Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Cool Hike at Hot Creek

Date: April 9, 2021
Place: Hot Creek Geological Site, Mammoth Lakes, California
Coordinates: 37.660598,-118.827749
Length: 1 mile
Level: easy
 Our last spring break, which happened on the second week of April, we took a trip to the two most famous canyon parks in Utah: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. We did it as a road trip, which meant a whole lotta driving. On our way back to California we took a slightly longer route, going through the Eastern Sierra region, along state road 395. I was the main promoter of this route because I love it a lot and I wanted to check out some places that I've heard about but didn't have the chance to see them before. One of these places was Hot Creek Geological Site, east of Mammoth Lakes. 
The best pictures I've seen of that place were taken in the dead of winter, when the steam rising from hot spring water contrasts with the snow on the ground. There wasn't any snow when we were there but I still wanted very much to see this place and I convinced my family that it was worth the detour.
We begun our day in the area by attempting to reach the columns of Lake Crowley. After failing to get there (the dirt road was in such a miserable condition that we had to turn around), we passed a nice hour birding by the north shore of the lake, in view of Mammoth Mountain. By the time we were done, the chikas were hungry and demanded lunch. 
North of Lake Crowley, view of Mammoth Mountain

 We drove to the little parking area of Hot Creek Geological site where we found a picnic area and made lunch. I couldn't wait and headed right to the view point to look at the creek below. The first thing that caught my eyes were the thermal pools, filled with steaming, brilliant turquoise water (header photo). 
After lunch all of us went to that view point and I took the time to look at the larger scenery surrounding those beautiful  thermal pools. 
Hot Creek, view east

Pappa Quail and the elder chika trained their cameras on a wide area of the creek east of the thermal pools where they had noticed some ducks in the water. 

The ducks were swimming downstream of the the hot water so I guess they enjoyed the extra heat. 

Cinnamon Teal

Looking again at the thermal pools I saw that all three pools were now turquoise, (before lunch only two of them had that color), and that all three were now steaming (in the earlier picture, the one I used for the header, they don't). I was fascinated by what appeared to be an increase of the water temperature in a fairly short time. Information sign by the view point warned people from dipping in the pools, stating that the water temperature has been increasing steadily in recent years, rendering a soak dangerous. That I guess, implies increase in volcanic activity below the surface. 

When I planned to check out Hot Creek I didn't know if we'll do a hike there too, but there was a trail leading down from the picnic area to the creek and we had the time on our hands so down we went.

Our hike as captured by my GPS

I stopped at a pretty rock with colorful twisted layers of sediments. Knowing the area to be volcanic in nature, I guessed that it might be sedimented volcanic ash, but I'm not sure of that. 

Down by the creek the trail continued in only one direction - westward. Looking west I saw Mammoth Mountain peeking (or peaking, both fit here ... ) above the creek's opening. 

Hot Creek, View west

The thermal pools of the hot springs were not as visible from the creek level. The steam however, revealed their location. The day was fairly cool and I thought of how nice it would have been to sit in hot springs pools. These hot springs were dangerously hot though, and not suitable for dipping. 

Hot Springs of Hot Creek

The trail led us all the way down t the creek side. There were no ducks, or any other bird there. Nor did we see any other wildlife. There were a few other people near the creek, but it wasn't difficult to get human-free photos. 

There was much vegetation growing inside the creek itself. Submerged or floating, they streaked wuth the current, painting the creek with ribbons of greens. 

Hot Creek closeup

Although last winter had very little precipitation, it was very cold for an extended season. Early April was apparently too early for spring. The extended cold and the lack of precipitation meant there was very little bloom to see anywhere in the area. I was therefore, very pleased to see milkvetch blooming along the trail in various spots. 

Pursh's Milkvertch, Astragalus purshii 

The creek curved just right for Mammoth Mountain to be visible over the creek. I thought of the spring break of 2018, the same time of year, when me and the chikas were skiing that whole week on that mountain. There was so much snow that year that the resort was open for skiing past the 4th of July. Now the mountain was scantly clad. 

Mammoth Mountain

A large cloud floated overhead, darkening the scenery. It was a light cloud, by no means a rain loaded one, but the air got suddenly colder, and the colors more bland. One notable exception were the bright-colored lichen on the creekside rocks. 


We came upon a mass of rocks that blocked the trail and had to climb our way around it. The trail didn't continue much further past those rocks. It was time to either turn around or otherwise find a way up the hill to the access dirt road.  

Hot Creek

There was a pullout parking area right above us and a number of unofficial foot paths leading to and fro it. We chose the one that seemed the easiest and begun ascending it. A raven that sat perched on a nearby rock eyed us carefully as we made our way past it. 


When we arrived at the pullout area I volunteered to go fetch the car. I snapped a quick goodbye shot of Hot Creek and headed up the dirt road to the view area where we had parked. 

Hot Creek, view west

While I was away the birders in my family kept themselves busy photographing swallows. I got to see their photos only when preparing to write this post, though. 

Tree Swallow

They didn't see anything spectacular so they didn't bother to show me their photos. When I checked them on my own however, I did find some nice ones. The photo here was obviously not a good one in a birder's point of view, but I like the composition of the rock and the juniper. The tiny bird standing alone on the rock helps express the aloneness of this remote place. 

I got the car, picked up Pappa Quail and the chikas, and off we went, back to Route 395 and north towards Mono Lake. Every time we go past Lee Vining we drop by to visit Mono Lake. This time however, we would not be going to the South Tufa area, the site we usually visit. This time we were headed to Black Point at the north shore of Mono Lake. There I was hoping to see the volcanic fissures that a friend of mine told me about and it was nagging at the back of my mind ever since. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Bittersweet Epilogue: Hiking to Paradise Meadow at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Paradise Meadow

Date: June 27, 2021
Place: Paradise Meadow, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Coordinates: 40.510163, -121.465018
Length: 3 miles
Level: moderate
Yesterday I achieved my long held desire of climbing Mount Shasta. On paper it was a three-days expedition (and it would have been if not for the bare conditions of the mountain). In practice, we finished the trip before noon of the third day, and that left me with the rest of the day and no plans. Despite having a room already booked in the local motel, I chose to not remain in town that day but to drive back home. I didn't want to go directly though. I was too hyped from the trip and couldn't simply switch my mind back to the mundane, so I decided to go south on the scenic route, and go through Lassen Volcanic National Park. 
It's been a year since I've been in Lassen, and two years since I hiked a new trail there. I thought it would be nice to go for a short walk on a trail I haven't hiked yet. It would have to be an easy trail, because Mount Shasta gave me 'love bites' in the form of nasty blisters on my big toes and a bruise at the base of my left large toenail, big enough to dislodge the nail. In short, I was still in much pain and couldn't walk any challenging trail. I remembered reading a recommendation of the Paradise Meadow trail at the 'I Love Lassen Volcanic National Park' page, and since it looked an easy one on the map, I chose to hike that one. 
My hike to Paradise Meadow and back as captured by my GPS

The beginning was easy enough. The trail started flat, wide, and comfortable. There were only very few people there so for the most, I had the forest almost to myself. 
At the Trailhead

My feet were hurting but not too bad. Not when I was careful to set them flat on the trail without rolling. I also walked very slowly, feeling no need to hurry, I didn't. Besides, there were plenty of wildflowers blooming along the trail. 
Narrow-flowered Lupine, Lupinus angustiflorus 

That's was the biggest difference between my hike at Shasta that morning and the hike at Lassen: despite the drought, Lassen Volcanic NP was full of wildflowers, and the Paradise Meadow trail had a very lovely bloom display. I believe that even without the bruises I'd be still going very slowly.
Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa 

The slow pace did me good in one more aspect - as I mentioned before, I wasn't ready to go home just yet. After dedicating over two months of intensive training and mental focusing to the goal of summiting Mount Shasta and then spend four days away from home, three of them up on the mountain achieving my goal, I was now in anticlimax time. Doing this hike in Lassen allowed me to hold on to that feeling a while longer. I was still out in the wilderness, still in the mountains, my spirit still high. 
Shasta Penstemon, Penstemon heterodoxus var. shastensis 

In hind sight, I now know that this was my goodbye hike to the park's floral landscape. Not too long after my visit there the park, and a huge area around it, burned to ashes in the Dixie Fire, the largest in California's sad history of wildfires. Recovery would take many years, and it may not be the same again. 
Larkspur, Delphinium sp. 

The trail followed the small Paradise Creek for most of the way but not always very close to it. Where little tributaries merged in, more wetland plants were growing, such as willows cornlilies. The cornlilies were in full bloom and full of pollinators. Among all the bees and flies was a large, yellow-backed beetle, so busy gathering pollen that it didn't mind my close presence. 
California Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum 

Right by the patch of willows I found mariposa lilies as well and got all excited about them, as I usually do. Mariposa lilies are always an fine sighting, and the tiny Sierra mariposa no less than its larger, more colorful relatives. 
Sierra Mariposa, Calochortus minimus  

Before long the trail entered the woods, and also started ascending at a mild grade. I welcomed the shade. The change of grade was manageable. 

Under the trees I found the shy pine lousewort, a forest favorite of mine. One can hardly see that it's blooming because the flowers hide under the leaves, and the plant as a whole remains flat on the ground. This time around I avoided lying on the ground to get a better view of the tiny flowers. 
Pine Woods Lousewort, Pedicularis semibarbata 

I came upon a little tributary bridged by a plank that looked unstable. The flow was very low to this time of year, indicative of the severe drought we were in. 

It was noce to look at the flowing water though, and the plank held my weight just fine. 

I'm always fascinated by spiders and the artful webs they spin. A trio of immaculate funnel webs on the ground composed a pretty image for me. The spiders I guess, don't see the big picture in this case. 

Then the trail steepened. A lot. I found that going uphill was not problematic for me but I couldn't help thinking that I will have to endure the pains of coming down that very slope. 
For a short distance the creek remained at the same level so I ended up way higher than the water. 

When the trail neared the creek once again I found a little side trail leading to it and decided that it would be nice to have a break by the water. There was a lovely corner there but I found that it was already occupied by other people. I settled for a few snapshots of the cascading creek and headed back to the main trail. 

After some more uphill walk I was once again leveled with the creek, this time without any people nearby. I enjoyed the quiet walk and the sound of flowing water, and the wildflowers, of course. 

There were butterflies about as well. Not as many as I expected, but still plenty to fill the air with floating color.

I came closer to the creek where there were other wildflower species in bloom. I sat down for a few minutes, taking in the sights and resting my aching feet.
Yellow Monkeyflower, Erythranthe gutatta 

The trail leveled and between the trees I caught glimpses of the meadow. I cleared the trees and found Paradise. (Header photo). For long minutes I stood there, breathing deeply and taking photos of the beautiful scenery.
Paradise Meadow

Eventually I detached from my standing spot and started strolling along the little creek into the meadow, looking for the the little treasures hidden in the long grass.
Large-leaved Lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus var. burkei

The creek was low and very calm, perfectly reflecting the white clouds. Here In paradise, there was no sign of the disaster that would befall it before the end of the summer.
Paradise Creek

Right by the water I found the most precious treasure yet: a scentbottle orchid. I see these frequently enough, but I'm always excited to meet a member of the wildflowers royal family. Wild orchids are a;ways special to see.
Scentbottle, Plantathera dilatata 

At the far edge of the meadow I saw a patch of deep purple composed of penstemon flowers. I didn't walk all the way there because there was no trail and I didn't want to trample the delicate meadow vegetation.
Penstemon Patch

Behind me I heard soft voices. I turned and saw a couple of elderly hikers standing at the meadow's edge, just as I did when I first saw it. I crossed back into the woods and found the main trail again without disturbing them. It was time to head back.

I went back to a place by the creek where I've seen a white monkshood inflorescence. Monkshood are usually blue, and there were many blue monkshood flowers all over the place. The white one stood out among them, the odd one out, like a beautiful and eerie ghost.
Monkshood, Aconitum columbianum 

That little corner by the creek was so perfect, I seriously considered lying down for a quick nap there. Remembering the long drive ahead however, I got back on my feet and started down the trail again.

When I have a choice I usually prefer loop trails over in and out ones. I don't mind backtracking though, especially trails that are new to me. There's the fresh angle of looking at things, and a chance to see gems I had missed the first go.

I also had the chance of taking more photos of course. Considering how slow I was walking, I'm surprised I didn't take more than 3000 photos on this 3 miles hike.
Cobwebby Paintbrush, Castilleja arachnoidea 

One reason I suspect, was my focus on taking careful steps, especially on the way down the steeper parks of the trail. Leaning heavily on my poles I was very careful to place my feet flat whenever I could, avoiding the forward slide of my feet inside me shoes. I couldn't avoid it altogether however, and the pain mounted with each step. Yes, the thought of 'what was I thinking?" did sneak into my mind. It was too late to change things now though, and ruminating about it wouldn't help a thing. I chased that thought from my mind and continued on. This was a short trail and not remotely as steep as Mount Shasta. I'd be just fine.
Paradise Meadow Trail

I was rewarded with another wild orchid: a coralroot. I had missed it on the way up but now I had the opportunity to take a closer look of this pretty forest orchid.
Summer Coral Root, Corallorhiza maculata 

I took Many photos of that coralroot. Most of them didn't really come out right, I guess there was something off in my camera settings. When I prepared the photos for this post however, I found something interesting. Upon enlarging one photo I saw this interesting trio: a crab spider hanging from the orchid, holding a fly in its grip, and on the fly was riding a small ant. What was the ant doing there, I have no idea. Maybe it became the crab spider's dessert.

I was much relieved to have been done with the steeper part of the trail. I was hurting pretty bad by then, having my Shasta-given blisters triggered all over again.
Paradise Meadow Trail

Walking slowly through the willow patch I noticed something that had evaded my eyes on my way up: the mold of a cicada still gripping its jumping board to adulthood: a Monardella plant under the bushes.
The final molt of a cicada 

I just about limped the final stretch of the trail, wholly ready to take my shoes off again. Despite the pain I was very glad to have done this hike. It was exactly what I needed to cushion my mental descend from Mount Shasta.
Scarlet Gilia, Ipomopsis aggregata

A group of young hikers entered the trail just as I was exiting it. They were happy and energetic and walked with the gait of  spring of youth and health. They smiled to me, a weary, older woman, limping between to hiking poles, and went on with their hike, soon disappearing between the trees. I smiled to myself and limped across the road to my car.
Paradise Meadow Trail

I took the time driving through the park. Naturally, I stopped at Lake Helen to gaze at the silent calm of Lassen Peak. The peak's stony eye was closed, the mountain was sleeping.

Lassen Peak and Lake Helen

Less than a month after my hike to Paradise Meadow, the Dixie Fire started south of Lassen Volcanic National Park. This fire started by arson, and blew to an unbelievable size of nearly a million acres, becoming the largest yet in California's troubled wildfire history. It destroyed wilderness areas and human communities, and ravaged nearly all of Lassen Volcanic National park. I will visit there again as soon as opportunity arises, to see how it'll look like, rising from the ashes.