I had REALLY BIG plans to see the Solar Eclipse and several National Parks that never materialized. My adventure would have started in Las Vegas and weaved through NV, UT, ID, OR and CA returning from San Francisco. But Life happens —Tabby, our 16-year old cat, had dental problems and his declining health took precedence over my travel plans and I had to cancel and abandon all.
Two months later, Tabby is doing fantastic. $2K was money well spent on him, but I was still slightly bummed about missing my summer trip. As October approached my sense of wanderlust could no longer be contained. I decided Columbus Day Weekend would be my last chance for a 2017 trip. Using airline miles and hotel points I quickly booked a low-cost 4-day trip, which included a $75 close-in fee for last-minute award travel.
After completing my 50-states goal in 2015, I’m now focusing on National Parks and Monuments, and this trip would focus on Volcanic parks. I also needed new images for my lecture …it’s on my LIST! as well as images for my 2018 AMERICA wall calendar.
Saturday 10/7 was my travel day. I arrived at EWR around 9 AM and tried to park at my favorite off-site Parking Spot Haynes only to be told that they were full and were accepting reservations only. A very nice gate attendant had mercy on me and allowed me to back up and enter the Valet entrance—she then walked me over and provided that attendant with a coupon for regular rates. (Lakeysha received recognition and appreciation from me on the company’s survey and social media site!)
TSA pre-check went smoothly so I went to the United Club for a second breakfast and to get some snacks for the long flight departing at noon to San Francisco. This was followed by a short connector flight to my final destination of Medford, Oregon.
I love short-term west coast trips while maintaining my east coast body clock. After landing at 5:22 local time and picking up luggage and rental car, it was a short drive to the Holiday Inn Express Central Point. I was in bed and lights out by 7:00 PM with plans for an early rise and 3:00 AM departure. (Easy for me as it was 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM east coast time.)
The hotel provided me with a special bagged breakfast as I departed on my middle of the night drive to meet the sun at the rim of Crater Lake National Park. The air was crisp only 46˚ when I started my Hyundai Accent (small sub-compact with great MPG) and freaked out the dog that was sleeping in the back of a capped pick-up truck nearby.
I quickly became aware that I was seemingly the only car on Route 62 East driving out of Medford into the darkness. As the elevation rose from around 1600 ft. in the Rogue Valley, I watched the outside temperature gauge drop steadily over the next 2 hours to below freezing.
A 70s / 80s oldies station kept me company as my little Hyundai steadily climbed upward on a constant 10-20% slope of this stratovolcano called Mount Manama.
Dappled moonlight occasionally illuminated the passenger seat and distracted me, causing me to initially question where this random light was originating. As the grade steepened near the summit a light misty rain on my windshield dampened my hopes for a spectacular sunrise.
At about 5 AM I reached the entrance to the National Park to find the rain had turned to a light sticky snow and my mood quickly returned to excitement. I was the first car making tracks through this first snowfall of the season at the 7000 ft. rim of the crater.
The light snow squalls alternated with clear skies and a bright waxing gibbous moon illuminated Wizard Island. Familiar constellations like the Dippers and Orion were visible between the rapidly moving clouds as Venus shined brightly on the southeastern horizon.
I started shooting from a few locations along West Rim Drive trying to determine the optimal location to view the sunrise. Dawn’s first light began around 6:30 before the sunrise at 7:15. Conditions were more cloudy than clear but an amazing color show followed. I departed immediately after the peak of the Technicolor light show, exiting Rim Village to circle around East Rim Drive to hopefully greet the rising sun.
Roads were wet and slick and my ABS kicked-in a few times, forcing me to drive more cautiously around the winding turns toward Pinnacles Road. Mist rising from the canyon below added even more visual spectacle. The half-hour drive to the Pinnacles was well worth it to see these hoodoo-like volcanic fumaroles illuminated against the backdrop of an evergreen-covered hillside.
The best light was over by 9:00 AM so I continued driving eastward on Route 62 down the eastern slope of this huge shield mountain to the beautiful Klamath Valley below. It was around noon when I reached Klamath Falls and time to find gas. I felt like I was still home in NJ having a gas attendant fill the tank for me. (NJ & OR are the only states remaining without self-service gas.)
From Klamath Falls I continued south on Rt 97 and Rt 39 crossing the state line into California. At Tulelake I turned westward towards Lava Beds National Monument. Volcanic flows were obvious and everywhere in the Tule Lake Valley. I photographed beautiful yellow and beige wildflowers growing throughout the field of lava clinkers and cinders.
In addition to the lava beds, this park is also famous for its many caves and lava tubes. At the Visitor Center one must apply for a caving permit. Since I was wearing boots which I also wore when visiting Wind Cave N.P. last August, it was determined that I could potentially spread the dreadful fungus-causing (WNS) White-nose syndrome which has been affecting cave bats since 2012. I didn’t want to add to the problem so I chose not visit the caves.
I asked the Park Ranger about alternate routes out of the park. He showed me a map and told me about Glass Mountain in the Medicine Lake Highlands of Modoc National Forest and added that it was made of Obsidian (volcanic glass).
After an hour’s drive on paved and unpaved roads I succeeded in finding the tiny sign indicating the turnoff for Glass Mountain which the ranger marked on a photocopied hand-drawn map. As I switch-backed up a narrow dirt road with amazing vistas, I questioned how smart a move it was and wondered if my little Hyundai could handle it. Upon reaching the summit I was rewarded with finding the Holy Grail — an outcropping of pumice with black bands of the obsidian flow!
After another very long switch-backing drive down Glass Mountain, roads eventually led me to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park where I photographed the impressive waterfall—once referred to by President Theodore Roosevelt as “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Sunset was fast approaching and I still had another hour’s drive down Rt 277 to Redding, California where I checked into the Hampton Inn ending my 400+ mile volcanic first day.
Monday morning started around 4 AM with a 2-hour drive East on Rt 44 up to the next stratovolcano, Mount Lassen. From the warm Central Valley, I again experienced the temps drop to just above freezing by the time I reached the north entrance of Lassen National Volcanic Park near Manzanita Lake.
I was a little concerned when I realized I had less than a 100-mile range remaining in the gas tank. I should have filled up in Redding, but was pleased to find a 24-hour self-service pump near the campground.
Some light cloud cover and the mountain’s long shadow eliminated any chance of a colorful morning light show. However, with a full tank of gas I continued south on Rt 89 and circled the volcano to its eastern side which had clear skies and a piercing sun, blinding me through my very dirty windshield. I feared oncoming traffic, however at this early hour I was again the only car on the road.
Driving past Chaos Crags and Jumbles I encountered the Devastated Area where I shot a few images of trees backlit by the low morning sun. I found myself dodging rocks of all sizes on the roadway. Rock slides were apparently commonplace, even where their source wasn’t obvious. Perhaps small quakes or tremors loosened them from high above.
I could not find any clear vantage point to shoot the sunlit Reading Peak until finally reaching the southeast corner near Kings Creek. As my car crested the summit, my phone finally chirped letting me know I had cell service for the first time. I pulled over near the 8,511 foot elevation sign, to call Susan to say “good morning” as I had done the day before from the snow-covered West Rim at Crater Lake.
It was only a short drive over the crest to the parking area for Bumpass Hell. This 16-acre geothermal feature was my primary must-see at Lassen. The trail is often closed because of snow pack and usually opens by Independence Day—2017 was one of its latest openings on August 22nd!
After stepping outside to a crisp 34˚ morning, I layered up with a few sweatshirts, knit hat and gloves to prepare for my 3-mile hike. Signs at the trailhead warned of the dangers ahead and asked the hiker to question if they could handle the “moderate” hike. It advised to bring extra water, flashlights, hiking boots, and most importantly—to stay on the boardwalk …or else you might misstep and descend into Bumpass Hell!
Kendall Van Hook Bumpass, for whom this site is named, was a 19th century pioneer and miner, who, in 1865, broke through the thin crust surface of the mud bank into the scalding muck beneath and consequently lost his leg by amputation. The water temperature at the “Big Boiler” has been measured at over 300˚F making it one of the hottest geothermal fumaroles in the world.
My east coast body clock was serving me well, but my east coast sea level (BOD) biological oxygen demand was a major disadvantage. The thin air above 8,500 ft. forced me to stop quite often and reflect on the warning and question if I was truly up for the challenge. The trail climbed 500 feet to a crest where one first smells the sulphurous odors from the geothermal basin 300 feet below. First sighting of steam rising from the basin was reward enough to push onward down to the boardwalk area. The 1.5 mile hike took me 1 hour!
The clear skies with low-angled sun created picture-perfect conditions and I spent an hour capturing the magic at Bumpass Hell. The return hike was an equally slow climb out of the basin where I encountered incoming hikers and told them it was going to be worth their effort.
Driving back down the mountain to the Southwest Entrance I stopped to photograph boiling mud pots at the Sulphur Works before exiting the park at Mineral and continued westward on Rt 36 towards Red Bluff.
I spent the balance of the afternoon driving northward to be closer to Oregon for my Tuesday flight home. I spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express at Yreka near Mt. Shasta, another volcanic wonder of Northern California.
Tuesday morning I was out the door at 5 AM and very pleased to find the breakfast buffet was ready an hour early! I loaded up on fuel for both body and car and drove northeast towards Lava Beds NM where I missed seeing Petroglyph Point on Sunday.
I took Rt 97 though downtown Dorris, drove past the second tallest flagpole in the world, and then turned right onto CA 161 to find a colorful sunrise at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge—the Nation’s First Waterfowl Refuge established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. The waters were covered with mallards, gadwalls, scoters and black brant geese, making great photos against the pink skies to the east.
My journey continued south on Rt 39 through Tulelake and onto Petroglyph Point Archeological site, which showcased the carved geometric art of the Modoc peoples dating between 2500- 4500 years ago.
By mid-morning, it was time to make a mad dash back to Medford for my flight home. I chose a less traveled historic route across OR-66, Green Springs Highway through the new Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, where Pilot Rock, an extinct volcanic neck similar to Devils Tower, rises above the mountain ridge on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The thrilling winding road down the Cascade Mountains toward Ashland made me glad I was on the inside lane of this no guiderail highway—an exciting white-knuckled finish to my adventure.
I spent 60 hours on the ground and drove 880 miles, visited several National Parks, Monuments, Forests and Refuges, capturing hundreds of images celebrating the Volcanic Legacy of Southern Oregon and Northern California.