My 3-year-old nephew Anikin is obsessed with hot lava and bubbly mud, as he calls it. He spends a lot of time talking about and playing with his toys in hot lava and bubbly mud. He even gets excited at bedtime at the prospect of dreaming about bubbly mud, and he does often dream of this geological wonder.
So, when he asked me to take him to the volcano park, aka Lassen Volcanic National Park, a few hours north of Tahoe, I was happy to oblige. My sister, Michelle Allen, and I had been itching for a camping trip to Lassen for months, so we planned a fall weekend to make the trip. And, one more request from Anikin before the trip, “Kat, can you take me to a cave?” I, of course, being a doting aunt, said “Yes.”
Fortunately, the wondrous state of California is home to many geological features including Subway Cave located outside the north entrance of Lassen. So, on a warm fall weekend, we loaded up the car and headed in search of caves, volcanoes and bubbly mud, as Anikin repeated for weeks beforehand. He was disappointed, however, upon learning that the dogs would not joining us on our trip. Being a Tahoe kid, going somewhere without the dogs is a foreign concept.
“We marveled at the fumaroles and the rolling pools of acidic
mud and water safe from our boardwalk perch over the
highly dangerous area. We watching the streams of
mud wash through the basin.”
Subway Cave, a lava tube, is easily accessed off Highway 89, although it’s much faster to head to Reno and then go north then to go the much, much longer route north of Truckee. The cave is located a short walk from the parking area and the cave was the perfect break for a 3-year-old after several hours in the car. We each had our flashlights and Anikin was excited to lead the way into the completely dark cave. The cave is only one-third of a mile long and you can’t get lost as there are no side caves. Perfect for little ones, the short excursion comes out on the other end of the cave.
After our side trip, we arrived at our campground at Manzanita Lake to set up camp for the night. Anikin was anxious to help set up the tents and get camp ready, although he kept asking where we were sleeping. Inside the tents, we repeated. But, where is the inside, he asked. We’re sleeping inside the tents, which are going to be outside. This went round and round until bedtime when he happily climbed into the tent and was out in moments.
Bubbly mud was the first and only order of business the next day. We loaded into the car destined for Bumpass Hell, an aptly named hydrothermal area in the park full of steaming fumaroles and bubbly mud. The 3-mile roundtrip hike is relatively easy, unless you’re taking turns carrying a 3-year-old “pile of rocks,” as I often describe by nephew. While I carried him for a bit of the way, Mom took on the bulk of the load, often carrying him on her back, which I likened to the “Rocky” movie where he carries a load of cinder blocks on his back as part of his training. I’m not kidding when I say this kid is solid muscle.
When we finally came within view of the steam rising from Bumpass Hell, Anikin was ready to run for it. The last one-quarter downhill of the trail I was holding his hand trying to keep us both upright while he pulled me down the hill toward the bubbly mud.
We marveled at the fumaroles and the rolling pools of acidic mud and water safe from our boardwalk perch over the highly dangerous area. We watching the streams of mud wash through the basin. Mission accomplished. He was one happy kid.
Partially fueled by the excitement of his first-hand encounter with bubbly mud and the promise of a toy at the museum, Anikin happily walked the trail back to the car, often acting as our guide, as he called it, and spotter for chipmunks, crickets, interesting looking trees and late-blooming wildflowers. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the museum talking about volcanoes and bubbly mud.
The next morning it was time to head home to Tahoe. We planned the trip to leave out of the south entrance to the park with a stop of Sulphur Works, with more bubbly mud only a 5-minute walk from the parking area. Sulphur Works has one of the most active mud pots in the park, with shooting mud, a crowd pleaser for kids of any age. | nps.gov/lavo