The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

VLSB-Road-Trip-Nor-CaliforniaBy Gary VanDeWalker

In the Pacific Northwest, volcanoes are scattered throughout the broad swaths of forest.  They tower over the foothills and act as sleeping dragons.  McCloud lies in the center of these ancient wonders, along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway All American Road, a 500 mile pathway presenting the complexities and beauty of geological history. The Byway stretches from its southern point at Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park, to its northern counterpart, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.  McCloud and its companion Mount Shasta form the central hub of the roadway.

Working south, the Byway follows Highway 97, south of Chemult, leading to Route 138, then to Route 209 to Crater Lake, which was established as a Federal Park in 1902.  Ascending the slopes of the now decimated Mount Mazama Volcano, the highway curves along Rim Drive, exposing the beauty of Crater Lake, formed in the caldera of the ancient mountain.  The lake is deep at 1,943 feet, forming the deepest lake in the United States, as well as being the ninth deepest lake in the world.  The island in the middle almost floats, surrounded by the sides of now quiet volcano.  In the winter, a thick white blanket covers the mountain like a powdered sugar dish.

As the road meanders away to the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Upper Klamath Lake, it dashes past Mount McLoughlin on the way to Klamath Falls.  McLoughlin’s steep slopes are formed over a shield volcano.  The mountain’s edge is touched by the Pacific Crest Trail, which also splits off to the summit of the peak.  The volcano fades into the distance as the road comes to the end of its Oregon sided journey.

Crossing into California, the path enters back into wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin, and comes to the moon like landscape of the Lava Beds National Monument.  The Modocs, the Native Americans who lived among the volcanic landscape fought the United States Army here, using the rock formations as a natural fortress. This stop offers many adventures: walking through the battlegrounds, exploring twenty-five marked lava tubes, a small museum, and trails exploring the volcanic fields The Monument rests on the northeastern side of the Medicine Lake Volcano, the largest of the Cascade Range.  Medicine Lake is the body of water resting in the caldera of this 700 square mile volcano.  Nearby is Glass Mountain, the source of black obsidian used by the Native Americans to make arrow and spear tips.

Continuing on Highway 97, Mount Shasta looms in the distance, its glacier covered slopes commanding attention.  The mountain presents an ever changing appearance as one journeys around its features.  Called by the Karuk tribe, “White Mountain,” at 14,179 feet the mountain looms over the landscape, with over 10,000 feet of vertical rise.  Mount Shasta is four volcanic cones, forming two prominent peaks, including the secondary summit of Shastina.

Large lava flows form the landscape as the highway approaches the city of Weed.  Pluto’s Cave is a short drive off the highway before entering Weed.  This lava tube, coming from Mount Shasta, was discovered in 1863 and named after the Greek God.  It gives the visitor a glimpse into the flows and channels Mount Shasta accessed in the area, and present a quick look into the depths of the earth for those venturing in with their lights.

The Byway changes to Interstate 5, passing around the western side of Mount Shasta, rising alongside Black Butte.   Four overlapping domes of dacite lave formed the structure.  A 2.5 mile trail ascends the small mountain, giving a spectacular view over the Strawberry Valley and the surrounding hillsides and finding itself dwarfed by its much larger neighbor.

logo            The roadway whisks over the ridge to McCloud, working its way past Snowman’s Hill and the entrance to the Mount Shasta Ski and Board Park, descending down to the mill town.  The drive continues for an hour reaching the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park at Lake Britton.  The 910-acre park includes 5 miles of stream and lake shoreline, but the majesty of the park comes from Burney Falls, named after Samuel Burney who lived here in the 1850′s.  The misty clouds where the Falls meet the river, blanket one of the most beautiful falls in California.  Formed from underground springs, the water descends, over 10 million gallons a day, then flows to the Lake moving over the rich, black basalt of the park.

The asphalt ribbon of road then loops around Mount Lassen, into the Lassen Volcanic National Park.  Here the largest plug dome volcano in the United States stretches out.  The park is still active with volcanic activity.  Boiling mud pots, fumaroles, and hot springs are part of its offerings.  Here all 4 types of volcanoes can be found here: shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and strato.  Again, the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Byway.  Travelers will come to the visitor’s center at the south-west entrance

In the midst of the wonders of the Byway, McCloud rests, shadowed by Mount Shasta.  The legacy of the sleeping volcanoes creates a beauty and wonder worth the investigation of their abodes.  Whether one travels north or south from the city, there is grandness to the scale of what was once molten rock flowing over the territory, the reminder that these dragons were once awake.


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