Lava Beds National Monument. A place containing the wonders and the terrors of both nature and human nature all within its boundaries.
– Sean M. Santos
Sean wrote the above on Instagram after we concluded our visit to Lava Beds National Monument and nearby Tule Lake National Monument on Wednesday, September 18. As we were headed back to our night’s lodging, he also observed, “Everyone who finds themselves in this part of the country should come and visit this place.”
Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1925 to protect over 46,000 acres of the north flank of Medicine Lake Volcano, a massive and low shield volcano in the southern Cascades, not far northeast of Mount Shasta. Although relatively small, the Monument boasts three lava flows, multiple cinder cones and other volcanic features, and almost 700 lava tube caves, the highest concentration in North America. At around 4,000 feet in the eastern foothills of the Cascades in northern California, the vast sagebrush sea washes right up to the Monument’s tortured volcanic landscape. The Monument is bounded on the north by Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and on the west, south, and east by Modoc National Forest with some private property to the northeast toward the town of Tule Lake, California. It contains over 28,000 acres of federally protected wilderness.
Tuesday, September 17 we woke and felt rested, although I’d slept fitfully. We were due to check out of Crater Lake Lodge that morning and eventually make our way out of the park to Chiloquin and a Sleep Inn where we’d spend the next two nights. But before then, Sean had to be on a three-hour work call (that he was partially running) about urgent firm business. We also hoped against hope to catch a glimpse of the Lake, although now we’d at least be in the environs of the Park until Thursday morning, so we felt our chances were decent.
On Monday, September 16, we woke into a world that could hardly have been more different than the warm and sunny afternoon we’d enjoyed the day before. Over the next few days, as our trip shifted northward from California into Oregon, the weather also shifted, from summer to what felt like winter. It altered the trajectory of our trip, and it added a flavor of adventure that was reminiscent of the sudden cold snap in our during our trip to the Dakotas five years earlier.
On Sunday, September 15, we spent a classic National Park day in the wild heart of Lassen Volcanic National Park. I love a day when we can rise from our tent and go see some amazingly lovely sights propelled by nothing but our own legs. On the docket for our big hike day in Lassen was an 11.6 mile loop over creeks, around lakes, and into the Park’s designated wilderness.
Sean and I had wrapped up our auto tour of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway by about ten to three on Saturday, September 14. We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the area around Butte Lake in the northeast corner of the Park, an area that was once a separate National Monument before it was incorporated into the National Park.
Sean and I arrived at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at about a quarter after eleven on the morning of Saturday, September 14. The LEED-certified platinum building only opened in 2008 and was Lassen Volcanic National Park’s first formal visitor center. Our intention was to check out the visitor center and then drive the Park Highway all the way to the northwest entrance at Manzanita Lake, stopping at the interpreted sites along the way.
Lassen Volcanic National Park protects over 106,000 acres at the southern end of the Cascade Range in northern California, including Lassen Peak. Lassen Peak, southernmost in a string of legendary volcanoes (Shasta, Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, Baker) in a range that stretches north to British Columbia, is quiet today, but it was in the midst of an eruption just a century ago. In 1907, the year after passage of the Antiquities Act gave him the power, President Theodore Roosevelt declared two National Monuments in the Cascade Range east of Redding, California: Lassen Peak National Monument and Cinder Cone National Monument. Seven years later, in May 1914, long dormant Lassen Peak began to erupt (after an estimated 27,000 years of inactivity). The following year, in May 1915, the mountain exploded, sending a column of ash and steam 30,000 feet into the air and partially collapsing in on itself with flows of mud, ash, and pumice traveling some twenty-five miles from the crater. Major steam eruptions continued into 1921, with some 400 total eruptions between 1914 and 1921. In August 1916 with the eruption very much ongoing, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation combining the National Monuments and expanding them into Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park had long been among the Parks I’d been most excited to visit in this whole journey. In fact, more often than not, I’d cited it as the Park I was most excited to visit. Now just past noon on Friday, September 13, having finished packing up our campsite on the beach, we were on our way there.