After leaving Lake Tahoe, we spent two lovely weeks at Lake Almanor near the town of Chester, surrounded by thousands of acres of National Forest stretching into Plumas, Lassen, and Shasta Counties. We decided to stay here thru the week of July 4th to avoid competing for RV spots somewhere else. Unfortunately Lake Almanor is very low on water, due to a dry winter and rabid pumping by PG&E to generate power. However, the upside is -- no noisy power boats disturbing the peace, and TONS of birds fishing in the swampy marshes left behind. White pelicans, bald eagles, ospreys, Canada geese, grebes, cormorants, seagulls, killdeer, and great blue herons are residents. The herons have established a nesting colony in a tree just up the road from our trailer; we watch the adults bring fish for the fledglings and listen to them squawking every night.
Chester is a charming little town, population 2200, with just about anything you might need except a Wal-Mart. Our first three days here were cold and rainy, so we used the opportunity to explore the town. Mike got a haircut at the local barbershop, we ate BLT's at the Pine Shack Frosty, and we visited the local internet company, founded by a 35-year-old escapee from Silicon Valley who's wiring up all the local retirees. He and Mike bonded over network cables while I checked our e-mail. While patronizing the local laundromat-slash-car wash, we meet Steve the owner who is from Pacifica. Later in the week he and his wife Jeannie invite us to a barbecue at their house on the river.
We also bought me a new bike from Chuck at Bodfish Bicycles. SOMEONE destroyed my old bike by roping it to the top of a fifth wheel for 200 bumpy, windy miles.....oh, well, the new one is much better anyway!
We participated in the local 4th of July in Chester. Band concert and barbecue in the park, craft fair, and a PARADE. Grand Marshal in a pink cadillac, the Sacramento National Guard Band, and lots of TRUCKS -- logging trucks, fire trucks, concrete trucks, just about anything with an air horn was draped with red, white, and blue for the parade.
Tucked deep inside the vast Lassen National Forest, Lassen Volcanic National Park may be less publicized than Yosemite or Yellowstone, but no less worthy of a visit. Central to the park is the 10,500-foot dormant volcano Lassen Peak, sporting a fresh frosting of snow for our enjoyment after three days of cold rain. Although the last major eruption of the mountain was in 1914, the entire park remains -- pardon the pun -- a hotbed of volcanic activity, with steaming sulphur vents, bubbling mudpots, and boiling lakes. We spent one whole day driving the twisting, climbing road which bisects the park and provides many wonderful views of the jagged peaks and plunging valleys left behind by ancient, unimaginable forces.
Lassen is a hiker's paradise, and we soon discover that we can only cover a fraction of the available territory. One of our most interesting hikes is a two-mile trek to Bumpass Hell, an area named for the man who discovered it -- and lost a leg when he stepped into a fuming mudhole. A maze of bridges and wooden footpaths safeguards visitors from a similar fate. As we wander through this surreal, steamy landscape, breathing the sulfurous air, we realize we are the only life in this place; no bird or animal comes to drink from these hot, poisonous waters!
Wildlife does abound in other parts of Lassen. Our most notable sighting was at the parking lot leading to the Lassen Peak trail, where we saw a sad-looking Sierra Nevada red fox, a very rare animal, begging for food among the few tourists. Tame as a dog, he came running right up to us when Mike opened a plastic bag to get a camera lens. He has obviously become dependent on food from well-meaning but ignorant humans, and now his very survival could be threatened if he is unable to hunt for himself.
Equally approachable but probably less threatened are the hundreds of golden-mantled ground squirrels which scurry across the trails and across the toes of our boots!