|Morning mountain reflections in Lake Helen|
Lassen Volcanic National Park is known not only for a recently erupting volcano (Lassen Peak, 1915), it's also home to a wide array of unique hyrdrothermal features. Steaming fumaroles, gurgling mudpots, and boiling hot springs all exist in a 16-acre site known as Bumpass Hell. It's like a miniature Yellowstone sprung up in the heart of in Northern California.
|Trailhead sign - proof that I'm not making this name up|
One of the most popular places in the park, a short 1.5 mile trail takes scores of visitors to this unusual land of hot springs. My campground neighbors advised an early start if I wanted solitude. So the next morning, I rose before daybreak. Arriving at the trailhead by a quarter to eight, I was the third car in the lot. Briefly delayed capturing some picture-perfect reflections in Lake Helen's calm waters, it was time to check out this place with a funny name.
|First look into the valley|
The trail itself was unremarkable, save for a fantastic viewpoint of the nearby mountains about halfway. Fifteen minutes later, a small gap in the trees revealed a bird's-eye view of my destination. Steam rising from a barren clearing, Bumpass Hell spread out below. I felt a shiver of excitement - not only was I excited about seeing (and photographing) this land of sulfur and steam, it appeared I had it all to myself!
|Lots of steam rising|
A long descent down a steep hill took me to the first boardwalk. Because the temperatures of these hot springs and mud pots are well above boiling, contact would result in serious injury. Sturdy walkways provide visitors safe close up views. Because - no one wants to suffer the fate of Kendall Vanhook Bumpass - the man responsible for this area's unusual name.
|Boardwalks protect visitors from being burned|
A cowboy and early explorer, Bumpass stumbled upon these hydrothermal features in the early 1860s. This discovery came at a cost - he badly scalded his leg after accidentally breaking through a thin crust above a mud pot. Upon returning to civilization, Bumpass characterized this area as "hell." Hearing his story, a newspaper editor convinced Bumpass to take him along on a return visit. Some people are slow learners, and poor Mr. Bumpass fell in a second time, burning the same leg, which eventually required amputation.
Standing on the boardwalk's edge, gaping at this wondrous place, I noticed a tiny chipmunk (or maybe it was a golden-mantled ground squirrel...) standing quite close. He was on his hind legs squeaking loudly. The little guy let me get within inches, and my large camera lens didn't seem to faze him. I got a great shot of Mr. Chipper with his tiny mouth wide open, before he finally noticed me and scampered away.
Time to check out the boiling pools! I traveled to one end of the boardwalk that offered great views of a robins-egg-blue hot spring. Dark orange patches of sulfur lined the adjacent banks. Steam rose from nearby fumarole vents. (And as you can imagine, it smelled pretty nasty)
I took a short video so you could all enjoy the scenery.
Informative signs along the boardwalk's railing provided explanations of the odd, boiling landforms. There were fumaroles (steam vents), boiling springs, and mud pots, which were an intermediate phase between the fumarole and boiling spring. The amount of available water determines whether you'll have a boiling spring, fumarole, or mud pot.
Deep under Lassen Peak, a body of hot molten rock is responsible for these strange, bubbling features. The deep magma chamber heats ground water to temperatures well above boiling. As the water nears the surface, it erupts through fissures, creating steam clouds and mud pots.
|Boiling mudpots make cool patterns|
The place was far from quiet, as the belching mud pots and boiling pools made all sorts of strange gurgling sounds.
|Silty mudflow tracks|
Big Boiler, the largest and hottest fumarole in the park, hissed and grumbled nearby. Steam temperatures have been measured as high as 322 degrees F (161 C) here, making it one of the hottest fumaroles in the world. The constant churning and heat have enlarged Big Boiler over the years, requiring a recent reconstruction of the boardwalk, when part of it eroded away.
Another video of this fascinating place! (Just because)
|Sulfur makes bright colors on the landscape|
Walking along the boardwalk, I was disappointed to find the upper portion blocked by an orange fence. Apparently this reach was under construction. I peeped around the barricade, tempted to step around and continue across the closed walkway. But not wishing to suffer the same fate as Mr. Bumpass, I wisely decided to turn back.
|Steam rising from many fumaroles|
The trail continued past Bumpass Hell, continuing another 2.5 miles to Kings Creek picnic area. Although I wasn't planning on hiking that far, I did climb the adjacent hill to get another look at this steamy valley.
|The hot landscape didn't bother this chipmunk|
And I spotted another chipmunk/ground squirrel perched on the side of a hot spring. The little critter didn't seemed at all bothered by his proximity to scalding steam and water.
|Another geothermal pond|
From my high perch, I got some great views of geothermal features adjacent to the closed boardwalk. Another large mud pot/hot spring was directly below, and it was as spectacular as the others. I relaxed, had a snack, and enjoyed the solitude.
|Hot mud makes interesting patterns|
I was extremely lucky, and had the entire place to myself for the better part of an hour. But all good things eventually come to an end, and as I sat upon the hill, people started to arrive.
|People are starting to show up|
I'd heard by midday the boardwalks get crowded with visitors. Not wanting to fight for viewing space (especially so close to all that hot mud and water) I decided I'd collected more than enough images.
|Loved this blue-gray pool|
The day was getting warm anyway, and I still had to climb back up that steep hill.
|A look back up the valley|
But not before snapping just a couple more photos of this fascinating, unusual place. Having visited Yellowstone National Park many times, (one of my favorite National Parks) I was totally wowed by the geothermal features in Bumpass Hell. They're on par with anything you'd see in Yellowstone.
|Last look at this unique area|
Glad I got up early and experienced Bumpass Hell without the crowds. A great way to spend a glorious fall morning!
Hang in there, I've got one more Lassen post coming up (hopefully you aren't tired of this place yet).
Sharing with: Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday.