Always, Alpine

So, I had a wonderful time camping with my friend Anne (separate tents), back from Oxy days. She had planned out our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park in

great detail, so that every possibility was covered and prepared for. The park has areas of immense beauty, and intricate, intriguing plant life. Anne knew the names of many of the plants as we hiked, which only added to the experience. It's one thing to see beauty in swiss cheese leaves- it's quite another to have her observational skills to realize that the holes were caused by caterpillars, and identify the caterpillars.

Although we initially struggled with some altitude sickness and extreme tiredness, we had great times talking over roasted marshmellows by night.

Oh, and spectacular cook she is- quite the food repretoir!

Now, as we planned this trip, I hadn't realized how much snow would be involved. I had been up higher on Mt. Tubqaal, and we'd seen only scattered drifts there. But I had not considered the increased latitude as well, and there were substantial amounts- as well as ample opportunity to hike in snow in my new sandles. I'm hoping at some point soon to be able to feel my feet again. In the mean time, I felt like I was kind of stuck in a hole.
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There in the snow we got to see the most remarkable image- I've read about snow algae before years ago, but never expected to see it. Unfortunately, the pictures don't really do it justice. The vivid red of the snow was offset by an unwordly blue lake, a deeper blue than the Pacific ocean.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usWe determined that it must also have some form of algae in it, for no water could be naturally that blue. Scientist Anne brought along a dissecting scope from her school so we could take a closer look at the algae. Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usArtist Anne (evidently Rennaissance Woman) got a lot of beautiful drawings of everything she saw, including the snow algae. And I got to see my first pocket gopher there too.
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The algae become cysts when the snow melts, and can handle temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celcius- a temperature at which most algal cells fall apart. Interestingly, it has been found all over the world- but not in Africa until 1998- and that was in Morocco. Though we saw only red algae, it comes in many colours. But I do know that yellow snow- that's not algae.

Everywhere in the park we were reminded that there was a much higher volcano hundreds of thousands of years ago, now worn away by weathering. Lassen National Park is the only other place besides St. Helens in the lower 48 with an active volcano- a recent eruption, in the last century. And it appears to be the only place in the US with all types of volcanos, including composite, shield volcanoes, and cinder cones.
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A short hike, of only 2,000 feet, up to 10,462 feet, brings you to the highest peak in the park. There is such a difference when you aren't hiking up scree, and the path is clearly defined, and well maintained! Nothing like hiking Tubqaal. At the top you can see for miles around- even all the way to Shasta.
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On top was the occasional cuteness in the form of chikaree (a species I was unfamilar with until Anne told me of them) and birds of prey. It was great to watch the chickaree come up, almost to your fingertips, looking for food as they played with each other.
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As we came down the mountain, the strangest thing: someone had carved Jesus' name in Arabic into the snow.
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That night, as in Tubqaal, a reward of the most stellar sky, with an incredibly cloudy Milky Way. Slight difference though- something large cracking in the underbrush behind us, that encouraged us to return to the relative safety of the camp site.


Aimee said…
wow, thanks for the photos and description. Looks like a fantastic place to camp in and explore!
E.T. said…
What a neat trip!

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