It’s hard to imagine as another heat wave smothers Sonoma County and beyond, but remnants of the long, snowy winter are making a last stand on a Northern California peak. Snowplay in August? It’s happening in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
This winter the park more than lived up to its native name, Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee, a Mountain Maidu term that translates to Snowy Mountain. The 30-mile-long scenic highway through the park finally opened for the season on July 26 — the latest opening since 1980. Road clearing teams have been plowing since early April, chewing through drifts up to 40 feet thick.
What does this mean for Sonoma County resident? Those in the know would argue it’s always a good time to escape to Lassen, but with snowbanks still dressing the steep slopes of the plug dome volcano, and meltwater bolstering alpine wildflower blooms and recharging streams that feed waterfalls, travelers to the park are in for a colorful, and cooling, treat.
The opening of the park road also means visitors won’t have to go the long way ’round to get from the park hub at Manzanita Lake, on the north side, to the hub at the southwest entrance. This is a good thing since the park has a number of events planned at both locations, and points in between, during the last full month of summer. It also shortens travel between trailheads, offering easier access to 150 miles of sublime hiking.
Half the park is after dark
Lassen’s Dark Sky Festival, a celebration of the celestial, is set for Friday-Sunday. The park’s seclusion from the light litter of civilization, as well as its altitude, draws crowds of stargazers to the park annually. Festival highlights include telescope viewing, which takes place at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, the Bumpass Hell parking lot high on the shoulder of the volcano, and at the Manzanita Lake campground. Astronomers train their scopes on the superstars of the night sky and allow visitors to check them out while offering insights into what they are viewing. A full slate of other activities, including solar scope viewing, a NASA Astrobiology tent, and an art and science fair, are among the planned activities.
On Thursday, Aug. 17, the Lassen Association hosts a guided hike to Devils Kitchen in the Warner Valley, located on the south side of the park outside Chester. This will encompass insights into not only the mudpots and fumaroles of the hydrothermal area, but also volcanic features accessed by other hiking trails within the park.
REI Sierra campout
REI will host a campout at Butte Lake, in the northeast corner of the park, over the weekend of Aug. 18-20. Activities include guided hikes and stand-up paddleboard and kayak tours of the lake, as well as access to tips (and tools) to enhance any camping experience.
This more remote section of the park is home to an otherworldly tableau that includes the Cinder Cone, which last erupted in the mid-1800s, the Fantastic Lava Beds, a flow of jumbled rock towering hundreds of feet over the surrounding landscape, and the Painted Dunes, landforms covered in cinders of different hues.
The last big event of the summer, Art and Wine of Lassen, is set for Sept. 16.
Both local wines and beers — the terroir is distinctly volcanic — are showcased at this annual party, which takes place at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.