While it is nice to be overwhelmed with beauty and nature of Mt. Lassen, I have a proclivity to visit natural phenomena on my scale. There is no more hands-on interaction with California’s geological past than a visit to the Hat Creek Lava flow area and McArthur Burney Falls.
Splatter, so scientific
Our first stop was at the Splatter Cone Trail off of Hiway 44/89. While we walked over the stone puzzle made by cooling lava I heard the familiar buzz of a rattle snake. Right after I had said “rattle snake” my son who had stopped in front of his mom was unceremonious push out of the way. I have never seen a 47 year old woman do a 50 yard dash so fast. Obviously the little rattler was taking an afternoon break in between the columnar formation of the lava flow.
The splatter cones may be 27,000 years old but they look like they were formed last year. You can see how the hot lava was burped out of the hole in the ground and landed on the sides. Even though trees and shrubs have grown in and around the cones their outline is no less diminished.
Great engineering from mom nature
Just a couple miles up the road is the subway lava tube. Make sure you bring a flashlight so you
can spend some time in this gigantic elongated cave. It is amazing to think that hot lava coursed through the tube where you are standing. Young children will be particularly fascinated and the cool temperatures on a hot summer day are very inviting.
Standing on the fault
We took a side trip up Hiway 44 to a Forest Service camp site to look over the valley. You can see where the Hat Creek lava started and made it way north several miles. At this point we were standing on the escarpment of the Hat Creek McArthur Mayfield earthquake fault. On our trip, the burnt trees of the Hat Creek fire were still very evident. Poignant that this is what the area might have looked liked after an eruption started a wildfire. When you drive up Hiway 89 towards Burney, look to your right to see the distinct nearly perpendicular wall created by the subsiding Hat Creek lava flow.
Water from hot lava
The McArthur Burney Falls is another geological wonder that is a treat to see. Because of the
porous nature of the different layers of lava flow, water literally gushes out of the face of the water fall. We took the loop trail over the falls and cooled are feet in the very cold water that is forced out of the ground a mile upstream.
Tunnels, water and chalk
After the falls, we drove up Hiway 299, through the Pit River canyon to McArthur. Not to be out done by nature, PG&E has series of hydro-electric power plants where they divert water through tunnels into giant penstock. We had to find the tunnel entrance on the other side of the mountain in Fall River Mills just so we could connect the dots.
We had seen the large deposits of what I thought were chalk along the road cuts on 299. At Pit River Bureau of Land Management camp ground we were able to walk up to the chalk lens. Sure enough, the chalk, calcium carbonate, was light as feather. The geological history of the area is far more diverse than most people would imagine.
Dinner, bed and breakfast
I enjoy visiting little towns like McArthur just to see the communities. You never know when there
will be a great photo waiting to happen. We were fortunate to have a great dinner at a restaurant called Crumbs that seemed more suited for an urban setting. After a great dinner we headed back to the Bidwell House bed and breakfast. The Bidwell House, the summer home of John Bidwell, in Chester is a nice little place with comfortable accommodations and pleasant breakfast. Overall, this little side trip from Mt. Lassen was full of science and visual wonder.
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