THE LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
Special Characteristic: Recently Active Volcano and Interesting Display of Lava Formations and Hot Springs
ONE of the greatest fields of former volcanic activity in the world lies in the northwestern corner of the United States; its lavas cover a quarter of a million square miles and include large areas of the States of Washington and Oregon and portions of California, Nevada, Idaho. Montana, and Wyoming. Most of this great region now blooms with forest and prairie. The origin of its soil foundations is apparent only to the eye of the geologist except where the ice-clad cones of monster volcanoes rise from the Cascade Range, where Lassen Peak still vomits smoke and steam, and where remnants of twisted lava emerge, as on Mount Washburn, above the forests of Yellowstone.
Today Lassen Peak only is aggressive, and for this reason Congress has set it apart as a national park. Here alone within the borders of the United States may be seen and studied the phenomena of recent volcanic activity.
Lassen Peak is at the southern end of the Cascade Range. It had been quiet for centuries. Then, at the end of May 1914, as if precursor of the cataclysm of war so soon to follow, an explosion from its summit ushered in a new period of eruption which, feeble as compared with those of its violent past, was magnificent as a spectacle and educationally typical of volcanism. From the first explosion to February 1921 Lassen remained in more or less constant eruption. Within that period occurred nearly 300 eruptions between which the volcano emitted day and night enormous quantities of steam.
The greatest of the explosions occurred May 22, 1915, nearly a year after the eruptions began. It was ushered in by the rising of a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke to a height of four miles. Another interesting phenomenon of this explosion was the superheated gas blast which rushed down Lost Creek and Hat Creek Valleys during its continuance. For 10 miles it withered or destroyed every living thing in its path. Several square miles of forest were uprooted. Large snow fields were instantly turned to water and flooded the lower valleys in rushing tides. Fortunately summer visitors had been well warned. Examination showed that lava overflowed the crater and extended 1,000 feet down the west side of the mountain. A small amount of lava also poured down the east side.
Lassen's forests and streams are a dramatic contrast to its volcanic features.
In addition to Lassen Peak, which rises 10,453 feet in altitude, other interesting volcanic cones in the park are Cinder Cone, 6,913 feet, Prospect Peak, 8,342 feet high, and Harkness Peak, 8,039 feet. Then there are smaller volcanic peaks and fantastic lava fields, both ancient and modern, fumaroles, hot springs, and mud volcanoes, as well as boiling lakes and other interesting phenomena of a volcanic region. The cones, which are easily climbed and studied, have remained nearly perfect.
The west front of the park exhibits a magnificent sky line, culminating on the north in pink-toned lava crags which rise to a height of over 8,500 feet above sea level, and over 3,300 feet above the older lava flows upon which they rest.
Cinder Cone, with its fantastic lava beds and multicolored volcanic ejecta, is unusually beautiful. It is bare of vegetation and leaves the impression of having been formed so recently that the heat of creation should still be present. Evidence has been found, both historical and scientific, to indicate that some of the flows seen here did occur as late as 1850-51. Adjoining Cinder Cone on the south and east are the chromatic dunes, colorful heaps of volcanic ash. Cinder Cone itself is nearly all of a reddish, dark brown, or cinder slate color.
In the southern half of the park, following roughly a semicircular course, are located six distinct spots wherein are to be seen active manifestations of volcanic activity.
The highly colored earth, the sulphurous odors that rise from the ground, the roar of live steam coming up under pressure from vents, the gurgling mud pots, and the noise of fumaroles, steamers, and small geyserlike formations all contribute to the weird and supernatural atmosphere that seems to hang over most of these areas.
Impressive canyons, scored deeply into the ancient lavas in the westerly and southerly regions of the park, add to its attractions. Primeval forests cover the entire area, except where the loftier peaks rear their summits above timber line.
Through the forest curtain the silvery sheen and shimmer of innumerable alpine lakes greet the eye. The splendid Chain-of-Lakes in the eastern region of the park extends from Juniper, with a shore line of 5 or 6 miles at the northerly base of Mount Harkness to the northward, including Horseshoe Lake, which divides its waters between the Feather and the Pit, to flow apart for several hundred miles and meet again; then linking in Snag Lake with its broad beaches of volcanic sand formed by the ejecta from Cinder Cone; and on to Butte Lake near the eastern base of Prospect Peak with its rugged shores of lava and its scenic setting. Through the clear waters of Snag Lake, and at many places above the surface of the water, can be seen standing the remains of trees that grew at the south end of the lake before it was dammed by the lava flow and raised to its present shore level.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is easily reached over excellent highways. The Lassen Peak Loop Highway, an interesting scenic drive across the park, passes areas of live volcanic activity and traverses the devastated area which was denuded of forest by the eruptions of 1915.