Wandering Lizard
Northeastern California

An Online Magazine with Information relating to attractions, lodging, dining,
and travel resources in selected areas of California

Shasta County, California
Lassen Volcanic National Park

As in all of the rest of California, Native Americans lived in the shadow of Lassen Peak long before the Anglo-European arrived.  Maidu, Atsugewi, Yana and Yahi Tribes knew the mountain by several names, of which, the one that I like the most translates as "Long High Mountain That Was Broken," but "Fire Mountain" is pretty good too.  Obviously their oral tradition remembered Lassen's various eruptions and it is understandable that they believed that the mountain would eventually blow itself to bits.  Something that the early Anglo-European pioneers rejected out of hand.

Early explorers and fur trappers knew Lassen by many slightly different variations of Joseph.  Don Luis Arguello called it San Jose in 1821 during his Expedition to the Columbia.  Jedediah Smith anglicized the name to Mount Joseph in 1827, and a government exploratory expedition named it Mount Saint Joseph in 1841.  As emigrants started moving west into California and Oregon, trails were established through the western mountains.  One of the more important routes that they travelled was the Noble Trail which used the prominent mountain as one of it's more important landmarks.  These early travelers knew the mountain as Snow Butte.  Among the earliest European emigrants that settled in the area was Peter Lassen, a Danish blacksmith and sometimes guide for emigrants transiting the mountains into California.  Peter Lassen was a colorful character who involved himself in much of the mid-nineteenth century political turmoil that characterized Northern California.  In time, the landmark mountain became known as Lassen Peak and the name was officially codified by the California Geological Survey of 1863, led by Josiah Whitney.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is another of the parks for which we have to thank Theodore Roosevelt.  He recognized the unique nature of the area in the early years of the twentieth century and established two national monuments that protected the area from logging and mining activities.  Popular opinion at the time believed that the volcano was dormant so the eruptions of 1914-1915 surprised a lot of people and stimulated interest in making it a national park, to protect and capitalize on the only volcano then active in the mainland United States.  The subsequent public debate pitted those interested in stimulating tourism in the area against cattle ranchers and hunters.  Those in favor of making it a national park won out and President Woodrow Wilson signed the necessary legislation in 1916.

Lassen Peak is, of course, the centerpiece of the park.  Volcanologists classify it as a plug dome volcano.  They believe that it was formed tens of thousands of years ago in a series of eruptions that may have lasted thousands of years, although the last few years of the eruptions probably did the most to add volume and height to the mountain.  Lassen Peak was formed on the rim of an even larger and taller stratovolcano - Mount Tehama.  Tehama was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago and has, long ago, collapsed and been erased by erosion and ice age glaciation.  Lassen came along after the ice had ground most of Tehama into oblivion and this accounts for it's unique position and character.   At 10,457 feet it is the largest plug dome volcano in the world.  It is also the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range and one of the higher mountains in California.  The fact that it is surrounded by much lower terrain makes it visible from as far away as one hundred or more miles.  

Lassen Volcanic National Park should be on your short list of places to visit.  Most people are going to just drive through it from one end to the other and add it to the places that they have seen, but I recommend spending more time and getting out of the car to explore some of the excellent hikes that are available in the park.


Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Lassen Volcanic National Park


Lassen Volcanic National Park
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