By Bob Difley
Before Global Warming was the media’s favorite weather topic, even before the last Ice Age, when the earth was a youngster about 750,000 years ago, America’s west coast consisted of a collection of moving plates, grinding against each other, buckling and heaving, thrusting upward and sideways, heaving through the earth’s crust.
Lava bulged to the surface from the molten core of the volatile young planet, oozing out of enormous cracks, flowing in nightmarish rivers across the countryside. Hot-headed mountains blew their stacks, spewing dense clouds of roiling gray ash miles into the stratosphere and raining mega-tons of white-hot rocks on frightened creatures and the countryside below.
The earth has not cooled down yet, as active volcanoes still flex their muscles around the volatile Ring of Fire, a volcano and earthquake zone surrounding the Pacific Ocean between North America and Asia. In Northern California, Lassen National Forest – including the volcano Lassen Peak, along with several other sleeping fire-breathing dragons – is smack dab on the Ring of Fire’s arc.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated a 500-mile long driving tour through Northern California and Southern Oregon as the Volcanic Legacy National Scenic Byway. Described as a “volcano-to-volcano driving adventure, illustrating the dynamic volcanic origins of the Southern Cascade and Northern Sierra Nevada Ranges,” it begins at California’s Lassen Volcanic National Monument and ends at Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.
To see one volcano is not to have seen them all. As you travel between volcanoes, you will be able to identify unique characteristics of each. Lassen, one of our most recently active volcanoes, still spouts steam from active fumaroles and mud pots, bubble-like steamy cauldrons.
A climb to the top, a rugged, steep, but not impossible hike, will reward you with spectacular views across Lassen National Forest. Recreation opportunities abound with the area’s lakes, forests, and rivers for hiking and camping.
Mt. Shasta, rising to 14,182 feet, stays snow-capped year-round and is an awesome sight that you can see for miles as you approach. Crater Lake’s deep blue lake, second deepest in North America, is the cavity that filled when Mt. Mazama blew its top between 7,000 or 8,000 years ago. The caldera with Wizard Island afloat in the intense blue water is one of America’s most identifiable natural landscapes.
But in between, the route also passes through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and a side trip leads to the Tule Lake NWR, superb birdwatching areas. A continuation of this side trip leads to Lava Beds NM, where 200 lava tube caves are known to exist. The 43-site Indian Wells campground is first-come, first-served, with no hookups but has restrooms with water, sinks and flush toilets available year-round – and it’s only $10 a night.
At the Northwest Entrance station, the ranger station and museum can provide park information and history. The park’s largest campground, nearby Manzanita Lake, has a beautiful around-the-lake trail as well as a nature trail around Reflection Lake across the highway.
National Forest and private campgrounds are plentiful, so take your time to enjoy the small towns, spectacular scenery, rushing rivers, serenity of the forests, Old West history, and of course, our volcanic legacy.
Learn more about America’s scenic byways on the website where you can also find scenic byways near you.
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