California Journey 2018
Park, Burney Falls, Lava Beds Monument
the Road Day
2: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Day 3: Subway Cave and Lassen
Beds National Monument
Day 6: Heading Home
(Photos by Teri Liddle,
Colton Upshaw, and Dick Estel)
1 - On the Road
2017, my daughter Teri, grandson Mikie, his girlfriend Lizzie,
and I went to Lassen
Volcanic National Park. There was still so
much snow that we could drive only a few miles into the park. We
could walk on the road a couple of miles further, beyond which it was
closed. Teri greatly enjoyed this trip and wanted to return when the
entire park was open, so we started planning a trip for 2018.
usual when Teri is involved in planning a major trip,
discussion started early, and motel reservations were completed
by mid-February for a trip that would start on August 3. Teri's older
grandson (my great grandson) Colton would be traveling with us, and
since he would be starting kindergarten in mid-August, we needed to schedule
the trip so that we would be back in time.
a long wait and final planning, Johnny brought Colton to my house on
his way to work, and we drove in my truck to Teri's. We decided on
the larger vehicle since we would be fixing most of our own meals
and needed two ice chests, luggage, food boxes, etc. We also took my
camping mattress for Colton to use. We left Teri's around 6:30 a.m.,
heading up Highway 99, then across to Interstate 5 at Stockton. Our
destination the first night was Red Bluff, where we would spend the
night, then head for Lassen National Park in the morning. At the
motel we enjoyed the swimming pool, and walked across the street to
pick up pizza from Domino's. Next door was a Baskin-Robbins, so we
also took ice cream back to the motel.
don't mention this to anyone, but the thing Colton (and most young
kids) seem to enjoy most about a motel is jumping on the bed,
particularly from one bed to the other. Colton
started out with a few sedate jumps, but by the end of the trip he
was doing somersaults and wild leaps that made Teri and I worry
about the danger of breaking his head or the wall, whichever gave in
also did a lot of reading, and Colton spent time watching videos on
an iPad. Teri imposed a "quiet time" rule where all wild
and loud activity came to an end so we could wind down a while before going
goodbye to Dad
dessert to the fullest
2 - Lassen National Park
next day we had
a short drive of a little over 50 miles, so we got a leisurely
start, but still arrived in plenty of time to do a lot of stuff in
Lassen National Park. We made our first stop at the visitor center,
where we bought some souvenirs for Colton and brother Jack, and
watched a video about the formation of the area. The film had
excellent animation of lava flow and eruptions, and it held Colton's
attention (as well as Teri's and mine) throughout the 20 minutes or
short distance past the entrance is the Sulfur
Works, a thermal
feature consisting of a mud-colored pool with vigorously bubbling water
and a strong sulfur smell. The look on Colton's face perfectly
conveyed the usual reaction to the smell when it's first
encountered. It proved to be the perfect time to be there, as a
young ranger approached, and asked Colton if he wanted to help take
the temperature of the water. He got out a laser thermometer, showed
Colton how to hold it and pull the trigger, and had him point it at
the water. The temperature varied in different parts of the pool
from 160 to 170 degrees. The hottest it gets is about 180, and the
apparent "boiling" is actually caused by escaping gas.
ranger also told us about extremophiles, microscopic organisms that
live in the heated pool, and showed a photo, magnified 20,000 times
(it looked like
walked around this area, where two nice creeks come in, and looked
at a small mud pot across the road and down the hill, which the
ranger said is new just since last year.
Colton expresses his opinion of the sulfur smell
Taking the temperature of the bubbling mud pot
this point the road rises up continuously to the high point at 8,512
feet, and we stopped at several places along the way, including a
small meadow-lined creek where we enjoyed a number of flower
species. Next were two small lakes, starting with Emerald
smaller of the two, and
I believe the more scenic. Around the lake we identified a number of
western hemlocks, recognizable by their droopy tops, as well as red
fir. We saw lupines everywhere, and learned about a species unique
to the area, the Lassen
Paintbrush, a rose-colored variation of this widespread flower.
As we prepared to leave the lake, we spotted a robin looking for
breakfast along the shore.
than a quarter mile up the road is Lake
Helen, a bit larger and
mostly surrounded by tree-covered rocky slopes. There was an easy
path down to the water and plenty of rocks for Colton to
However, we were all most interested in watching another group of
tourists carry kayaks down to the water and launch
them. It proved
to be one of the shorter voyages in history, as a ranger came along
before they were 50 feet from the shore and informed them that
boating was not permitted in these two lakes.
In three previous
visits to this area, all in the summer, I had never seen Lake Helen
on the surface. We could not get this far last year, but
considering the amount of snow we walked through, it was most surely
icy then also. This
photo is from mid-July, 2010.
park's major thermal feature is Bumpass
Hell, which grandson Johnny and I visited in August, 1993. Part
of the trail was covered in show with the trail marked by orange
flags. The area is currently closed for rehabilitation, but we
followed a short path up from Lake Helen to a barrier that leads to
the trail and enjoyed the view before heading for the high spot on
Colton and Teri at Emerald Lake
Watching the launching of the kayaks
next stop was the Kings Creek Picnic Area, where we planned to eat
lunch, then hike to Cold Boiling
Lake. Teri's friend Kara, who we
hiked with at Wawona in
May, was camping at Manzanita Lake at the north entrance of the
park, and they had made plans to try and meet up. As we were parking
at Kings Creek, she drove up, and we had a short visit. Since she
had her dog with her, she was limited in what she could do, not
being allowed to take pets on the park trails.
very cold and windy at this location, and we found a table in the
sun. We had to weight down napkins and other light-weight objects,
including an empty soda can, to keep them from being blown to the
opposite end of the picnic grounds.
lunch we walked down to the far end of the picnic area, and started
down the trail which ran along the
creek. This route soon came to
the main road, so we decided it was not the trail to the lake, and
retraced our steps. It was a very beautiful
creek, lined with
flowers, and we considered our "wrong turn" a bonus. We
found the right trail, and were soon on our way to Cold Boiling
Lake. The trail rises steeply for a
short distance at the start, then becomes fairly level, with some up
and down. There are plenty of flowers, along with hemlocks, red fir
and lodgepole pines.
lake is indeed cold, but of course, not boiling. Gas bubbles from
below the lake bed rise and create the bubbling effect, but there's
not enough heat to warm the water.
we arrived at the lake we went up close to see the bubbles, but
there were really none visible in the main lake. At this point
Colton got too close and slipped in, getting wet and muddy up above
his knees, but was otherwise unharmed. We had plenty of drinking
water and rinsed him off, then spent some time denouncing the
"stupid lake." Once he dried out, he was his usual happy
self, although quite a bit dirtier than usual. We found that there
is a small pond separate from the main lake which offers plenty of
bubbles, and enjoyed the area for a while before starting back. When
we took his boots off at the truck, we found a thick layer of mud
inside the tongues.
made one final stop, at the Devastated
Area not far from the north entrance of the park. This is where
the main flow of rocks, ash and lava wiped out all vegetation in the
of 1915. The half mile loop offers a half-dozen informational
plaques with audio narration, as well as some of the
remarkable photos taken by Redding businessman B.F. Loomis.
Although the forest has recovered significantly over the intervening
100+ years, it's sobering to look at a car-size boulder and realize
it flew through the air to land where you're standing.
considered a couple of other stops, but we were all ready to just
relax for the day, and continued north through the park and on to
the town of Burney, where we would spend three nights. Our motel
room in Red Bluff was tiny and cramped, and the owners were just
this side of rude, so it was a delight to be greeted with a smile at
the Shasta Pines Motel. When we entered the room, Colton announced,
"This is perfect!" It's a clear indictment of the previous place that he
was excited to see that the bathroom light worked. And best of all,
there was plenty of floor space for his bed.
dinner we had chicken and salad that Teri had brought, with a corn
dog for Colton. Later we drove up Main Street a short distance to a
Rite Aid and got ice cream for dessert. This is one of the few drug
stores that still offers hand-dipped ice cream, and it's the
"old school" Thrifty brand, retaining the iconic original
name of this chain.
Cold Boiling Lake
Some of the mud Colton brought back from the lake
Western hemlocks, weighed down with cones
A big boulder in the Devastated Area
3 - Subway Cave and Lassen Again
Johnny and I were in this area in 1993, a few miles north of the
park we noticed a sign for Subway
This proved to be a lava
tube cave, and we turned off the highway and went through it.
When lava flows across the ground, the top layer cools and hardens,
while lava below continues to flow. Eventually this drains out,
leaving a tube-like cave. There are a number of these near Lassen,
with Subway the largest accessible one, and they are the major
feature at Lava Beds National Monument.
we arrived for our visit, Colton
was both nervous and exited, but as we went down the stairs and
walked the half mile or so through the cave, he had a great time. We
all wore headlamps and carried an extra flashlight. Temperatures in
the caves range from mid 40s to mid 50s, so we dressed accordingly,
and were quite comfortable. This cave has an exit at the end of the
walk, and you return to the parking lot on top of the cave through a
pine and fir forest. The floor was very rocky and rough, with no
actual trail, and I regretted not bringing my poles, but we made it
through without mishap.
the cave we
made a quick stop at a vista point, which was actually more of a
demonstration forest. In an area which had supported only brush,
about 150,000 ponderosa and Jeffrey pines were planted in the 1960s.
The forest is thinned on a regular basis, with harvesting scheduled
for the late 22nd century.
descends into the Subway Cave
dark, but with a good headlamp
main destination for the day was Manzanita
Lake, just inside the
north entrance of Lassen Park. This area includes a large
campground, boat launch area, a visitor center, and a loop trail
around the lake. We first went to Tara's campsite, but she had moved
on, so we parked near the visitor center and started around the lake.
This trail is described as having stunning views of Mt. Lassen and
Chaos Crags, but that applies to days when California is not
struggling with a dozen major fires. We could see the mountain at a
number of points, but the view was very
the trail we saw a few chipmunks, and the remnants of probably a
hundred or more pine cones, which had been stripped to their center
core by the little creatures who feed on the seeds.
were also entranced by the large number of boats, all human-powered,
all around the lake, along with ducks and other water birds. We
crossed the creek that runs out of the lake on a small footbridge,
and worked our way around to the west side. Where the trail begins
to turn east again we found a nice pile of logs where we enjoyed our
lunch, and also the best thing about the whole hike.
flat, damp area near the lake there were a thousand or so
butterflies, sitting on the ground and slowly moving their wings.
Colton walked among them, and was delighted when they flew up all
around him. This became a game, with him running back and forth
making sure every butterfly got its exercise. Teri even joined in for
a short time.
our lunch finished, we continued on around the lake. After seeing
very few people on the trail, we had to walk through the boat launch
area and the edge of a campground, where the population increased
significantly. Finally we crossed the bridge over the creek that
runs into the lake and arrived back at the parking lot. We took our
packs to the truck, and headed for the visitor center, also known as
Museum. An interpretative ranger had set up a table outside with
a number of skulls, and gave a short talk on the different
arrangement of teeth in the carnivore (mountain lion), omnivore
(black bear), and herbivore (deer). Colton was concerned for only a
split second when the ranger pointed out that there was a large
omnivore (me) standing right behind him.
then did a short tour of the visitor center, and started back to
Burney. A good part of the drive goes through the valley of Hat
Creek. It's a long, flat valley,
ranging from a few hundred feet to a mile wide, with cattle ranching
being the predominant activity.
at the motel dinner was home-made BBQ beef and salad, and once again we
found ourselves drawn to the ice cream counter at Rite Aid.
on the lake
Colton and Teri near our lunch stop
and the butterflies
4 - Burney Falls
third day of activity was a visit to Burney
Falls, which some
consider the most beautiful waterfalls in California. The water
pours over a 129 foot drop in two large sections, but the unique
thing here is a series of delicate cascades that pour out of the
lava rock from about a third of the way down, across a wide expanse
on both sides of the main falls. Most of the water in summer comes
from springs, and the secondary flow is actually an ancient bed of
the creek that was covered over by lava flows. Water easily seeps
down through the porous rock. Additional cascades pour
out of the lava cliffs along the creek downstream from the
past it was usually referred to as McArthur-Burney Falls, but the
McArthur name seems to have been dropped from most references. This
seems particularly unfair, since Mr. Burney came to the area and
promptly died, while the McArthur family purchased the property to
save the falls from being drowned by a dam on the Pit River, into
which Burney Creek flows.
case, it's a beautiful spot, with big pines, small trees that appear
to be some type of maple, and lava cliffs and boulders all around.
We stopped first at the visitor center then walked the 75 feet to
the vista point above the falls. From here a trail leads one third
of a mile down to the bottom, where you can get an up-close view.
The trail then goes downstream, crosses the creek, winds up the side
of the canyon, back across the creek above the falls and back to vista
and I visited the falls on our second Lassen visit in 1997, but Teri
and of course Colton had never been near it before.
downstream from the falls, with mossy lava boulders on the slope
some type of maple
Colton on the bridge over Burney Creek
Lassen visitor center Teri had bought stuffed toy birds for each
grandson. These represented birds that actually live in the area, and
squeezing them produced a fairly realistic representation of their
call. Colton's bird was a Steller's
Jay, and he enjoyed seeing the real thing at several places we
stopped, mostly hanging around picnic tables. After our hike around
Burney Falls, we went to the picnic area, where we were immediately
greeted by Colton's new favorite bird.
some almonds, and Colton put one on a nearby picnic table. Within
fifteen seconds a jay swooped down and made off with the nut. We
then put out two nuts, hoping two jays would arrive. However, the
bird that landed swallowed the first nut, then hopped to the second
one and made off with it. We watched him eat several nuts,
swallowing them whole. Teri and I were surprised that only two birds
were seen; normally when one gets a tidbit, a dozen relatives show
up demanding their share.
enjoyed our lunch and looked around the picnic area. There are some
old rock fireplaces which were constructed by the Civilian
Conservation Corps in the 1930s. There is also an old cabin that
they built in 1935, which was restored in the 1980s.
we were headed back to Burney the town, and had a relaxing evening
for our last night there. We got everything packed up that we did
not need in the morning so we could get an early start for our next
Burney Falls Photos
built in 1935 by the CCC
Stelller's jay was our guest for lunch
- Lava Beds National Monument
our final adventure we were headed to Lava
Beds National Monument, very close to
the Oregon border. It was our longest drive between stops, about
90 miles and an hour and 45 minutes .The route goes through some of the most isolated
and sparsely populated parts of California. We followed US 299 more
or less northeast for some distance, stopping at a vista point near
the small town of Falls River Mills. We found ourselves looking down
into the valley of what I assumed was the Pit River and a nice
waterfall. Later research proved that this was indeed the Pit River Falls.
Beyond this we took several county roads and a state highway north
and northwest, approaching the monument
through a landscape of seemingly endless lava flows, sage brush and
at the visitor center is mandatory for those who wish to enter
caves. Here the rangers check if you have been in other caves
recently, to screen for the possible presence of a disease that is
deadly to bats. We also learned which caves were best for our
abilities, and which were closed. Most of the closures were due to
the presence of baby bats, but one was being used by NASA to test a
new space rover vehicle. The rough terrain inside the caves matches
up well with extraterrestrial locations.
rangers ranks the caves at three levels of difficulty, and the
description of the more challenging ones convinced us to stick with
those rated easy. We affixed
our cave permit to the windshield, then walked to Mushpot
one closest to the visitor center. This is the only cave with
artificial lighting, but flashlights are still encouraged. It also
had the lowest ceiling of all the caves we entered, and I had to stoop down as far as
possible to get through one section. Lava caves
are not like limestone caves, lacking the variety of colors and
shapes that most tourists go to see. However, there are various
subtle colors, shapes that were caused by the hot molten lava
cooling and flowing, and big boulders that have dropped from the
to the truck, we drove on the Cave Loop, which leads to about a
dozen nearby caves. Between closures and level of difficulty, we
found only one cave here that we wanted to try, Sentinel. We were
equipped with headlamps and a flashlight, a must in nearly all these
caves. It was a long completely dark cave with unique shapes in the rock, a narrow
walkway, and plenty of headroom. For reasons unknown, Colton became
nervous and wanted to go back, which we did. We were thinking this
might be the end of our cave exploration, but as we came out, he
said, "What's the next cave?"
returned to the visitor center where I bought bat themed t-shirts for
Colton and brother Jack, and picked up directions for how to get to
Klamath Falls, OR, our overnight stop for the final night. The next
cave was on the way, and soon we were descending into Skull
named because early settlers found many animal bones and a human
skeleton in it. This is one of several ice caves, features that are
deep and cold enough for water to freeze and remain frozen
throughout the year. Access to the ice is blocked to allow it to
recover from damage by debris brought in by tourists, but the
temperature was icy enough. Temperature in these caves range from 45
to 55 degrees, so we wore jeans and long sleeves at Subway, but it
felt a little too warm, so we got by fine in our normal shorts and
t-shirts at the first two caves in Lava Beds. Skull Cave consists of
three large lava tubes, one on top of another, and we found
ourselves descending via steep stairways to the lower depths, where
it got colder and colder. Teri
and I had decided we'd had quite enough cold when we realized we
were at the end. Climbing down and back up, our hands got very cold
hanging on to the metal stair railings. I felt Colton's hand and was
surprised to see that it was warm. Then we realized he was
running up the stairs without touching the railings. We grandparents
decided cold hands were worth the security of holding on tight.
course, the monument offers many features beside caves, most of them
related to volcanic
activity. The vast majority of lava features
here comes from lava flowing from cracks in the earth rather than
volcanic eruptions. We made two more stops on our way out of Lava
Beds, the first one at Schonchin
Butte, a classic cinder
then at the Black Crater. This has a crater-like appearance from
some angles, and from others appears to be a large lava
It is surrounded by beds of lava, most of which has broken down into
jagged boulders of various sizes. Trails lead to both these
features, but we just enjoyed them from the parking lots. Along the road farther north we stopped and looked out
over a huge field of
lava, with lava-topped table
mountains above us
on the other side of the road.
major cultural and historical interest in Lava Beds National
Monument relates to the original occupants, the Modoc Indians. White
settlers wanting to take over this land wiped out most of this
tribe, with the help of the U.S. Army. This was not without its
cost. Although the Modoc had been banished to a reservation near
Klamath Lakes, a final band of holdouts, led by Kintpuash,
known as Captain Jack, returned to their home. Using their knowledge
of terrain, especially the hundreds of caves, they held off a vastly
superior force for some time, but were eventually overpowered.
Captain Jack was hanged as a war criminal, and other resisters we
sent nearly 2,000 miles away to a reservation in Oklahoma,
effectively destroying their culture.
the caves at Lava Beds National Monument
| Schonchin Butte,
a typical cinder cone
Colton study the ancient lava flow
long after we left the monument we driove by Tulelake
National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of over 39,000 acres of
open water and crop land. It's a major stop for migrating waterfowl,
and offers sightings of pelicans, ducks, gulls and many others
throughout the warmer seasons. We stopped where we could walk out on
a rubberized walkway through cattails and flowers, to a photo blind.
Our best view of birds were actually along the walkway.
Tulelake it was a fairly short distance to the Oregon border. Colton
has been to Hawaii, which he vaguely remembers, and to Nevada, which
he has forgotten, so he was excited to be going to another state.
However, the best part of our visit for him was when we arrived at
our motel, and were greeted by a dog carrying a Frisbee. Colton
played with the dog while Teri and I checked in, and was invited to
return later if he wanted.
next day was my birthday so Teri and Colton took me out for dinner.
We were headed for one place when we spotted a Black
Bear Diner, and diverted to that. We've eaten at this chain
restaurant in several locations, and are looking forward to the first
Fresno location, coming in a few months.
dinner over, we just relaxed in the motel and got things ready to go
in the morning.
Lava Beds Photos
National Wildlife Refuge
in the refuge
6 - Heading Home
up at 5:30 on August 8, and were on the road by 6:30, with 470 miles
to go. Our route was mostly down US 97 to Weed, where we got on I-5.
There's usually a great view of Mt. Shasta heading down this
highway, but smoke from several fires, especially the Carr Fire west
of Redding, reduced it to the barest outline. In fact we had some
smoke and haze everywhere we went, but at Lassen we got up high
enough to be out of it, and it never bothered us at any of our
hiking locations. Views in Lassen were partly obscured but not to
the extent that we saw near Shasta and as far south as Sacramento.
lunch at a rest stop, and made two or three other stops, getting
home around 4:30. Not surprisingly Colton was very anxious to see
his family, even objecting to a lunch stop. His mom had just got off
work as we left the freeway in Fresno, headed for Teri's. We
unloaded her stuff, then I took Colton home, where he literally jumped
into Mom's arms. Their greeting was brief as Jack brought out a new
set of Legos, which were immediately dumped on the floor. Jack did
take time to put on his new bat
t-shirt, and I said my goodbyes
and headed home.
Going Home Photos
Our total mileage: 1,186
sign along the trip, somewhere on I-5: "Autocorrect is my worst
--Dick Estel, August 2018
Francesca, the Klamath Falls motel Frisbee dog,
awaits Colton's throw
From this view near Weed on I-5 you can normally
see detailed features on Black Butte
We saw at least a hundred log trucks during our
The smoky Sacramento skyline