Fun Beyond the Tree Hunt in Lassen
By Kerri Regan
Winter WanderingDecember 2014
Story and photos by Kerri Regan
Many families are drawn to Lassen National Forest this time of year by the promise of a fresh, fragrant, cut-your-own Christmas tree. Linger a little longer and you can engage curious young minds in one of nature’s most fascinating outdoor classrooms.
Even if you don’t spy Rudolph’s comrades, never fear. You’re sure to discover a lava rock that’s shaped like a heart, or a piece of bark that looks like puzzle pieces. Perhaps one of your young companions will inform you that the carpenter ants crawling on that bark feed on dead insects, or that the tree over there only has moss growing on the north side “so Mother Nature can point you back to civilization” (your results may vary).
Volcanoes and hydrothermal sites tend to be the stars of the show in Lassen, and the park’s location at the crossroads of the Sierra Nevada, Great Basin and Cascade ranges makes it an ideal place to check out some geological magic. Youngsters are tickled to discover that the rocks that dot the landscape came blasting out of the surrounding volcanoes many decades ago, and the park’s fumaroles, mudpots and boiling pools are always a hit.
Winter weather does close down some of the park’s amenities. Lassen Crossroads near the Manzanita Lake entrance closes for the winter, but in the spring, you’ll find colorful, informative displays with titles like “Wildlife Watch,” “Watery Adventures” and “Encounter History.” A matching game challenges visitors to match written descriptions with 13 types of igneous rocks—“lava rocks,” your young companions may inform you—in the adjacent garden. Geologists-forthe- day can then try to find those rocks while they’re wandering around the park. See a creature, flower or rock you can’t identify? Take a picture and end your day with a trip back to the visitor area and try to match the photo with the images on the display boards.
Always check road conditions before heading out—roads are often closed in the winter due to snow, though parking and access is available even when the park’s main road is closed. Weather conditions vary, so review safety tips with your family, and don’t rely on cell phones— coverage is spotty in the park.
It’s never a bad idea to bring along a sled or snowshoes if you have them, as well as layered clothes, hats, gloves, an insulated container of hot cocoa and a picnic lunch (and don’t worry if you’re not a fan of the cold—you won’t be the only ones enjoying a picnic from inside your car). Back at home, after you unload that Christmas tree and toss all of the soggy scarves, socks and hats into the dryer, you might feel like you’ve spent a day learning alongside some of the world’s cutest, most inquisitive students in one of the world’s most beautiful classrooms. Just don’t call it homework.