EclipseTrip Day 1: Lassen Volcanic National Park and Burney

The kids and I have gotten around this summer, but it has all been without The Miles Dad or within range of The Miles Dad’s work. For the first time all year, The Miles Dad is on vacation. And we are making hay with that vacation, road trip style! Over the course of 10 days, our plan was to drive nearly 1,500 miles, to Portland and back with a lot of stops on the way. During that time, we hoped to see a meteor shower, two national parks, a world-class Shakespeare performance and some good friends. Also, drink beer and coffee and eat ice cream.

First thing Friday morning, I took our beloved Toyota Highlander to the car wash so we could start out clean. I spent Friday wrapping up all my work assignments and decluttering the house like mad to get it ready for some cat sitters we were expecting, and just for good measure I sold my kids’ bunk bed/loft in the middle of all that for $250 in road trip cash. It was a mad day, but I was still in bed before 2 a.m. so I’m calling it a win.

By 7:30 a.m. Saturday, we were pulling out, the new cargo basket on the back of the car loaded with a tent, folding chairs, the kids’ scooters and a camping cot. On top of the car was a soft carrier containing sleeping bags, pillows and clothes bags. That left the interior of the car pleasantly roomy, so that one of the kids could ride in the back and no one was on top of anyone else.

We pretty much zipped through the four-hour drive to Lassen National Park, stopping only to fill our tank and buy a Taco Bell breakfast. (I know. I cannot explain why I like Taco Bell. It just is.) We rolled up to the entrance and were happy to learn that they charge an admission fee, because we had an Every Kid in a Park fourth-grader print-out from the Internet, which we traded in for a plastic free entry card for all national parks. The card expires at the end of August, just a few weeks after issue. Oh well, it saved us $20 there.

At the Lassen National Park Visitor Center, we enjoyed a picnic lunch from home on the sunny deck, the kids used some of their spending money to buy soft serve ice cream. Pebbles was ticked when she got to the center of her whirl and found it hollow.

Then we went inside to learn about how volcanoes run up and down the Pacific Coast, caused by the Pacific plate bumping up against the North American plate and spooging magma upwards. Although our trip was going to begin with a meteor shower and end with a total eclipse of the sun, we realized, looking at the map, that the trip had a terrestrial theme as well as a celestial one: We were following a volcano trail north. Today Mt. Lassen, in the morning Mt. Shasta, later Crater Lake (which is the inverse remains of the erstwhile Mt. Mazama), and then a whole cluster of volcanoes up in Bend.

From the Visitor Center, we drove down the road to Sulfur Works, one of the park’s geothermal sites that earns it the nickname Little Yellowstone. This is a mud pot, with mud bubbling out of the earth and stinking like eggy farts.

It was at this moment that Pebbles leveled an accusation: “Mom, you choose the stinkiest vacations!”

Next, we drove to the trailhead for a hike to Bumpass Hell, another thermal site whose name naturally caused the entire family endless hilarity. Poor Mr. Bumpass was a mountaineer who was walking around here and fell through a crust of earth into a boiling spring, to his own personal hell, hence the name. Mr. Bumpass should have paid attention to the warning sign.

Sadly, no Bumpass Hell for us! The trail was still closed due to snow making steep sections of the path too slippery. This was August 12.

Sadder but wiser, we drove a steadily ascending road toward Lassen Peak, until we noticed a  huge patch of snow, and let our kids out to play in it.

After they embarrassed us by screaming and fighting, we made them sit in the car while The Miles Dad and I walked across the road to put our toes in beautiful and icy Emerald Lake, which was, as the name suggests, a jewel tone of green.

We proceeded on the highway toward the northern park exit, and after descending quite a bit, stopped again at a little lake with a campground and picnic area, Sentinel Lake. We want to camp here sometime for sure! The lake was shallow and not too cold, with lots of kids kayaking and swimming.

I mean, look at it! So pretty. We walked around the entire lake, sometimes walking through the water and sometimes walking lakeshore paths. There were several mama ducks here with half-grown broods, and when someone would kayak near the babies, they would sort of run through the water, their legs paddling them comically like paddlewheels. Who knew ducks could run through the water?

It was now getting late int he afternoon, so we reluctantly left Sentinel Lake and got back in the car. We passed something labeled Chaos Jumble on our way out, which looked to be a fun hike with lots of cool rocks, but we no longer had time to stop by this point because we were planning to cook dinner for our host when we arrived in Burney (and we were getting hungry ourselves). We also passed Manzanita Lake on our way out which sounds like a nice recreation area — next time!

We arrived in Burney around 6 p.m. and hit the neighborhood Safeway for taco supplies and beers. The main strip in Burney looked a little sadder than it had when we last visited about two years ago — some of the places we’d visited then had since closed. There is a promising looking ice cream and shakes place, but when we took our after-dinner walk it had just closed. This dashed our hopes of having ice cream twice on the first day of vacation.

That night was the peak of he Perseids meteor shower, so we took our bag chairs of the cargo basket and set them up in the backyard with our host, Ho Lin, and watched the sky. It’s nice and dark in Burney, and we saw lots of meteors — many more than we’d seen last year when we rented an Airstream on the property of a small winery in Morgan Hill. The meteors were so bright they seemed as though they were going to fall into a neighboring yard, and some of them had tails bright as comets. It was a wonderful evening and a wonderful first day of our trip.