Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beat the Heat

It gets really hot here at certain times of the year. As we were driving back from Woodland the other day it was 103 degrees. I looked out over the landscape and thought “Serengeti. Should be lions and giraffes shading up under the acacia trees.” It was just that dry, dusty and hot. When it gets hot like this we look for ways to beat it. Sometimes we go to the lake and submerge up to our necks. I haven’t been so tan in such a long time and, yes, mother, I am using sun screen.
Other times we head up in elevation. It’s supposed to be 3.5 degrees cooler for every 1,000 feet you gain. One of our favorite spots is Plaskett Meadows. It’s up in the Mendocino National Forest west of our home. There are silvertip fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar trees and two spring fed lakes that are  full of rainbow trout. It’s quite lovely. And cool.
This time we decide to head in the other direction to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Its elevation is over 8,000 feet.  

 I had recently been re-inspired by my daughter taking California Geology in college. I always had an interest in geology. When I was a kid I was a “rock hound”. We found calcite crystals in the gravel road in front of our house and trilobite fossils frozen in sandstone from the gravel pits. On a vacation to the Black Hills in South Dakota I was thrilled to find agates, garnets and fool’s gold (iron pyrite). Bling for a 10 year old.
So we could kill two birds with one stone. By going to Lassen we could escape the heat and I could do some rock hounding. Lassen is not far off the main drag. From our house you drive up Interstate 5 to California Highway 36 out of Red Bluff. There’s a lot of volcanic evidence right outside of Red Bluff. As a matter of fact as a cattle rancher you’re looking at the terrain and thinking to yourself how would you gather cattle out there? So many large rocks and all over the place. We decided you would need a herd of very well trained cattle dogs. The terrain is not suitable for an ATV or even horses. You couldn’t work at speed on a horse picking your way through the rocks. No, dogs would be the only way.
We stop for lunch at the Mineral Lodge in none other than Mineral, CA. It’s run by a lady and her husband and their kids are either babes in arms or trying to help mommy with serving the patrons. They’re cute and it’s rustic and the music played on the sound system is first Irish fiddle and then old timey piano alternating. They must make their own buns. Marty’s hamburger looks really good and I love the Cole slaw.
Lassen itself is well taken care of. The first stop we come to after the entrance ($10 fee to get in) is Sulfur Works because we come from the south. I think coming in from the south is best. Most of the stuff to see is on the south end. Sulfur Works has the boiling mud. I imagine what a cooked chicken taste would like if you put it in a pot and lowered the pot onto the mud. I’m thinking of the witches in MacBeth. Double double toil and trouble fire burn cauldron bubble. It looks nasty and smells worse.

Try to come early in the day so you have time to hike to Bumpass Hell. Bumpass Hell is the largest concentration of hydrothermal features in the park. It was a hell of a time for poor old Bumpass who was an early settler who severely burned his leg after falling into a boiling pool. The hydrothermal features can be reached today from a well-marked 1.5 mile trail that starts from a parking area opposite Lake Helen. 
The trail is quite easy, though the altitude (8,000 feet) can make the trail seem moderately difficult. Hiking boots are recommended as the trail crosses generally rocky land with some tree cover, and without much change in elevation until the 100 foot drop into the thermally active basin. The active area can be seen (and smelled!) from far away - a wide basin filled with various steaming pools and unusual multi-colored soils, stained orange, brown, yellow and green by sulphur and other minerals. Together with the occasional white snow patches, the (usually) deep blue sky and the aquamarine waters, the spectacle is extremely beautiful and colorful.
There are cool rocks all over the place in Lassen. There was this pile of white stuff by the road. Gypsum? 

Layers and colors and textures. By the way, the daughter tells me you can’t really rely on color to tell you how to identify a rock. She says you have to get up close with your magnifying glass. Still I find it fun to speculate.

The trail to Lassen Peak looks challenging so we satisfy ourselves by taking pictures at the bottom and fantasizing how we could hike it. How about very, very slowly with lot and lots of salt tabs and electrolytes.

At the bottom of the trail to Lassen Peak Marty is in front of me and I notice something crawling near the neck of his t shirt. It is the most lovely long antlered something which of course I go ahead and capture in my hand. I’m thinking of the joke what’s green and black and purple? The answer: I don’t know but you’d better pick it off your neck. So I’ve picked it off his neck and hold it out to show him. Look! How beautiful. Here’s the cam….but before I can give him the camera he’s flicked the darn thing right off my hand onto the path. I yell “NO!” but it’s too late. I have everyone in the parking lot looking at us. Perturbation! He only did it to help he says. But I think it’s more human instinct than thought. I’m momentarily peeved. Aren’t I perfectly capable of doing my own flicking?
But as I say, it’s too late so let’s move on. When we get back to the car Mr. Bug has a junior brother and he’s sitting on the windshield. Trust me. Older brother was so much more spectacular. Here's where older brother had been sitting. 

Here's the more modest version of the Spectacular Bug with the long, long antlers.

Think 3 times as big and antlers twice as long. He was a pleasant bug. Not doing anyone any harm.