The Great Smoke Out, August & September 2017

Our original route would have taken us to Crater Lake and then we would have moved eastward to Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, we had to scrap Yellowstone in favor of getting Goose’s cast removed. We were able to get to Crater Lake, and we opted to head south to Yosemite. This seemed like a great plan, until the fire season caught up with us. But, more on that later.

Our first stop was Medicine Lake, sacred to the local tribes and very close to Lava Beds. I loved this campground, the lake was beautiful and different every time I walked down to it.

My other favorite thing about this Lake is that the banks were teeming with little frogs. I would clap as I walked through, to get them moving away from my feet. I didn’t relish the idea of squishing tens of frogs with every step. These little critters would also fill the evening with their calls, adding to the peacefulness of this spot. There were also a few sights around the area that could be hiked to, but unfortunately, we didn’t do much of that.

We took a day trip to Lava Beds, which was pretty heavy with smoke. That kind of ruined our plans for a scenic drive or any hikes above ground, but luckily, many of Lava Beds attractions are under ground in the form of lava tubes. The first thing we did, as usual, was to stop at the visitor center to learn more about the park.

It turns out the volcano we were standing on, Medicine Volcano, is the largest shield volcano within the Cascade Range.

After we did our formal education part, we went over to the rangers to be screened for white nose syndrome so we could safely enter

the caves. White nose syndrome is a fungus that has been decimating bat populations and, so far, the western US is free of it. If you plan on caving in these areas, be sure to bring no equipment with you that have been in any infected areas. There are handy maps and helpful rangers to assist you in this. After you’ve been screened, you get a pass for your car, any equipment you might need, and a handy map detailing all the cave options. They range from easy walks, to more difficult adventures that require tight squeezes and crawling. As we didn’t have much time, we opted for the easiest and only lit cave, Mushpot. This tube is about as accessible as a cave can get, although I don’t think it’s suitable for wheelchair as the path is uneven and the entrance has a good amount of stairs. It’s an interpretive trail with many informative signs along the way.

Our next adventure took us to Crater Lake National Park, a place both Bear and I were really excited to see. We kinda saw it.

There were several fires in the area, the closest about four miles away from us and right on the rim. We spent the day under raining ash and thick smoke and decided to flee to Mount Shasta.

We had one great day in the area. We hiked the Old Ski Bowl trail and found a good viewpoint for lunch.

My parents and Bear decided to hike up the trail further, and the girls sand I stayed to admire the cairns. The rocks in the area were great building material! They stacked very easily, so we decided to build our own.

The next day, we were smoked out again. So we continued our trek southward and quickly realized, we were not escaping. By the time we got to our camp outside of Yosemite, the air was still smoky. It was slightly improved, but we knew we weren’t going to hike in this. So we visited the nearby town of Groveland, hitting the library and the local museum.

We did take one smoky day to drive into Yosemite. We found a spot above 7,000 feet with no smoke. We had a picnic lunch and did a little exploring. We also made time for one visit to the visitor center, had to say hello to our dear friend John.

Finally… the day arrived!!! Cast off! Time to start heading east!

Lassen, July 2017

Yay Lassen! This was a long awaited part of our trip. Bunny’s birthday on the road!

In honor of Bunny’s birthday, and because we were so close to our former home, we made arrangements with a great group of friends to meet for the Fourth of July weekend.

We kicked it off right away, with an, as requested, Pokémon Birthday Party! Woot woot! There was much rejoicing.

We took it very easy at this park. A good part was still closed due to the massively wet winter. But we did manage a few hikes. The first half of the trip, the girls’ best friends were around, so we basically had a three day campground play date. No one minded this!

The kids enjoyed the shallow stream by the visitor center. They spent a bit of time considering the ice cold water.

Goose even spotted a bald eagle!

If you’re in this campground, scout around for the big logs in the back of the sites. They’re technically in shared land, so feel free to walk over. It’s a good idea to remind any kids where the site boundaries are. Most campers don’t appreciate kids running through their site.

The hikes we managed were Paradise Meadows and Crags Lake. Both are good little climbs, but certainly in range for our little hikers. Paradise Meadows is probably where I first fell in love with Lassen. Our last time out here, (September 2016),we found a gorgeous meadow cut by a thin, but deep, creek. Throughout the creek, little water flowers were blooming, and the whole scene, framed by high peaked mountains, just blew my mind. (Photos of flowers from September 2016)

This time, it was much earlier in the season, so the flowers hadn’t bloomed and the meadow was much wetter. I found some treasures, hidden in damp corners, and we even had a visit from a local deer. Moments like this always remind me, how every time you visit a park, it’s always going to be a different park when you come back.

Crags Lake, lives up to its name and finishes at a lake under an impressive craggy peak. It’s a popular trail, but we didn’t feel crowded. My parents did this hike separately from us, and they recommend starting it early. The climb will be much more comfortable in the morning. (We tend to hike mid-day, just for lifestyle and laziness.)

At the end of our stay, we had another friend come and visit. As it was my friend’s son’s first camping trip, we had to cover some basics.

We also did some sightseeing, we drove out to Burney Falls and made a quick stop at the Subway Cave. Burney Falls is a California State Park, just north of Lassen. It’s very popular, and it’s worth bearing the crowds. A very short, accessible (but steep) trail takes you to a great overlook of the Falls. This was all we did, but there are some hiking trails and historic sites in the park. Always good to leave something for next time!

Next up, Subway Cave! As with most caves in the area, this is a lava tube! The tubes are formed from a river of lava. The outer surface of the flow cools faster and hardens. Over time, the walls melt and reform over and over, widening the tube. When the river runs dry, all that will be left is the tube. (When visiting caves, it’s always good to review “white nose syndrome,” a fungus that has devastated the world bat population. The caves in California and surrounding are free of the fungus, and would like to stay so. This cave is bat free, but it’s still good policy. Save the bats!)

We missed a lot of Lassen, it’s a wonderful, under-visited gem of Northern California. It has examples of all three types of volcanoes and some spectacular geothermal features. It has a short season, aim for early autumn, especially when after a wet winter.

Mount St Helens-June 2017

I had almost forgot! Before we got to Cascade Locks, we camped in Chehalis, WA. It’s pretty close to Rainier and St Helens. We chose St Helens.

We were camped at the Thousand Trails in the area, which was quite nice. They had a good playground, and there were quite a few friends to play with.

For the trip to St Helens, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. The air was clear, the weather was pleasant and the location? Well it doesn’t get much better.

We took a hike from the visitor center, it was easy enough. Started off downhill, meandered a bit, and had great views of the volcano.

We lucked out with flowers. They were jaw dropping! I took about a thousand pictures of the impressive fields, I’ll only share a few.

Coming back, I would definitely time my trip for the spring. The views are amazing, but with the added flowers? Breathtaking!