November 13, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter
Last week I made an unexpected trip to northern California. When it was time to return home to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was leaving Red Bluff, I could not ignore the silent invitation from Mount Lassen and Brokeoff, looking over the town from the east, lightly sprinkled with white snow left by recent storms. Up I drove, 52 miles to the Park.
Following tradition, the Park Service closed the road through Lassen after the first significant accumulation of snow, and it will not reopen until next spring. Between the closure and my visit, however, warm temperatures had melted much of the new snow, and the road beyond the Visitor Center was clear, but open to cars for only about another mile to the Sulphur Works and Ridge Lakes trailhead parking lot. I left my car there and followed the smell of rotten eggs to the Sulphur Works, something I haven’t done in years.
From there I continued up the road on foot about another mile, well around the first curve, far enough to get a good view of the back side of Diamond Peak.
I had the route to myself: no cars, no other visitors in sight, just me and the open road, the mountains, and the Park in autumn, in the midst of a reprieve between a trial run and the true onset of winter. It was liberating to hike up the road that I had only ever traveled in the confines of a car, and the slower pace provided brand new perspectives of some of the Park’s features.
The temperature was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sun was warm. I breathed in deeply the clean, cool November air, savoring the scent of mountain mule ears that grow in abundance on the hillsides in that part of the Park. At the height of summer their greenness dominates the landscape above and below the road. Now they are brown and shrunken, desiccated, and the breeze flowing through the valley was an almost constant clacking through their dry, drooping “ears!”
If I hadn’t had to get back home, I would have spent the day in the Park, continuing up the road as far as time allowed. As it was, by the time I got back to my car, I was resigned to the fact that winter will probably settle into the Park for real before I have a chance to return, blanketing for months everything I saw that day (except the geothermal areas) under a frigid, white mantle.
Driving out of the parking lot, my imagination was already skipping ahead to the time next year when the snow begins to melt, swelling the creeks and waterfalls, lake ice yields to the sun’s persistence, wildflowers erupt in the meadows and along the road, and Lassen Volcanic National Park presents us with another splendid summer season.