Lassen Volcanic was established as a national park 09 Aug 1916 because of its significance as an active volcanic landscape. Lassen Peak began erupting in 1914, had the most significant activity in 1915, and had minor activity until 1921. All four types of volcanoes in the world are found in Lassen's 106,000 acres.
By the early 1900s local sentiment was building for the protection of Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone against commercial developement. In 1906 petitions from both Lassen and Plumas counties urged President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside the most significant features in the Lassen park are as national monuments. These recommendations eventually reached the desks of President Roosevelt, and on May 6, 1907, they were signed by the President. Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone became national monuments. While the Forest Service continued to manage the new sites, located within the Lassen National Forest, these two monuments formed the nucleus of the future park and gave recognition to Lassen Peak anc Cinder Cone as striking examples of volcanic activity.
The startling eruptions of Lassen Peak in 1914 and 1915 attracted national attention and stimulated local efforts to expand the origional monument into a national park. On August 9,1916, the US Congress passed a bill establishing Lassen Volcanic National Park, and President Woodrow Wilson then signed it into law.
Size and Visitation
Lasson Volcanic National Park includes both of these earlier monuments as well as additional acreage aquired over the years. Today the park contains approximately 150 square miles, or over 106,000 acres.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is open year-round, however, access is difficult in winter and spring. The best time of the year to visit the park for hiking and car touring is August and September. The best time of the year to visit for cross country skiing and snowshoeing is January, February and March. The highest visitation is in August, with the lowest being in March.
In May 1914, Lassen Peak burst into eruption, beginning a 7-year cycle of sporadic volcanic outbursts. The climax of this episode took place in 1915, when the peak blew an enormous mushroom cloud some 7 miles into the stratosphere. The reawakening of this volcano, which began as a vent on a large extinct volcano known as Tehama, profoundly altered the surrounding landscape. The park is a compact laboratory of volcanic phenomena and associated thermal features except true geysers. It is part of a vast geographic unit - a great lava plateau with isolated volcanic peaks - that also encompasses Lava Beds National Monument, California, and Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
Before the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington, Lassen Peak was the most recent volcanic outburst in the continuous 48 states. The peak is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, which extends from here to Canada. The western part of the park features great lava pinnacles, huge mountains created by lava flows, jagged craters, and steaming sulphur vents. It is cut by spectacular glaciated canyons and is dotted and threaded by lakes and rushing clear streams. Snowbanks persist year-round and beautiful meadows are spread with wildflowers in spring. The eastern part of the park is a vast lava plateau more than 1 mile above sea level. Here are found small cinder cones - Fairfield Peak, Hat Mountain, and Crater Butte. Forested with pine and fir, this area is studded with small lakes, but it boasts few streams. Warner Valley, marking the southern edge of the Lassen plateau, features hot spring areas - Boiling Springs Lake, Devils Kitchen, and Terminal Geyser. This forested, steep valley also has gorgeous large meadows.
The 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens reduced Lassen's superlative status, but it increased the park's significance as an over 70-year laboratory of possible recovery patterns for Mount Saint Helens. The Devastated Area evidences the combined mud flow and gas blast destruction typical of many volcanic eruptions in the Cascades. The Chaos Jumbles area looks similarly destroyed, but for a different reason. An air-cushioned avalanche - one that fell so rapidly en masse that it trapped and compresses air beneath itself - crashed down the Chaos Crags about 300 years ago. The air acted as a lubricant, enabling the avalanche to rush across the valley at more than 100 miles per hour. It pushed 400 feet up the side of Table Mountain, before losing its momentum and surging back down across Manzanita Creek.
Lassen geothermal area - Sulphur works, Bumpass Hell (largest), Little Hot Springs Valley, Boiling Springs Lake, Devils Kitchen, and Terminal Geyser - offer bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles, and boiling water. Some of these thermal features are getting hotter. Scientists think that Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mount Shasta are the most likely candidates in the Cascades to join Mount Saint Helens as active volcanoes.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is but one of the active, dormant, or extinct volcanoes that extend around the Pacific Ocean in a great Ring of Fire. This zone of volcanoes and earthquakes marks the edges of plates that form the Earth's crust. Volcanic and seismic disturbances occur as these great slabs override or grind past each other.
The theory of plate tectonics holds that as the expanding oceanic crust is thrust beneath the continental plate margins, it penetrates deep enough into the Earth to be partly remelted. Pockets of molten rock (magma) results. These become the feeding chambers for volcanoes.
About 600,000 years ago a great Pacific Ring of Fire stratovolcano. Mount Tehama gradually built up here through countless eruptions. Before Lassen Peak was emplaced, Mount Tehama had collapsed, but its caldera was breached and no lake developed as did Crater Lake in Oregon. Mount Tehama's main vent was probably what is now the park's Sulphur Works. Remnants of its caldera flanks are Brokeoff Mountain, Mount Diller, Piolet Pinnacle, and Mount Conrad. Connect these peaks in a circle to envision Mount Tehama's base - more than 11 miles wide.
Lassen Peak began as a volcanic vent on Mount Tehama's northern flank. Considered the world's largest plug dome volcano, it rises 2,000 feet to an elevation of 10,457 feet. The peaks lava came from many veins. Recent geological evidence indicates that Cinder Cone, also a volcano, erupted in the 18th century.
How do landscapes recover from volcanic eruptions? That question, asked anew since Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980, has been answered for more than 70 years - since Lassen Peak quieted down.
The Devastated Area most visibly illustrates the slow but relentless return of Earth's green mantle of plants, but many areas of the park are important post-volcanism plant succession sites. Both the Devastated Area, denuded by volcanic activity, and the Chaos Jumbles, denuded by an air-cushion avalanche, are recovering directly to conifers without preparation by herbaceous plants.
This fact observed at Lassen corrects earlier theories. Many disturbed areas here are being reforested with young trees that are more varied than the mature forests that once stood on them. The apparent reason is lack of competition during the earlier stages of recovery. In the Chaos Jumbles, competition will eventually crowd out four of the eight conifer species presently recovering the area.
Rocky lands at lower park elevations largely result from geologic disturbances. Such nearly soil free areas can show classic re-vegetation patterns. The Devastated Area is undergoing a successional process of re-vegetation, with herbs, grasses, shrub, and finally, trees retaking the land. Lodgepoles, generally the first trees, give way in time to other pines and firs. Although eruptions occurred during the 18th century at Cinder Cone and Fantastic Lava Beds, these areas show no significant vegetative recovery.
The park's plant life mixes species of the Sierra Nevada to the south and the Cascade Range. The result is a relative abundance of species. The park boasts some 779 plant species, but nearby Mount Shasta has only 485 species. About 24 Sierran species are at the northern limit of their range here. About 14 Cascadian species are at their southern limit.
Catastrophic events that created the Devastated Area and Chaos Jumbles also created Hat and Manzanita Lakes. These are indeed fortunate landscape recoveries for today's park visitor. Hat Lake is undergoing succession too. Rapidly filling with debris from higher elevation Hat Lake will soon disappear, leaving a meadow that will one day give way to forests.
Peoples of Lassen Volcanic National Park
The Lassen area was a meeting place for four Native American groups: Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu. Because of its weather and snow conditions, generally high elevations, and its seasonally mobile deer populations, the Lassen area was not conductive to year-round living. These Native American groups camped here in warmer months for hunting and gathering. Basket-makers rather than potters, they left few artifacts other than stone points, knives, and metals. A Yahi Indian named Ishi turned up in Oroville, California in 1911. He had never mixed with whites before, and his tribe was thought to be non-existent. He lived out his days at the University of California Museum in Berkeley, where he was an invaluable ethnological source. Ishi was considered the last Stone Age survivor in the United States.
History here generally describes the period from 1840, even though Jedediah Smith passed through in 1821 on his overland trek to the west coast. California's gold rush in 1848 brought the first settlers. Two pioneer trails, developed by William Nobles and Peter Lassen, are associated with the park. In 1851, Nobles discovered an alternate route to California, passing through Lassen. Sections of the Nobles Emigrant Trail are still visible in the park. Lassen, for whom the park is named, guided settlers near here and tried to establish a city. Mining, power development projects, ranching, and timbering were all attempted in Lassen. The area's early federal protection saved it from heavy logging.
B.F. Loomis documented Lassen Peak's most recent eruption cycle and promoted the park's establishment. He photographed the eruptions, explored geologically, and developed an extensive museum collection. The Loomis Museum was closed in 1974 because it was located in a potentially hazardous area. Samples of the Loomis collection are displayed at the Manzanita Lake information station.
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