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.
Friday, September 13 was a travel day. It was time to strike camp and continue on from Redwood National Park to Lassen Volcanic National Park. But first, we had time for one more morning adventure at Redwood: Fern Canyon, located at the northern end of Davison Road, just a couple miles from the campground. Like the campground, Fern Canyon is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of the patchwork of co-managed state and federal lands that comprises Redwood National and State Parks.
After having spent the previous day exploring distributed Redwood National and State Parks sites by car, we intended to make Thursday, September 12 the day of our big hike at Redwood. Our destination was the heart of the Redwood Creek area, traveling into the middle of the largest contiguous section of the National Park. From the trailhead, Tall Trees Grove is an 8.3-mile one-way hike, which would make for a long, almost seventeen mile day hike. We doubted we’d make it that far, but we’d make it some portion of that distance. We thought that after the hike we’d head down to Arcata and check out the hot tub cafe that was recommended to us by Ang at the Chicago REI and by our friend Aimee.
We finished our walk at Lady Bird Johnson Grove at about 1:30pm on September 11. Since we were already partway up Holter Ridge on Bald Hills Road, we decided to continue up to a couple of overlooks that Aimee had recommended before deciding where to spend the remainder of our afternoon.
We slept well, and I awoke around 7am in our tent at Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It was September 11, and we had a full day of exploring Redwood National Park ahead of us. It was the third September 11 anniversary that we’d spent in the National Parks after Theodore Roosevelt in 2014 and Bryce Canyon in 2016, and it always felt appropriate.
After our long drive up from San Francisco the day before, we decided not to do our big hike in the Park on this first of two full days. Instead we decided to get the lay of the land and a better sense of how the patchwork of state and federal lands interconnected with private ranches and forests and small communities in the area.
Redwood National and State Parks protect over 138,000 acres of far northern California coast, old growth Redwood groves, second growth coastal forest, and watersheds large and small, including the mouth of the Klamath River. Interest in protecting the fantastic groves began in earnest with the creation of the Save the Redwoods League in 1918 (only two years after the creation of the Park Service). In a pattern that mirrors the creation of Indiana Dunes National Park, first National Park Service director, Stephen Mather, was involved in some of the early protection efforts, but corporate lumber interests blocked creation of a National Park. Also like Indiana Dunes, the state stepped in, creating four California State Parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s to protect the trees: Jedediah Smith State Park, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and (a bit further south) Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Again like Indiana Dunes, federal protection would not come until the 1960s when Redwood National Park was established by Congress in partnership with the Johnson administration. Ten years later, in 1978, 48,000 acres were added to Redwood National Park to protect the watershed of Redwood Creek before it entered the Park. Unlike Indiana Dunes, in 1994, the administrative functions of the National Park and the three northernmost state parks were combined.
Journeying from San Francisco to Redwood National Park was our adventure for Tuesday, September 10. It’s a long drive (some five and a half hours) even going the most direct route. We intended though, to take the opportunity to drive up the California coast on Highway 1. This would at least double the driving time. But here the journey was absolutely the destination.
It was the middle of Monday afternoon, September 9, and Sean and I had finished our trip to Alcatraz Island. With the rest of the afternoon in front of us, we decided to walk over and have a look at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The Park, established in 1988, celebrates San Francisco’s history as a major port city, as well as seafaring traditions along the entire West Coast.
Perhaps this is what our national parks hold for us: stories, of who we have been and who we might become—a reminder that as human beings our histories harbor both darkness and light. To live in the United States of America and tell only one story, from one point of view, diminishes all of us.
– Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land
Monday, September 9 was our trip to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The twenty-two acre island, now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was once a rounded hill in the valley that would become San Francisco Bay after sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age. During the Gold Rush in the middle of the nineteenth century, the island held a lighthouse and a military fort. Later, the fort was converted to a military prison with a cellhouse at the top of the island completed in 1912. In 1934, the Federal Department of Corrections took control of the island and turned it into the nation’s first and most notorious maximum security prison. It served that function until 1963 when it was shut down by the Kennedy Administration. The island languished for over six years until it was occupied by Native American rights activists in November 1969. The occupation lasted nineteen months. The following year, the National Park Service purchased the island to add it to the newly established Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Shortly after taking ownership of the island, the Park Service began offering tours of the facilities in what had been intended to be a short term use while the agency decided what to do with Alcatraz. The tours proved to be so popular that they have continued for some forty-five years with annual visitation now topping 1.4 million tourists.
On Friday, September 6, Sean and I began what was our longest trip since our honeymoon in 2015. The night before, we had quietly toasted at home my final day as Director of Communications at Openlands. After our trip, I’d be starting a new adventure as the founder of Bold Bison Communications and Consulting. We had a lot of packing to do, so we celebrated with a couple drinks and some delivery Brazilian food for dinner. We were both behind on our packing since he’d had to spend a portion of the previous week in Philadelphia for work and I’d been wrapping things at my former employer.
For a long time, I’d known that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So I’d always be able to answer the question, “Which Parks are you going to do next?” with a nod to a distant trip to Guadalupe Mountains. Then it became the next Park, and then that trip came and went. Afterward, we weren’t sure where exactly we would focus for the next big trip, but a grand trip that had been percolating in my mind soon became the clear frontrunner. In early 2019 we began planning a trip with great bookend cities and some iconic Parks: flying into Portland, doing the three Parks that surround northern California’s Mount Shasta, and flying home from San Francisco. Redwood National Park just sounded magical. Crater Lake National Park is one of the iconic early Parks. And Lassen Volcanic has long been one of the Parks in the system I’ve been most excited about.