Monday, November 16, 2015

Bumpass Hell

You're probably thinking to yourself, "What kind of place is this to have a name like Bumpass Hell?"

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.

Squeaky chipmunk

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.

Interesting colors

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.

Boiling water

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. 

Interesting sediments

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.


  1. What an amazing place this is; you were so fortunate to have it to yourself for a while. I also love Yellowstone and have been there many times; I will have to make a trip to Lassen and check this out for myself one of these days. Thanks for the introduction!

  2. A great series of photos and a fascinating place to visit. I can imagine the sulphur smell - and I think it would be especially strong down in that valley.

  3. Great name and wonderful shots!

  4. What a fantasstic place to vist. Loved the different mde and the lovely long walkway shot. Gret close up of the Shipmunk squaking. The colours are lovely as are you 2 videos

  5. I never got to see much of your part of the States so I had no idea these existed--which is kinda weird as I have visited several similar places here in New Zealand, but minus the little chipmunk!

  6. Interesting place and story. Poor guy losing his leg. We have similar geothermal activity and bubbling mud in New Zealand, but we don't call it hell :)

  7. Que maravilha e fotografias fantásticas.
    Local magnifico para caminhadas.
    Um abraço e continuação de uma boa semana.

  8. Rather barren yet beautiful.

  9. This is an amazing place. Yet again I enjoyed the look round it.

  10. Fascinating place! I won't tire of seeing more. Very nice photos, as usual, Linda.

  11. You find the most interesting places!! I think Mr. chipmunk was laughing at your story of Mr. Bumpass....:) Thank you as always for taking me to this great place...:) Have a great day!!

  12. Those chipmunk shots are perfect!

    Bumpass Hell was closed due to snow when we visited, thanks for taking me there! I love these kinds of places and am always accompanied by a little healthy fear of what lies below and what could possibly happen if this all blows!

  13. It does look a lot like Yellowstone! Definitely not tired of the shots; I had no idea this was here. We just did a short day trip to the edge of the park.

  14. Wow! I had no idea this was in N. Ca! I lived in Concord as a young teen and we never explored the mountains and countryside but when we went on excursions, it was to San Fran and Oakland. I regret missing out on this and I'm certain many other beautiful, interesting places! Great post! Enjoyed the photos and videos.

  15. Always better to get places like that without the crowds as it makes more of an impact. Great area and photos. Love chipmunks.

  16. Love the Chipmunk, he looks like he is having a right giggle


  17. Linda, your photos are gorgeous, as always, as well as the videos. In one of your photos the chipmunk looks as if he is laughing!!! LOL! :) Nice that they have the boardwalks there.

  18. What an intriguing place ~ love the chipmunk and great photography!

    Happy Week to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  19. Astonishing place. Shame about poor Mr Bumpass; he must have suffered more than enough with a name like that!

  20. Hello Linda, these scenes are what I remember from my trip many years ago. Your chipmunk photo is just adorable. Well done, great collection of photos! Enjoy your week!

  21. What a unique hike and Bumpass Hell is one heck of a name, not one that you would forget! The chippys and other wildlife must just accept their surroundings and adapt:)

  22. THIS is quite an amazing place, and one I have never heard of before. How amazing. It does remind me of Yellowstone but bet it is not quite as crowded. Loved your shots

  23. This has to be one of California's most impressive natural attractions. As good as these vistas are, the squeaky chipmunk stole the show.

  24. What a fabulous place! Reminds me the geyser and boiling mud at Geyser in Iceland.

  25. Wow! What a place you've introduced me to. I never knew about it before, but with a name like that and your fabulous pictures, I'll have to visit it one of these days. Love the laughing squirrel picture! :-)

  26. Wow! These are wonderful photos and what a hidden gem ( well, hidden from those of us that are only familiar with Yellowstone) I was mesmerized there...and diligently watching our two boys as they ran down the boardwalks!

  27. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I've been to Lassen almost a dozen times and have always skipped over this place. In my defense, most of those trips have been in the winter, when Bumpass is closed. Obviously, I need to reconsider, it looks awesome! Also: I can't believe you had it to yourself. That area is, by far, the most popular in the park.

  28. What an interesting place to visit! It's been years since I was in Yellowstone, but your pics of Lassen (Bumpass Hell) reminded me of it a bit. Great pix! Still in awe of you taking trips and hiking by yourself:)

  29. Well, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I have ever heard of Bumpass Hell! I don't think I would forget a name like that. Something new for my bucket list. ;)

  30. Really interesting post Linda. I'd love to see something like this.

  31. Hi! Very poor Bumpass. I remembered a proverb,"the early bird gets the worm. Your first photo is very beautiful. The steam rising photos are very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  32. amazing place. great pics. I like your squeaking chippy. He looks like he could be laughing too.

  33. We decided to hike from the Kings Creek picnic area for some more solitude...we didn't see anyone coming in that day, and only saw maybe 10-12 people at the thermal features - so it was a good way to go. Another hiker did what you did and went on the trail for a little...we convinced her to come back with us to our car since the trail had been so nice...and we would drive her back to the Bumpass Hell parking lot. I do like seeing thermal features, but hate the smell of sulfur.

  34. Pshew. I can smell the sulfur from here, but I would love to visit Bumpass Hell if only to have the chance to repeat its name. :)

  35. What an interesting place! The landscape reminds me of an alien planet. The chipmunks are so cute.

  36. Looks like a fantastic place for a solo jaunt! Love both of your chipmunk shots.


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