Have you ever driven from one end of California to the other (northbound or southbound)? While I was driving a lot of miles from Point A to Point B, I learned that ETAs calculated with Google Maps or Waze was only a part of the physical distance that I was covering. What else to cover? I was finding it out while steering my Civic toward the next stop – Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Back in late June through early July, I took a long photography road trip. This is Part 3 of the Road Trip series, and if you haven’t checked out the photos that I took while visiting Mono Lake and/or Lake Tahoe, click here and here to take a look. You will like them.
ON THE WAY TO VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
Although the drive from Lake Tahoe to Lassen Volcanic National Park took only a few hours, small mountainous towns appeared worth making a stop for photos. But my tight schedule didn’t allow that.
I was supposed to cross the Canada/US border to backpack in Banff in a few days.
I wish I had more time, but I didn’t.
ROAD TO LASSEN PEAK
The road to Lassen Volcanic National Park was not too long of a drive. The low mountain range certainly wasn’t competing for high elevations either. Some small towns certainly looked charming enough for making a quick stop but I kept on driving.
Then Lassen Peak appeared. I immediately pulled over.
LASSEN VOLCANIC IS FANTASTIC
What I didn’t know about when visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park was its cold temperature at night.
It was great during day as sunny as usual anywhere in California. But once the sun neared the horizon, not so much. The temperature dropped like crazy in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and it demonstrated the reason why there was so much snow everywhere. Well, that is if you stay above 6,600 feet, and major trails to hike are located between the south entrance to Emigrant Pass, which are above that elevation.
Speaking of everywhere, there were so many places that either remained closed, such as Bumpass Hell, or required winter gear to hike, such as crampons and an ice axe. I didn’t even bring my microspikes, so hiking the snow-clad Lassen Peak was out of the question.
LAKE ALMANOR AND BEYOND
After passing Lassen Peak parking lot, the whole area opened up and the south side of the park came into view. Lake Almanor and all the adjacent mountains pretty much made up the view.
The layers of the hills and the mountains beyond Lassen Volcanic National Park were just exquisite. It was like I was seeing a gentle slope gradually fading into the abyss of deep water.
The trees, particularly the trees in the foreground, looked like sea plants swaying and waggling in the gentle undercurrent. The light was reaching them but was certainly losing its wonder as it was getting deeper and deeper.
It was taken earlier in the morning. Later when I drove past to get back to the Lassen Peak parking lot, it wasn’t like this at all. I was so glad that I stopped earlier.
King Creek Waterfalls was one of the easiest hikes in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and thankfully, there was not too much of snow to get there from the trailhead. Other than the huge patch near the turnoff where the trail started going downhill along the stream, it was quite a pleasant hike to the falls and back.
The snow fed water was flowing quite nicely. In fact, the volume of the water was so much that I almost didn’t recognize them. Didn’t recognized them based on what I saw while Googling the falls, that is. Although certainly a season of the year one visits makes the difference, I didn’t expect this much volume of water flowing.
And there was no one there. I took my time. Loved the solitude.
SHEER BEAUTY AT SUNSET
My plan was to hike Lassen Peak and catch the sunset from the top of it. But, since I couldn’t do it, I decided to stick around near Lake Helen and frame Brokeoff Mountain and the lake together.
As cold and windy as it was, I loved the snow. Wait, let me rephrase it.
I loved the fact that the snow was the integral part of the Lassen Volcanic National Park scene in late June. Just like snow covered Yosemite National Park till late April or early May.
The sunset glow that started falling onto Brokeoff Mountain and Lake Helen was just magical.
MILKY WAY OVER BUMPASS HELL
I stuck around the area for the Milky Way.
For my Milky Way shots in Lassen Volcanic National Park, I toyed the idea of staying at the Lassen Peak parking lot looking south at Bumpass Mountain. However, considering how open the sky was at the Bumpass Hell parking lot, I ditched the first and drove down to the latter.
It was quite dark, and terrain wise, it was rather difficult to make out the perimeter in the dark. I opted not to venture too far.
The Milky Way crossing the night sky there was quite mesmerizing.
I wanted to test how light painting would work while shooting the Milky Way there. These tall trees, the only tall trees close to the edge I could find in the dark, were perfect foreground objects.
Usually I don’t appreciate light pollution coming from adjacent towns or cities when I shoot the Milky Way. While there was not much, it was actually adding an extra set of hues to the palette.
No one was around.
It was a cold night, and I had to bundle up.
KINGS CREEK FLOWING
Next morning I revisited Kings Creek.
I had no intention of hiking down to the waterfalls. Instead, I had noticed the day before that Kings Creek not too far from the trailhead was flowing quite nicely. So I had told myself that I wanted to come back before heading to Manzanita Lake.
The snow feeding creek water felt quite cold and refreshing in my hands. I had brought my water filter on this trip (because a backpacking trip in Banff was in order) but never thought I’d want to use it before, so I didn’t have it with me at the creek. Oh well…
While ambling up and down the trail, I found this particular spot where I could frame the stream right. But I had to be on the other side of the stream.
Guess I have to jump…
Jumping wasn’t too bad. I got my shots. I jumped back. I swiftly walked back up the trail to return to my car.
On my way back another spot caught my eye, so I side tracked and started setting up my would be last shot at the creek. That was when I realized that the remote control for the wireless trigger was missing.
I panicked at first.
I looked everywhere. In my ThinkTank waist pouch, where it should’ve been in the first place. Not there.
In my pockets. Not there.
In my day pack. Not there…
Where the hell is it?
Then, it dawned on me. It must’ve flown out of my ThinkTank waist pouch when I jumped back. So, I hastily retraced my steps and returned to the spot.
I was quite frantic. My concern was what if it fell in the water. Well, technically it would’ve been long gone in the flowing water by then if that was the case. The end of long exposure.
I looked everywhere.
I didn’t see it.
I kept looking…
Based on the trajectory of me jumping back over the stream and landing on this side, it was possible that the remote might’ve flown out and fallen into the water.
Then, I saw it.
It was stuck in this dirt hole where no grass was growing. I didn’t see it for some time because the color of the remote is black. It was blended in quite well.
I picked it up. Other than the fact that it collected some dirt on the side, it was fine.
A sigh of relief enthused.
When I took a stroll around the lake, I noticed that there were some openings where I could set up my camera for the shot of Lassen Peak and its reflection in the water. But either tree branches or shrubs always partially got in the way.
And I didn’t like it.
I walked back and forth for a few more minutes, pondering what I should do, while wondering if there was another opening with a clear view that I might’ve missed.
I didn’t see any. So, I decided to do what other photographers would do to get the shot.
I fetched my sandals from my car and marched into the water with my tripod and the camera.
I got my shots, and it was time to get out of the water.
LASSEN VOLCANIC IS ANOTHER PLANET
My next stop where I was really excited about was Cinder Cone. Although I didn’t know what else to expect to shoot other than Cinder Cone, I was quite determined to get there.
After about an hour drive eastbound, I reached the off-road path to the Cinder Cone area. There was a lake called Butte Lake, at the end of the dirt road, where visitors could launch their boats.
The trailhead to Cinder Cone was located near the launching pad. When I got there I saw a couple of cars already parked, but I was not sure if all of the owners of the vehicles went hiking.
The day was waning fast. I put my hiking shoes on and headed for the cone.
This 4-mile round trip trail was well marked. First, the Fantastic Lava Bed on the left of the trail sort of greeted me. But the dirt bank was so high that I didn’t see anything unless I would climb it.
As I was 2/3 of the way in, I ran into a couple returning from the cone. We exchanged a quick hello, and I continued my way.
DOUBLE RIM AT SUNSET
The Cinder Cone is an interesting ash cone to say the least. As I was getting close to the cone, the dirt turned into ashes, which was hard to walk in, like walking in sands. But the worst part was that the ‘trail’ continued diagonally all the way up to the top of the cone. It wasn’t difficult but definitely strenuous because it was hard to walk in it to begin with, and I was gaining elevation rather quickly.
Technically the gain itself isn’t much – under 900 feet. But the way that you have to go up would exhaust you. And it tired me out. But, the view from the top, which is just above 6,900 feet, was worth all the heavy huffing and puffing.
The view of Lassen Peak definitely worth mentioning. Especially I timed it right that the sunset was quite close, but still I had enough time to walk around the crater and scout the spots.
It was quite an overwhelming feeling to see both Lassen Peak and Brokeoff Mountain that far again, as I was just near them a few hours ago. And here I was trying to capture the double rim of the Cinder Cone with them in the background.
LAST RAY OF THE SUN
Because it was a double rim cone, I wanted to capture that from inside. As the sun was setting over Prospect Peak, I found a spot where I was able to frame both Lassen Peak and Brokeoff Mountain (and other peaks) and also the inner rim while catching the sun right before it disappeared.
WHEN MOUNTAINS ARE PAINTED IN PINK
Once the sun was completely disappeared behind Prospect Peak, I walked along the inner rim. I found another spot and pointed my camera south.
The sky was slowly getting stained in pink as the rest of the world started slowly sinking into dark.
I really liked how the inner rim was shaped. In fact, I liked the fact that it felt like I was visiting another planet.
I wanted to stick around here for the Milky Way, but it was getting chilly. I had a windbreaker but didn’t have food on me. It would’ve been interesting to see our galaxy here, but I had no choice but to pack up and head back before it got too dark.
IN THE COMPANY OF NAUTICAL TWILIGHT
Before heading down the cone though, the after sunset glow that was illuminating Lassen Peak stopped me. This is what I love about the Blue Hour.
I took my time for the shot. I think it turned out alright.
MAGICAL NIGHT AT THE LAKE
Once it got completely dark, I decided to take a night walk around Butte Lake to see how I could frame the Milky Way.
Also, because it was around the time when June Boötids meteor shower was supposed to happening, I was hoping to catch some of meteors over the lake… Reflections would’ve been nice.
I saw none.
This meteor shower has a ZHR of 1 or 2. In other words, only 1 or 2 meteors are seen per hour (although it was seen more than 50 to 100 in the past) and it is the reason why this meteor shower is known very unpredictable, let alone not as popular as, for instance, Perseids.
This part of Lassen Volcanic National Park is insanely remote. There were not any towns or cities. Less light pollution.
The Milky Way looked brighter here.
THE ONE THAT FLEW OVER ME
When I got back to my car, I looked up and saw the Milky Way stretched across the sky into which these tall trees shot up. I really dig these shots – Milky Way and the trees. So, I set up my camera for one last shot of the night.
Then, I caught one! I caught a June Boötids meteor.
Just like that!
Lassen Volcanic National Park offered so much more than what I anticipated. And I didn’t even get to hike all the trails and see all the sights there were. Of course, my time there was quite limited, so it would’ve been quite difficult to choose (although Bumpass Hell was definitely one of the trails I wanted to hike).
It is definitely a national park that I want to go back to. Lassen Peak still remains on my list to hike. One thing that I was definitely not prepared for was its temperature, and I will keep that in mind for future planning.
My brief but excursion to Cinder Cone was quite satisfying, but the thought of shooting the Milky Way at the top of it still lingers. I’ll definitely look into that next time.
Have you been to Lassen Volcanic National Park? What is your favorite spot(s) in the park to visit? Have you hiked Bumpass Hell and/or Lassen Peak? How about Brokeoff Mountain? Did you like Manzanita Lake and a short hike around it?
Thanks for reading.