The Lassen Effect

I’ll admit it: I launched quite the campaign to convince my editors at National Parks magazine that Lassen Volcanic National Park was worthy of a feature. I did my research and presented Lassen’s buffet of scientific wonders – extremophiles, snow algae, etc – and they decided that yes, Lassen would be a great topic, but… not too much of the science stuff. Fine by me, just as long as I get to write about one of my favorite places. The Lassen Effect became the cover story of the magazine’s Spring 2016 issue, and you can read the full article on the magazine’s site. The photos by Rachid Dahnoun truly capture the park’s beauty.

(If you’re a budding volcanologist, geologist, botanist, or just about any -ist of the scientific variety, do look into Lassen’s unique offerings. The park is much more than just a pretty slice of land.)

The park has its banner tourist attractions, of course, and after my warm-up round, I was ready to see what else it offered. The most accessible was the Sulphur Works, which surround the park highway just beyond the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. A 180-degree bubbling mudpot, five feet across, gurgled away next to the sidewalk, while fumaroles across the road pumped steam into the breeze, as if someone was about to make a dramatic entrance. Farther into the park, the Bumpass Hell Trail boardwalk snakes over a curiously colored landscape of more steaming fumaroles and boiling pools. It smelled eggy, and not the freshly scrambled type, but my attention was quickly diverted from the aroma to the sci-fi spectacle around my feet. Bumpass Hell is largely devoid of plant life; magma sits six miles below the surface, and at various points, the earth hisses and spits like an incensed housecat, burbles and blubbers comically, and steams enigmatically. It felt like the masterminds of Disney had built a set using rubber molds and dry ice for theatrical effect. Large patches of chartreuse and saffron earth, disrupted by shockingly bright pools of ice blue, enhanced the sense of the unreal, but the occasional waves of sulfur fumes and the sight of the Cascade Range along the horizon always tugged me back to reality.