Friday, July 23, 2010

Lassen Flowers

One of the great things about mid-July at Lassen, when there was still snow and it felt like spring, summer and winter all at once was that there were bazillions of wildflowers of all different shapes and colors everywhere we went. I don't know what kind of flowers most of these were, but I thought I'd share them anyway!

Fly Away Home...and Fantastic Lava Beds

If this has the look of someone planning...possibly plotting...there's a reason for it. Just because we needed to go home on Wednesday, I wasn't about to give up on seeing something else awesome on our trip. I'd had my sights set on Boiling Springs Lake or Devil's Kitchen, but the ranger told me that was a two hour drive from Manzanita Lake and I'd promised Daddy we'd get home before midnight. So, we opted instead for the trail to Cinder Cone and a nice little swimming lake just 45 minutes from our campground...or so they said anyway.So, first thing in the morning, we packed up our cheerful little campsite. It always makes me a little sad. We'd had so much fun already and I wasn't ready to go. But between cooking breakfast and loading everything into the van, we were out before 11 o'clock. Not before another cool bug sighting though.I couldn't help noticing the similarity between this:and this:Both taking off for home.

But we had more adventures ahead before we got there. First, we stopped by the visitor's center, where Mam got her Chipmunk Club sticker and Smunch was roundly applauded by all vistors as he was declared an official Junior Ranger. Very cute, but so unexpected that there are no photos. Then we got on the road to Butte Campground, where our next trailhead began. We got confused and thought we were lost. We turned around, then determined that we were just confused, not lost, and turned around again. We missed the turnoff for the campground because I couldn't believe it was a gravel road.

It was.

It was not only gravel, but super bumpy too...for six miles. And I'm sure I'd still be feeling those bumps today if the trip hadn't been worth it and then some.

We arrived at Butte Lake, a pretty lake on the edge of an area called Fantastic Lava Beds, right around lunchtime. It's a very cool lake with green-colored water, forest on one side and massive beds of lava rock on the other.And by massive, I mean unfathomably large.

We began our hike down the cinder trail, alongside the lava beds. They looked more like a construction zone than lava, if you asked me. Smunch said it looked like a big junkyard.But just seeing the kids stand next to the giant pile of rocks made an impression as to just how microscopic humans really are on the grand scale of things geologic.There was no snow here, so it was a warm hike, but not terribly steep and the kids did pretty well. Mam was kinda whiny...again. But Daddy magically placated her by inventing a game where they counted sticks on the trail along the way. I think they counted about 1100 sticks all told.

We saw a bunch of grey jays along the way. I don't know why, but I have a particular fondness for these birds and we hadn't seen any anywhere else in the park. I had to take a picture.The culmination of this hike was Cinder Cone. Which is...well...a cinder cone. It's actually one of the most remarkable vistas I've ever seen and I'm not sure I photo can really do it justice. Cinder Cone itself is more than 800 feet tall and a tremendous moonscape of a thing.And that squiggle up the right side? That's a trail to the top. We didn't go.But plenty of others did.What's even more impressive is that this cone is surrounded by an area called Painted Dunes...sand dunes (or probably cinder dunes, I'd imagine) with really amazing bands of color. And beyond those dunes, you get a much greater picture of what the Fantastic Lava Beds are really like and how truly extensive they are. It's really, truly awe-inspiring. A photo does it no justice.After some snacks, we headed back to the van where we had lunch and changed into our swimsuits for a shorter hike just over the hill to Bathtub Lake.The lake is named for the fact that it's warm...or at least warmer than some. I got cold pretty quickly, but having not showered in a few days, the swim was awesome and refreshing. Having left the goggles at home, Smunch was not at all sure about this whole swimming-in-a-lake thing.He didn't want to put his head in if he couldn't open his eyes. And, well, one can't open one's eyes without goggles on, right?

Mam, however, was eager to give it a try and did pretty well. Daddy swam out to the middle and hauled in a long tree trunk for her to ride on. She had a grand time.She even tried swimming after a bit and did a great job.Tooling around on the bank, I found a little group of reeds where a group of iridescent blue damsel flies had "docked"...for lack of a better description.It was kind of a funny sight and reminded me of some kind of insect space station.

Daddy hung out in the water with the kids for a while. Since he's by far the stronger swimmer, I guess that was appropriate.Although he occasionally walks on water, he's just sitting out on a submerged tree here.

And, after trying for some time, I finally got a shot of this guy...not really as handsome as my own, perhaps, but kind of magnificent nonetheless.Once we were all cooled down and slightly less stinky than we had been, we headed back over the hill to the van.We all changed into dry clothes and bumped back down the road...towards home.

Yeah. I promised Daddy we'd be home before midnight. I know he had designs on leaving Lassen by 1 or 2. It was after 4 when we finally hit the road. We were home at 11:30. Promise kept.

Kings Creek Falls

Our second full day in Lassen found the kids playing somewhat happily in the forest while Daddy and I cleaned up after a breakfast of pancakes and peaches.As soon as we were done, the family was back on the construction riddled park road, driving back to the trailhead we'd scoped out the day before. I'd gone as far as to get out of the van and ask someone if you could actually make it to the waterfall, not wanting another disappointment like Bumpass Hell. There was no disappointment. None at all.There was a lot of snow melt though and some beautiful flowers. You can't tell, because I took this photo so close up, but these little lillies were no bigger than my thumb.We had to trek over some snow banks, but it was lovely and cool in the shady, snowy areas...a nice change from the exposed sunny hillsides.And the views along the way were as breathtaking as you'd expect.We finally made it to the waterfall, which also did not disappoint. The kids and Daddy stayed at the top, where they enjoyed this view.I, on the other hand, scrambled down the rocks where I could get a different view...and get bitten by an ant for my efforts.There was surprisingly little whining on this hike. Even Mam seemed to take the whole thing in stride. She loved sliding down the snow banks and skipping over the little streams.With so much lovely rushing water, it seemed like I was behind everyone more often than not...clicking away happily.On the way back, we took a short detour through a lovely meadow scattered with buttercups and running water. The view was so nice, I think it added a good half hour to our walk.Turns out, we'd timed things well. Although we'd hiked way past lunch time and left our lunches in the cooler in the car, we'd brought enough snacks to keep the kids happy. They still devoured their PB&J at the car. And we got to meet this charming fellow:Hey, what's camping without a few cool bugs, anyway?

Although we'd already had two great hikes, we were all feeling a little bummed that we'd be packing up to leave the next day. I tried to make some mental plans for how I was going to extend this trip, even though Daddy had an important meeting Thursday morning and we had to be back. We went to the visitor's center near Manzanita Lake just before closing and got the scoop on what other trails were open and where we might be able to go. Smunch also got recruited into the Junior Ranger program, while Mam got the paperwork to join the Chipmunk Club...paperwork that consisted of circling pictures of the animals she'd seen in the park. At least the papers kept them busy 'til bedtime!