Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Falling for Lassen National Park

I love Lassen Volcanic National Park for some of the same reasons I love the image of movie star John Wayne. It's rugged, big-shouldered, and—set off by itself in California's northeast quadrant—it's kind of a loner. Call it the Quiet Man of national parks. After all, it gets a fraction of the visitors seen every year by its bigger cousin: Yosemite National Park. 

But that may change somewhat with the latest news from Lassen: this month's opening of the new Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center. The center's name means Snow Mountain (in the Mountain Maidu language), a fitting moniker for a park whose main summit, 10,457-foot Lassen Peak, is capped by the white stuff for much of the year. 
The new visitor center (9-5 daily) boasts an auditorium showing a new park film, a staffed info desk, exhibits, food services, and an after-hours backcountry registration vestibule. Not only is it a big step forward over past facilities, but it's a handsome building.
So visit now, when the center is new and fall crowds are light. There's so much to do here: camping, hiking, fishing; and it only takes about one tank of gas to get here from the Bay Area. The park is a living exhibit of volcanic action; the fumaroles are hissing, the mud pots are gurgling. Now, you'll have the park's network of trails practically to yourself. But go soon, before road access to the park is restricted by late autumn's snows; after that, you'll need skis and snowshoes to see much of Lassen. One tip: before leaving home, check the park web page and status of the main park road.

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