28 July 2012

Warner Valley

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Locate the trailhead.

Warner Valley has a number of hydrothermal features including the hot springs that feed Drakesbad and Boiling Springs Lake and the steam vents that puff and stink in Devil's Kitchen and Terminal Geyser. I decided to take the day to see all of these, and if there was time, drive around and actually go down Bumpass Hell for more hydrothermal madness. Also, I wanted to go to the waterfall just upstream Hell's Kitchen which are marked on the 2002 Lassen National Forest map, among other places. So I drove up to the end of the public road that heads to Drakesbad and started hiking at the sign that seemed to indicate that there might be a loop through the Devil's Kitchen, but the two trails might not quite meet and there was no trail beyond it to the waterfall.

Following the same route I took to Boiling Springs Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail for a short time, I cross over Hot Springs Creek on a nice bridge and look down to see interesting mats of flowering plant life. The trail passes along the hillside where Drakesbad gets its hot spring water, but in the warm summer day there are no obvious traces of steam to give away the presence of hot springs oozing water that dot it. At the first intersection, I turned away from my previous route to go toward Drakesbad and Devil's Kitchen. Had I paid a little more attention to the map at the start, I would have turned left at the next intersection to travel a very short spur to see Dream Lake. Although I walked all around this lake, I never saw it due to the trees. Instead, I crossed the bridge and turned left to cross meadows and start climbing to the steam vents.

purple/pink thing
Spring is probably a little longer gone down here, but there are still a few flowers, some of them just starting.

little orange waterwheel
A little toy waterwheel someone has set in one of the many streams that meander thorough the meadows.

bridges and walkways
Looking back toward Drakesbad. The trails are muddy some places, but most of those have boardwalks and bridges to keep your feet dry and cleaner.


As the trail climbs, it passes a few more streams with meadow areas and enters an old forest. There is space for sunlight, but it is still cool below the branches. Another intersection provides a trail to cut across to the trail I hope to be coming back along.

cedar tree with broken bits
An old cedar with a split trunk that has now lost one trunk and the top half of the other, but continues to reach for the sun.

Climbing further through the forest, there is eventually a rope hitch to tie horses to and a trail that drops down into the valley it has been following. There is little indication of trail beyond to the waterfall. Since I have not brought the appropriate map to find my way, I decide to let it go. I can already smell the sulphur as I start down the trail and start to see steam here and there on the far side of the valley.

spotting a steam vent on the far side of the valley through the tree tops
Descending to Hot Springs Creek again, there is a steam vent on the far side of the valley visible through the tree tops.


green mat of flowering stuff in the water
Getting down to the creek, I see more mats of vegetation sprouting flowers. Some of these seem to be grasping rocks, but they certainly are mat-like.

The trail drops down and crosses the creek to the larger portion of the steam vents and hot springs. It loops around past streams, both dry and flowing, that are caked with thick light colored rock. Signs warn that even if the water is not too hot to touch, it is likely to be highly acidic and this layer and grime in the water seem likely to be a result of the acid working on the local rocks. A loop goes around a few of the local features. A noise like the loud rush of water over a waterfall can be heard upstream, but still no route is offered. There is no way out other than back the way I came, either, although many have traveled downstream past a sign saying it is unlawful to continue that way. Other signs state that it is unlawful to leave established trails which they probably mean in a legal sense that the trail has been recorded somewhere particular and not simply that many people have traveled it and made it a trail. Bright red and especially bright yellow decorate the various features.

steam vents along the creek
Rocks and dirt that seem bleached then painted red and yellow are abundant in the steam vent areas.

an acidic stream flowing
Water flows from the mudpot areas thick with the leavings of acid dissolving rock.

steam spewing from the ground
The steam vents seem to have cleaned away some of the rock and dirt around where they spew.

I filmed a few of the steam vents as well, one is here. Coming back around on the path, I crossed back over the bridge and climbed up the hill. A group of riders had arrived and the horses were tethered to the rope while the people came down the hill. I looked again for a bit of trail further on, but didn't see any.

downstream there are more hydrothermal features
Looking downstream, the hills are still painted. More steam is rising in spots along it and in the trees in that direction.

I turned back and, when I came to it, crossed over to the other trail intending to continue up it and see more of Devil's Kitchen. This trail is much less traveled. The trees have all been removed when the lie on the trail, but no bridge is provided for crossing Hot Springs Creek. Fallen trees provide half a serviceable bridge to cross without getting the feet wet. I stopped for some water. Above it looks unsafe, but here it seems to have found enough lime or other things to become clear.

tiger lilies
Some tiger lilies that were growing by the creek where the trail crosses it.

At the junction on the far side, the sign directed all traffic for Devil's Kitchen to go the way I had come. The maps, including the sign at the start, indicate there is another junction shortly after this one to go to it, but these only listed Drake Lake and Rice Creek (where it ends at another trail) as destinations. I turned upward and soon found myself climbing the side of the valley above where a turnoff should have been without seeing anything promising. I decided to go ahead and go to the lake. The trail got steeper and the view got better. I could see the cliffs I'd stood near at Sifford Lake to the west and the valley to the east. Eventually the trail entered the trees and started to flatten out and there was a lake.

Drake Lake
Arriving at Drake Lake viewed through the trees. The lake is marshy on this side and had a few ducks in it.

butterflies on flowers
A few of my companions for lunching by Drake Lake.

I headed back down the trail the way I'd come. I looked again for old trail heading off and found something promising but faint. I marked it for the map but left it. At the intersection, I took the more direct route back down which comes out closer to Boiling Springs Lake, my next destination. The trail is pleasant, passing over a number of small streams and past a few little meadows. It has more traffic and the wet areas are bridged again.

the view over Warner Valley and the trail up to Drake Lake
The view eastward over Warner Valley from where the trail to Drake Lake enters the trees. In the other direction, I can see the cliffs by the Sifford Lake I visited.

a meadow above Dream Lake
A small meadow full of flowers along the way.

I came again to the PCT and turned up it toward Boiling Springs Lake and Terminal Geyser. The trail splits, one route going to a trail that loops the lake and goes to the steam vent that gets called a geyser while the PCT travels the same thing over a slightly different route. I took the side to the loop trail, which crosses over a dry creek that empties the lake when it is too full and is also caked with bleached fine mud like the streams in Devil's Kitchen. A sign warning to stay on the trail is accompanied by the distinctive odor of sulphur, and then there is the red land that looks to be heaved upward like thawing tundra and the funny green of the lake.

Boiling Springs Lake
The view of Boiling Springs Lake from the north end as the trail comes upon it.

south end of Boiling Springs Lake
A few of the hot springs and vents that feed and heat the lake and the amazing places that trees will grow near these hydrothermal features. The variety of the features in such a small area is also astounding.

At the south end of the lake, I took the trail to Terminal Geyser and followed it up. I had to dodge groups of horseback riders twice. They seemed to be in order of how well they controlled the horses, starting with the people who actually had a good grip on the reigns and ending with those who might as well have dropped them for all the good their grip was doing. Good thing trail horses don't care and just keep on going along the trail. Eventually getting back to the PCT, I had a short distance to go before the spur to the vent.

The spur to Terminal Geyser came in range of hearing it, a loud hissing over a cliff to the left, by the time it had traveled almost as far as it said it was. From there, it dropped for a while and curved around to approach the thing from the bottom. The vent is huge and the cloud of steam fills the valley it flows into from time to time. A stream flows from it and there are a few other vents in the area. I stopped and painted for a bit here in the smell of sulphur, using water from a second stream that was not hot and full of strange chemicals.

cat tails by Terminal Geyser
Cat tails growing in the cool, clear water that flows from one part of the valley wall while around the corner, the massive steam vent of Terminal Geyser puffs away.

Terminal Geyser
Terminal Geyser, steaming up the place something awful.

swiss cheese rocks by more steam vents
Some small steam vents around some rocks that have turned into Swiss cheese.

stream confluance
The little stream of cool, clear water flows into the runoff from the big stream vent and mixes too quickly to see much effect in the confluence.

While painting, I noticed that the cedar trees that lived very close to the vent all had branches that started going outward the way branches should, but after a seemingly standard distance, turned upward to be trunks as though no longer receiving the signal that there already was a trunk. When done, I turned back to finish the hike along the PCT with a last short visit to Boiling Springs Lake. Just as I started to leave, a couple women came along and warned me that there was a bear chomping on things beside the trail. They didn't say which trail and I saw no bear on my way, so they might have come from the other side or the bear had already moved along.

The PCT seemed to keep itself a little higher on the ridge as it went. It had more views along the way and passed a large meadow of mule ears that happened to have a couple of mule deer, mother and child, in it as I passed. The trail crests the hill and starts down again, eventually colliding with the east side of the loop trail around Boiling Springs Lake. Just after this collision, a short trail leads between the two trails quite without any purpose. I turned up the loop trail for the view of the bubbling pots that I had thought was best a couple years ago just at the southeast edge of the lake.

mule deer in the mule ears
I spotted a mule deer in the mule ears, and when it started to leave, I spotted the faun that was barely tall enough to be seen among them.

view from the PCT
A little bit of the Warner Wall that rings the valley as seen from the PCT.

steam coming up on the south side of the lake
Steam coming up at the south (inflow) side of Boiling Springs Lake.

springs at the north side of the lake
More springs at the north (outflow) side of the lake.

Coming back to the PCT, I followed it back to the car. I came upon the hill above Drakesbad as they rang the dinner bell. The place seemed quite crowded with many people out on the porches of the few cabins and a couple folks on their way to the spring fed pool. Finishing the hike, I didn't really have the time to go over and hike Bumpass Hell, so I headed off instead.

a few cabins
A field with some flowers and the cabins of the popular Drakesbad. The source of their hot spring water is under some wood in the foreground.




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 3 Aug 2012

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