Although we had done our best to properly pack and secure everything in the RV, we both harbored a not-so-secret presumption that at some point during the drive all of our possessions would leap forth simultaneously from their cupboards and cabinets like spring-loaded snakes in a can of peanuts. So during the entire maiden journey of the RV, our ears were tuned in to every little sound that issued from the back. “Ping, ping.” That’s new. We would give each other a look of consternation and I would shimmy through the cab to inspect the noise. “Bang.” Shimmy shimmy. “Ca-chunk.” Shimmy shimmy. And so it went until at last we reached the Mill Creek campground in Lassen National Volcanic Park.The first thing that we noticed when we pulled into the campground was that the group camping section (which really should be enclosed in a giant sound-proof bubble) was full of middle-school aged children running about and screaming. We found that no matter which campsite we chose that the din was inescapable. This bothered me less than it bothered Adam since, being a teacher, this is what every single passing period and lunch sounds like. So unless I hear some noise that is out of the ordinary (a true cry of pain or anguish that one very quickly learns to distinguish from the fake ones) I try my best to completely tune it out. This skill proved invaluable as the steady hum from the campground began at 7:30 in the morning with a bugle call and some sort of group chant and did not end until 9 or 10 PM when the adults finally whipped the little beasts into submission.
On our first full day at the campground, we decided to take a little run up the cinder cone. This particular cinder cone was formed by a series of eruptions in the 1600’s and runs up to about 6900 feet. Normally it would be a piece of cake; hop, skip, and a jump up the cone even for a slow-poke like me. But there was still some snow left on the trail, so it was going to be a bit more tragic-comic for me.
What we didn’t know was that someone had blazed his own trail along the side of the cone that looked reasonably like it should be the actual trail. And that reasonably trail-like trail happened to not be the trail. This, we found out after we had already made it about 500 feet up the side with Adam dutifully making a footpath in the snow and me following, not daring to look left nor right nor especially down lest sudden vertigo overtake me and lead me to skid down the side. When we got to the end of the trail and Adam broke the news to me that we either had to scramble up the rest of the way through a steep section of slippery, loose scoria to the top or retreat back down and start over again on the correct path, I was disheartened. We both knew that our solutions to that dilemma would displease the other. Adam does not put much stock in trails or paths because he is almost always sure that he can make one of his own that is just as good, if not better. I, however I may have come by this prejudice, am a big believer in trails. So Adam graciously led me back down the mountain to the base where he was ready to blow the whole thing off for fear that my head might explode. And here is where something surprisingly uncharacteristic happened. I said that I wanted to go for it. He raised his eyebrows and said, “It’s longer and steeper with more snow than the other path.” And it was. But the second time was not nearly as bad. In fact, I would say that I might be actually getting the hang of this snow thing if I didn’t already have knowledge of what occurred the next day.
When we got to the top of the cone we had unobstructed views of Mount Lassen as well as two other fascinating features; one called “the fantastic lava beds” and the other “the painted dunes.” Although the names seem to be a fair descriptor of the things themselves, they don’t quite illuminate how amazing these geographical features look from above. One, crumbling black rock as far as the eye can see, the other, cinder and ash heaps streaked with fiery oranges and reds, both contrasted with huge swaths of blazing white snow. As we came down the cone through the painted dunes the lava flows towered above us, the slowly melting snow trickling down around the masses of solidified magma.
That night was a full moon, so we set out for the lake to take some pictures with the new camera. I’m more of an impatient, point-and-shoot picture taker, so while Adam futzed around with the camera settings and the tripod, I stood around the edge of the lake participating in one of my favorite nature activities – bat watching. That night the bat team was in full force; there were hundreds of them flitting in their unpredictable and jerky manner, swooping over and dipping into the lake to get a mouthful of bugs (mostly mosquitoes, which makes me love those crazy little mammals even more). And so our night came to a close with bats skimming over the lake lit up by the dazzling full moon and the promise of an even better day tomorrow.