Mauna Loa, the Long Mountain

I look forward to seeing and sketching the world’s largest volcano on the planet earth, Mauna Loa, the Long Mountain.

The volcano is so big, and such a major part of the island of Hawaii, that is tough to get a firm perspective of the mountain, so I was going to have to get a little creative with my viewpoints on how to capture the mountain in sketch.

I before I stand before the mighty mountain, pencil and sketchbook in hand, I wanted to do a pre trip sketch to help put the scale of Mauna Loa into perspective.

A volcano I had visited in recent memory was Mount Lassen. This was a volcano that had erupted sometime ago (in May of 1917) but it was clear to see in quite easy to sketch. I was looking forward to comparing both of these volcanoes and how they were alike and different.

A brush pen sketch of Lassen Peak from October 2020.
A spread on the different types of volcanoes at Lassen National Park. Mauna Loa is a shield volcano, which is a volcano that is a broad dome with gentle slopes extending to the ocean floor.

For my spread about Mauna Loa, I based of my sketch on part of a map I picked up at REI. The map was produced by Franko Maps and is titled “Hawaii Adventure Guide”.

The specs of Mauna Loa are incredible. It’s the largest active volcano in the world. It rises 13,100 feet above sea level. But if you look at the base of the seafloor where Mauna Loa rises, it is a 32,000 ft making it the largest mountain on planet Earth. That is almost 3,000 feet taller than Everest. Mauna Loa extends for 74 miles and covers half of the island of Hawai’i and it’s area adds up to about 85% of the area of all the other Hawaiian Island combines.

One of Mauna Loa’s eruptions produced the largest earthquake in Hawaiian history.

Mauna Loa is a very active volcano having erupted 33 times in recorded geologic history. It’s last eruption was in 1984, which is a extremely short time ago on the geological timeline. That eruption came within seven miles of Hilo.

Will Mauna Loa erupt again? It is not a question of “if” but “when”.


Lassen’s Hydrothermal Features

The magma in Lassen is still there; visibly in the form of rocks and boulders scattered around the park. But molten magma still exists below the surface.

The magma is the same that fueled the eruption of Lassen, just over 100 years ago. In places, the magma hyper-warms the ground water and rises to the surface through hydrothermal features, reaching temperatures of 200°F. In this sense, parts of Lassen resembles our first National Park: Yellowstone.

The most well-known hydrothermal feature in Lassen and also the most popular is Bumpass Hell. This is a must do hike for a Lassen visit which explains its popularity.

The Bumpass Hell Boardwalk. And not a soul in sight!

I headed out early on a Tuesday morning and I had the trail almost to myself. There was one couple that was just ahead of me. If I would have left later in the morning or in the afternoon I probably would have not have been able to find a parking spot in the trailhead parking lot. Even in October!

The hike is a moderate 3 mile, out and back hike with great views of the south of peaks such as Brokeoff Mountain.

Once you crest a rise, you seem to be in a different universe. Bumpass Hell is a visceral experience. Sight: the steam rising into the morning sunlight and the intense earthy colors surrounding you. Smell: the rotten egg stench of sulfur, and sound: the bubbly cauldron burbble of intense heat erupting to the surface. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore!

Another location that is a release valve of Lassen’s subterranean heat is in a under-visited area of this under-visited National Park, located in the Warner Valley.

To get there you must drive east to the rural metropolis of Chester (compared to the blip of Mineral [population 292]). From Chester (population 2,116) you head north back into the National Park on a road that, at first, is nicely paved and then gets a bit rutty before becoming completely unpaved for the final three miles.

I was finally at the Warner Valley trailhead at the campground, which was now closed for the season.

The most exciting thing about this trailhead is that it joins up with a part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT is 2,650 miles long, reaching from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. This hike passes through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. A through hiker would take about five months to complete the trail. It’s midpoint lines close to the metropolis of Chester. The midpoint is also the meeting place of the Cascade and the Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges.

Near the midpoint if the Pacific Crest Trail.

So now I can say that I hiked the PCT, well a very small part of it anyway, from the trailhead to another one of Lassen’s exciting hydrothermal features: Boiling Springs Lake. This is an apt name for this clay colored lake that, in places, resembles a witches cauldron.

Smoke on the water at Boiling Springs Lake.

As I approached the lake, steam rose up into the morning sun and as I got closer, but not too close, I started to hear the bubbling of the mud and smell the tell tale smell of sulfur.

I hike halfway around the lake to a rise on the far side of the lake. From my position I had Boiling Springs Lake in the foreground and Lassen Peak in the background. And I did what any sketcher do, I sketched!


Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen was the final National Park in California that I needed to visit in order to visit al the National Parks in my home state. It always seemed less well known and remote than other parks in the state, with the exception of Channel Islands National Park because you have to take a one hour boat ride to get there. California has the most National Parks in the Union with nine.

Lassen Volcanic is an apt name for this National Park because volcanos and Lassen Peak dominate the landscape of this northeastern part of California.

A pre-trip sketch of the four types of volcanos and their examples, found in Lassen Volcanic National Park: Cinder Cone (Cinder Cone) Composite (Brokeoff Mountain), Shield (Prospect Peak), and Plug Dome (Lassen Peak). Lassen Peak is the largest example of a Plug Dome volcano in the world.

This 106,000 acre park features all four types of volcanos and Lassen Peak represents the last volcano to erupt in California. Even through that was just over one hundred years ago, that eruption, or more accurately, eruptions, left its mark all over the landscape. This is easily seen in the part of the park northeast of Lassen Peak called the Devastated Area.

The view of Lassen Peak from the Devastated Area.

The short interpretive trail features giant boulders that had travelled over three miles to find their angle of repose after an avalanche on May 19, 1915. Some of the massive boulders are estimated to have travelled at over one hundred miles an hours on their journey from the summit.

Lassen was active between 1914 and 1917 but it’s largest eruption occurred on May 22, 1915 when a massive eruption sent gas and ash 30,000 feet into the air. The eruption could be seen 50 miles away to the west in Anderson. The flows headed down the Lost and Hat Creek waterways, destroying everything in it’s path. This is now the area called the Devastated Area. The trees and vegetation has grown back but the large volcanic boulders tell of a turbulent time.

I picked a spot on the ground near the trail and sketched a large reddish dacite boulder formed about 27,000 years ago. Reading about this boulder’s journey helped understand these erratic rocks. It’s reddish hue reflected the origins of it’s birth, the reds I was seeing at the peak of Lassen.


Lassen Volcanic N. P.

Before most trips I like to create a map of my travels in my journal to help me get the lay of the land. For my fall break I decided to keep it local and visit one of California’s least visited National Parks: Lassen Volcanic National Park. This remains the last National Park in California that I have yet to visit.

This National Park gets about 500,000 annual visitors compared to Yosemite’s 4.4 million. It can be hard to find solitude among the masses at Yosemite, which is California’s most visited National Park. So I was looking forward to the solitude I would find on the trails, lakes, and meadows at Lassen during the fall.

Volcanoes dominate the landscape, history, and name of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The volcano in question is the last volcano to erupt in California and only the second volcano (the other is Oregon’s Mount St. Helens) in the Continental United States to erupt in the 20th century. This of course is Lassen Peak.

This is a sketch taken from a famous Benjamin Loomis photograph of Lassen eruption in 1914. This is also the first sketch in my Stillman & Birn Zeta Series watercolor journal. I love breaking in a new journal and I hope to fill it’s pages with Lassen sketches.

The first major eruption of Lassen occurred on May 22, 1915 and ash was spewed high in the air drifting as far east as 280 miles. Lassen continued to be active until 1921. In August of 1916, Lassen became a National Park and Lassen became a sleeping giant.

The landscape around Lassen still show signs of the last eruption in the early years of the 20th century. I can’t wait to sketch this volcanic history.