able to accommodate my needs which made both my attending and my resident very happy campers.

Although Uncle Larry usually make notes about his experiences at the end of each day, he obviously does not perform research and refine those notes, select and caption his photographs and then publish his blogs ala a daily diary, so I’ll provide a real-time update. I have discovered no long-term ill effects from the power surge except the death of my auxiliary refer/freezer combo. The grinding of my satellite dish has resolved on its own, and I am still using the same DISH receiver. The RV park and I agreed on a financial compensation amount for my food loss, air race ticket forfeitures, RV repairman costs, inverter replacement and inconvenience compensation. I took a chance on an easy fix for the refer/freezer combo and the satellite dish and won half the wager. The RV park took a chance that both had been destroyed beyond repair and won half the wager. The bottom line was a push. I was given an absolute and complete pardon by the eye clinic on September 27, 2017, my eye is totally healed, and life, as usual, is good.

Most of my week in Reno was spent in unanticipated chaos; however, I got one event scratched from my bucket list, learned a lot about the “still-new-to-me” Bighorn, provided the VA security folk with a “save this old veteran from himself” assignment and began my eye recovery journey. I had intended to visit a handful of Reno attractions on Monday following the air races (the day I ended up getting the inverter replaced) and decided to visit them after my eye clinic appointments the week following. All of my week in Reno was crazy beyond compare, and I hope to avoid anything as insane as that week in my future travels. Oh yes, I have three tickets to the 2017 National Championship Air Races in Reno NV for sale, dirt cheap!!!


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