Friday, June 8, 2007

Devil's Kitchen and the Unnamed Waterfall

The dawn woke us once again this morning, at about 5:30 am. Last night was warmer than the previous two nights; there was no frost visible outside our windows. We ate our usual granola-and-tea breakfast and hit the road by 7 am. Our eventual goal was the Devil's Kitchen in Mt. Lassen National Park, but we decided to take a roundabout back country route to get there, exploring some territory new to us.

We started out by heading east on 172 out of Mill Creek, then east on 36 to Child's Meadow. There we turned northeast on 29N63, a good quality Forest Service road past Wilson Lake. We saw a few flowers on this road, but nothing notable or new. At the top of this road, where it intersects 29N18, we came across a strange contraption that I could not identify the purpose of even after a close inspection. A short tower, perhaps 10 feet high, held some kind of a pressure tank, a hot water heater, and two galvanized steel boxes with unknown machinery inside. A solar powered transmitter and directional antenna appeared to be beaming back some sort of data to somewhere. Two 500 gallon propane tanks provided the fuel. I climbed all over this thing, peering in every orifice, trying to figure out just what the hell it was -- I failed completely, and it remains a profound mystery.

We turned west on 29N18 after that, climing slowly up the side of the basin and enjoying the best views we've had yet of Mt. Lassen and the surrounding peaks. The mixed conifer forest here was quite beautiful, as is has been in many other spots; very healthy and vigorous. Recently dead trees are quite rare sights here, unlike our conifer forests at home where years of drought has taken a terrific toll. As we rounded the "corner" on the basin and headed more northerly, we also approached the top of the ridge surrounding the basin. Here we often saw a kind of scrub lands, with sparse conifers and a dominant mat of prostrate manzanita. These mats were sometimes dozens of acres in extent, more attractive at a distance than close up. As we rounded the northwest corner and started to head more easterly, we crossed the south arm of Rice Creek -- and spotted a waterfall just upstream from the road. We stopped here and spent a delightful hour and a half exploring the waterfall and its surrounds; it was a stunningly beautiful spot. The upper falls fell in sheets over a series of "steps" in the rock, each 10 to 12 inches high; the lower falls had several gushing unimpeded falls of several feet high. Wherever the water touched rock, or splashed onto the rock, vibrantly green mosses added a texture of vigorous life; many other plants live in and alongside the water. Beside the waterfall itself, there was abundant larkspur adjacent to it. We left this spot with smiles on our faces and the feeling that our day was a good one no matter what happened from here on out.

We continued east on 29N18, looking hopefully at each place where we saw water. Eventually we arrived at a point just north of the intriguingly named "Buzzard Springs". A short and rugged four-wheel road took us south to the springs, which were a bit disappointing -- no buzzards were anywhere in sight, and the spring itself was unimpressive. We did find an interesting plant along the road: some member of the mint family with an odor so strong that we smelled it when driving by. We got back on 29N18 and continued east past the Stump Ranch turnoff to Domino Spring. Here we stopped to see this far more attractive spring -- full of watercress, horsetail, and other water plants, burbling out over a pile of largish (loaf of bread size) talus. It's been preserved by isolating it with a split-rail fence that fits into the scene quite nicely. South of the spring itself is a wetlands area, several acres in extent, fed by the spring; this whole area is easy on the eye and chock full of life -- especially plants and birds.

From here, we zoomed it to the Devil's Kitchen trailhead parking, heading along 29N18 to 28N34 (the road up Warner Valley) to get there. It was already about 10:30, and we wanted to get on the trail. The Devil's Kitchen trail is 2.2 miles long if you go by the most direct route, and it has about 500 feet of elevation change along that route (including a couple of up-and-downs). That's an easy trail for, but a very challenging one for my father -- but he did it without any problems at all, other than being very tired, hungry, and thirsty when we got back. The trail itself was actually more interesting to us than the destination (Devil's Kitchen). It alternates between a marshland path (often on boardwalks and never wet walking) and a path through a majestic old-growth forest. Both of these environments were interesting in their own way. The marshlands was dominated by alder, willow, hellebore, many species of onions, and grasses -- but of course many other plants grow there was well. This area was full of birds and butterflies, many species each; they provided the majority of color in the area. Some of the birds were species I know from southern California, but many were new to me. Most beautiful was a small bird, a warbler I believe, with a greenish back, yellow face and breast, and black bars on its wings and face. One particular species of butterfly, orange with black markings, was very attracted to the numerous horse droppings (the Drakesbad Resort on the side of the marsh rents horses for the trek to Devil's Kitchen and perhaps other places). In the forest the most striking thing to me were the numerous very large incense cedars -- we saw several with trunks exceeding 9 feet in diameter. There were also large specimens of several other species, including Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir. Unlike other areas we've walked in, the forest floor here is littered with downed trees. This is a sure sign of an area that hasn't been lumbered for a long time, and in fact we didn't see any visible signs of this area ever having been lumbered. The Devil's Kitchen area itself was interesting, but not spectacularly so. There were lots of steam vents, and hot springs, and a couple of nicely bubbling mudpots or boiling springs (we couldn't see the liquid's surface; we just heard them). Mineral deposits, especially sulphur, were visible in many places. But it doesn't have the size, complexity, or activity level of Yellowstone, not by a long shot. All in all it was a very nice walk, but a little bit more than my dad really wanted to do.

Once we got back to the truck, our thoughts were on food, food, and more food -- both of us were ravenous, as we'd had no food since our light breakfast and we'd been working hard. So we decided to head straight for Happy Gardens Chinese restaurant, where we'd had such a nice meal last night. On the way out of the park, I had an encounter of the woodpecker kind. I was driving along at about 25 mph on the gravel park road, when motion to my left caught my eye -- there, flying parallel with me, slightly below my eye level, and about 20 feet away, was a very large woodpecker, roughly the size of a large crow. I saw nothing but the black back and completely red head, as I never got a view of the face, bottom, or back. After flying alongside for about five seconds, the woodpecker veered off to his left and steeply down into the brush, and I lost sight of him. At Happy Gardens, we asked the waiter if we could have the large bowl of Wor Won Ton again, but this time made with more vegetables, won tons, and other goodies. This was a request they'd never had before, so we had a sort of friendly negotiation about price and quantity, finally agreeing to double the amount of good stuff and to price it as a double order. Fair enough, as certainly the vast majority of their cost and effort is in all the goodies. When we got the bowl of soup, it was clear that they had more than doubled the goodies -- the bowl was positively overflowing with them, and the clear broth was just barely visible. The waiter offered to bring more broth if we wanted it, and expressed his skepticism that we two could possibly eat this bowl of soup. We did, handily, and had room enough left over to consider a dessert. They had a dessert I'd never heard of, called "sesame balls", so I asked the waiter about it. We liked his description, so we ordered them. When we got them a short time later, we had eight golf-ball sized tidbits, each one made by a hollow perfect sphere of sticky sweet rice dough encrusted with sesame seeds and with a dollop of sweet red bean paste inside. This contraption was fried on a hot oiled skillet. They were wonderful -- the toasted, slightly salty, crunchy sesame blended deliciously with the slightly sweet, chewy rice dough, and the little bit of sweet red bean paste was the perfect complement.

We left Happy Gardens with happy faces, gassed up, bought a few supplies, and headed for home. Somehow in my tired fumbling with the computer, I managed to accidentally delete most of the photos I took today from the camera's memory card. I'm hopeful that I can recover them when I get home using an "undelete" utility. I suspect we'll sleep very well tonight, as we're both quite tired...

Update: Well, the file recovery software worked, but couldn't recover all of the files. I got nearly all of them from the beginning of the day, but none of the photos from Devil's Kitchen itself. Worse, several photos that I thought might be good ones of my dad are among the missing...

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