Thursday, June 30, 2011

[Geology2] Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lake Helen reflects Lassen Peak
Lake Helen reflects Lassen Peak.
(NPS photo)

A fumarole, or steam vent, at Sulphur Works
A fumarole, or steam vent, at Sulphur Works.
(NPS photo)

A hiker views Mount Diller
A hiker views Mount Diller from a field of blossoming Mules Ear plants. (NPS photo)

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Recent natural events remind us that the earth is anything but static. Forces of nature both fascinate and frighten us, leaving us with a desire to understand our part in earth's cycle of creation and destruction. Lassen Volcanic National Park tells a story of an eruptive past and offers an opportunity to witness first-hand the ancient battle of earth-shaping forces.

Home to more than 30 volcanic domes, Lassen Volcanic gets its name from one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world. Photos of the dramatic eruption of Lassen Peak in 1915 brought unanticipated attention to the little-known area in northeastern California. Soon after the eruption, the park was established and the main road built to allow visitors to explore the volcanic features.

Today, this same road allows visitors to follow in the wake of countless travelers who have discovered the wonders that wait around each bend. See glistening steam plumes rising from a roadside fumarole (steam vent), or surround yourself with the gurgling symphony of boiling mudpots at Sulphur Works. At Devastated Area, take a moment to imagine the massive mudflow that raced down Lassen Peak, uprooting 100-foot-tall trees, or the explosion that hurled huge boulders from the peak's summit to where you now stand.

While volcanic forces bring about dramatic creation and destruction at Lassen, another, unsuspected force quietly continues to mold the land. Just below the ground, hot rocks cause water to boil and escape aboveground as steam. These hydrothermal, or hot water, features tear apart rock and transform valleys into colorful, bubbling wonderlands. Boardwalks and guardrails allow visitors to wander safely amid cracked yellow and red mounds of dissolved rock at Devils Kitchen, hover over the whirling steam and fiery cracks of Bumpass Hell, and listen to the sounds of plopping, hissing, and belching at Sulphur Works.

Between Lassen's jagged volcanic peaks and otherworldly hydrothermal areas, one can also find the tranquility and majesty of wildflower-filled meadows and clear mountain lakes. Enjoy a day hike to the rumbling rapids of Kings Creek Falls, cast a line as you float across Manzanita Lake, or wander through the woods in the company of chattering chipmunks at Summit Lake. Keep in mind as you enjoy these spectacular landscapes that natural forces are at work here too. Try to see the deepening of Butte Creek as water carves its way to Butte Lake, or witness Diamond Peak shrinking as melting snow moves the rock formation downhill piece by piece.

An excursion into Lassen Volcanic National Park provides an opportunity to experience a changing landscape in its dramatic and gradual forms. As we continue to protect and preserve this area as a national park, it will undoubtedly transform and redefine itself. You are invited to witness this remarkable process for a day, a week, or more in the dynamic and breathtaking setting of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

By Amanda Sweeney, Interpretive Specialist, Lassen Volcanic National Park


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