After a hot and slightly buggy Memorial Day weekend holed up in the mountains around Mendocino National Forest, northeast of San Francisco, we were ready for a cool-off. We’d heard that Lassen Volcanic National Park was still partly closed due to snowpack, and so seemed promising. It was Monday afternoon when we arrived, and park visitors were rapidly clearing out in the late afternoon rain. We got there just in time to catch the visitor center before it shut until the following weekend; it was still off season here, yet another perk for us. We learned we could collect firewood, which we did, then drove out to Lassen National Forest and found a small clearing in an otherwise lush, densely forested area of tall pines on an old forest service road. No snow. Instead…
moisture + warmth + trees = mosquitoes
… so we set up full camp, with a mosquito net hanging over the galley’s hatch door, and next to it our new (thanks, Amazon.com!) net-sided pop up shelter with table and chairs. We started a campfire in a small, safe spot where one had been before. Delicious dinner soon followed.
We had spotted a coyote as we drove in; now, in the darkness of evening, Katie peered into the dark, emitting low, quiet growls. From time to time we cast our flashlight beem around, but no eyes looked back at us. Katie could sense them, even if we could not.
The next day we explored the woods before breaking camp. Pine cones of perfect form, black and gold tiger swallowtail butterflies, and strange red mysterious outgrowths.
Sarcodes is a monotypic genus of a north-west American, springtime, flowering plant in the heath family (Ericaceae), containing the single species Sarcodes sanguinea, commonly called the snow plant or snow flower. It is a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to roots of trees. – Wikipedia
No wonder we didn’t recognise it.
Our trusty park ranger friend at the visitor center had recommended two stopovers in Lassen. The first was a dog friendly 2-mile looping hike along an interpretive path
that highlighted several volcanic features. We saw lava tubes, spatter cones, a small cinder cone, puzzle-piece-like rock features, some curiously bendy trees, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and scurrying lizards (my new word: poikilotherms; you can look it up).
The second recommendation was a one-third-mile-long underground lava tube. Bring a flashlight, this would be cave time. We left Katie in the cool trailer, where she briefly howled at the indignity of being left behind. (Mostly on these occastions she settles, sometimes she does not; perhaps an underground lava tube smells like hamburger?). Assuring both her and the German tourists who walked by at that moment that all was well (Katie, in all our nine years with you, we’ve never ever not come back…), we descended to the dark depths below.
Still in search of snow, we drove the 10 open miles of Lassen National Park’s main road, leading inward from the NW corner. The roads were clear but the temperature dropped noiceably with each mile and each little stop. Halfway there we stopped to check out a gigantic roadside dacite rock. A volcanic blast had literaly flung it down the mountain, and here it sat still, big as a house. The sign informed us it had taken three days for the rock to cool. Though fairly comfortable now as we approached the snow boundry, there had certainly been other days when we could have empathised.
At last we came to the snow we had been seeking. We gazed up along the snowy road ahead, but alas, this was one of those quirky, inexplicable scenarios: no dogs allowed on snow packed roads.
While we stood there, a couple approached us. “What color is your truck?” Well, that was a novel one we hadn’t heard before. “Um, red?” Evidently they’d been having a lovers’ quarrel over this detail, and we were able to set them right. We chatted a while; it turned out that they, too, were on the road for a time in their maroon truck. They were following a similar route to us, and recognised us from a scenic stop many hundreds of miles earlier (a thing that happened with some frequency for us). They were a fun couple and we enjoyed the diversion of spending a half hour with them. Katie being right there with us, the conversation soon turned to dogs. It would seem this couple had a library of ready disagreements at their fingertips, and dogs provided a whole thematic set. What kind of dog? Puppy or adult? What should they feed it (kibble or raw?). They differed in opinion on all of these. Colin and I may not have agreed on salsa, but we did at least have some common ground. But the couple were amicable in their disputes, more like friendly competitiveness, and they seemed very happy. We wished them well on both their journey and their eventual choice of dog, touched our fingers to the snow one last time, and headed out.