Visitors to Lassen Volcanic National Park amble through dense sulfur fumes to see thick, gurgling clay tinted pastel colors with minerals from far below the earth's surface. The centerpiece of the park is Lassen Peak, a volcano that erupted more than 150 times over a one-year period beginning in 1914. The peak was once part of a much larger volcano called Mount Tehama.
Today, Lassen is a 10,457-foot-high pile of gray volcanic rock that is covered by snow much of the year. The mountain is so barren of life that it has been called a "vertical desert," but watchful hikers on the trail to its summit may very well encounter a ground squirrel or a swarm of tortoiseshell butterflies.
The park is a natural laboratory that spectacularly displays the effects of past volcanic action as well as the ongoing turmoil beneath the earth's surface. Throughout the park, cinder crags and magma canyons offer proof of former violence, while gurgling fumaroles and sulphur fumes suggest the possibility of a fiery future.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Photo Opportunities
The strange terrain left behind by devastating volcanic activity is perfect for landscape photographers. Here are some of the best photo opportunities:
- Lassen Peak: This volcano erupted violently in 1915, dramatically altering the landscape of the park. It has been dormant in more recent years.
- Devastated Area: Vegetation is slowly reclaiming the Devastated Area, which is still dotted with scorched trees.
- Cinder Cone: The Cinder Cone was formed from the multicolored ash and lava cinders of countless eruptions, the most recent in 1851.
- Bumpass Hell: Sulfurous fumes fill the air above the boiling hot springs at Bumpass Hell.
The Volcanic Geology of Lassen VolcanicIn one spot in the park, appropriately called the Devastated Area, scorched and fallen trees dot the landscape amid such signs of renewal as saplings, grass, and stubborn new bushes.
The Cinder Cone, a nearly cylindrical mountain of lava, rises ominously above the pine forest. The cone formed as it emitted lava and ash that then fell back onto its slopes as multicolored cinders. The crater at the top of the Cinder Cone dates to its most recent eruption in 1851. That display of natural fireworks was seen more than 100 miles away.
Manzanita Lake also adds to the drama of the park's furious landscape. Geologists believe that the lake was formed when a volcanic dome suddenly collapsed, possibly the result of an earthquake. Riding a gigantic cushion of trapped air, millions of tons of rock and debris flew across about two miles of flat terrain. The horizontal landslide was stopped by a mountain, where it blocked a creek to form the lake.
The unusual sights in Lassen Volcanic National Park were formed by devastating and fiery volcanic forces. On the next page, learn more about how this region was formed.