Lassen Volcanic National Park
Though the meadow surrounding the guest ranch is bucolic the volcanic activity that created the park is not just something of historic interest. Lassen Volcanic National Park, which has gone through a series of geologic transformations over the last 3 million years, is still active and a short hike to any one of a number of nearby lakes leads one to fumaroles spewing sulfuric clouds of steam and boiling pots gurgling like a big block motor idling. Mighty Mt. Lassen, which last erupted in 1914, looms in the distance, her snow covered peaks watching protectively over this “Yellowstone of California”.
The Lassen area has had a long history of attracting travelers. It was a gathering place for several American Indian groups, including the Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu, who hunted and camped here in the prime midsummer months. In 1851 an alternate emigrant route through California was found at Lassen and many settlers and gold seekers passed through.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch
Continuing ancient traditions, Drakesbad Guest Ranch serves a steady stream of visitors during the summer months, from families who reserve their same week every year, to a more transient crowd, the Pacific Crest Trail hikers. Annually, several hundred thru-hikers attempting to walk 2,663 miles from Mexico to Canada pass near Drakesbad at the half-way point, and the word has spread that hosts Ed and Billie Fiebiger are reliable “trail angels” who bestow ample meals and hot showers for hungry hikers.
The lodge, founded by Edward Drake, functioned as a private resort from the late 1880’s to the mid-1950’s. It was sold to another family and was eventually acquired by the National Park Service in 1958. Drakesbad Guest Ranch is run as a concession by Ed and Billie, who hail from the Bavarian Alps and Switzerland respectively and provide old-fashioned hospitality with a European flair.
The rooms are comfortable, but rustic, most with no electricity so guests can disconnect from their electronic tethers. Kerosene lamps are used to illuminate the guest rooms, though the great room in the main lodge does have electric lights. Some rooms have private baths, others a partial bath, with shower facilities located at the pool. The beds are comfortable, with thick comforters and heavy blankets to ward off the night chill.
Meals are served in the dining lodge with breakfast and dinner cooked to order, and lunches a self-serve affair, with an option to select a sack lunch. Meals are included in the $176/person room rate. Though dress is casual many dress up a just a bit for dinner, if just to exchange shorts and a T-shirt for Capri pants and a fashionable blouse.
Hiking to the hot springs
A short hike out to Boiling Springs Lake leads through the wide meadow followed by an uphill climb to the edge of a boiling lake surrounded by a barren shore, a moonscape scorched by the acid flows from the lake. The sounds of boiling water and forces deep below the surface of the earth cast an eerie spell in the shadow of 2,000 foot Mt. Lassen. Hikers are warned to stay on trails to avoid second degree burns from the springs spewing from the center of the earth.
A 1.6 mile hike to Devil’s Kitchen covers very different terrain compared to the Boiling Springs Lake. Here a good sized creek falls from a narrow gorge to mix in with boiling mud pots. The rocky banks are reminiscent of a battlefield scene of smoking bomb craters as dozens of fumaroles belch smoke. In the center of a broad mud pit a boiling pot sings and burbles like a kettle on a stove.
The hydrothermal features in this part of Lassen Volcanic National Park are all part of a single underground reservoir of hot water, which ranges from 300-450 F below the surface. At the surface the water remains at boiling temperature, is typically acidic and is not safe for bathing.
Back at the ranch a dip in the pool can be refreshing, though the air temperature and water temperature can be about equal on hot days, at about at 95 F. Ed mixes cold water from the creek with 120 F water from a nearby hot spring to keep it around 95 F during the day, and lets it warm up at night. The water that feeds the pool is from a spring that is safe for bathing, and many happy campers spend hours by the pool frolicking and unwinding.
A relaxing experience
Experiencing nature and relaxation are the name of the game at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch, and the old world hospitality of Ed and Billie provide a gracious and luxurious way to be immersed in the outdoors in comfort and style.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch
End of Warner Valley Road, Chester, CA
Rates: From $176/person, with 3 meals a day included, not including alcoholic beverages
Grateful appreciation is extended to Billie and Ed for hosting a visit to The Drakesbad Guest Ranch