Molossian Institute of Volcanology
(Note: For in depth explanations of the sites visited on these expeditions, please visit the appropriate pages within this website.)
2013 Lava Beds National Monument Expedition
This expedition occurred in early June of 2013. It was the second expedition undertaken by the Institute to the Lava Beds area. We arrived at the Lava Beds visitor center at about 10:00 am, and spent a few minutes obtaining "bump hats" to augment our previously obtained caving gear, which included gloves, flashlights and headlamps. The staff was very helpful, and pointed out the better caves, as well as the caves that were closed because of bat habitats. The first cave we explored was Mushpot, a short cave and the only one in the Lava Beds that is lighted. It was an excellent introductory cave for our younger explorers. After Mushpot we set out on Cave Loop Road, where many of the caves in Lava Beds are located. Our first stop along Cave Loop was Golden Dome Cave. A narrow entrance led us down to a large room, with threads of gold in the ceiling. We traveled deep into this cave, thinking we would explore to the end then return. Instead we somehow ended up exploring in a circle and ended up back at the entrance, much to our surprise. Our second stop was at the Garden Bridges, as series of cave collapses with remaining ceiling segments that form picturesque natural bridges. After that our team set out to explore Catacombs Cave. This cave is famous for being long and complex, and visitors often get lost inside. Again, our group went deep into the cave, finally reaching an interesting second level up a flight of stairs. At this point the team turned around the leave the cave, and very quickly took a wrong turn. Fortunately, sharp eyes quickly realized that the route being traveled was unfamiliar, and the group quickly reversed course, before becoming truly lost. Our last stop on the Cave Loop was Sentinel Cave, which is a fairly easy, yet quite interesting one-way trip. It was the best cave of the bunch. After Sentinel Cave, we drove over to Skull Cave, a few miles away, and climbed down into its freezing depths to see the floor of ice. After Skull Cave, we traveled to Merrill Cave, which formerly had a large ice floor. This is now gone, due to changes in the cave’s airflow, but the cave was still interesting nevertheless. Following our stop Merrill Cave, we visited Fleener Chimneys, a series of spatter cones with unusually well-defined vents. The team then drove to the far north end of the park, passing through the enormous Homestead Lava Flow to visit Captain Jack's Stronghold, the bastion from which the Modoc Indians fought US troops during the 1872-1873 Modoc War. This was our final stop at the Lava Beds, after which we returned to our base camp, mission accomplished.
This expedition occurred in August 2012. We traveled to Walley's Hot Springs, a geothermal area located on the western edge of the Carson Valley, about 61 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Molossia. The mission to explore these springs was incidental; we had been asked to document the flora and fauna of the area by The President's father, a noted biologist who lives in North Carolina. The team arrived at the hot springs at about 11:00 AM and noted little unusual in manner of plant and animal life from what is found elsewhere in the Great Basin. We then discovered and explored the springs themselves. A thermal creek runs through the area and we noted bubbling and steaming water flowing from along the banks of the creek, as well as from the floor of the creek itself. We also discovered the remains of two snakes, which had fallen into the hot water and been cooked alive. After spending an hour at the site the team departed, with a plan to return in the future to more carefully observe and document this unusual geothermal area.
The second part of the expedition took place the next day. We traveled to Lassen Volcanic National Park, which lies about 292 kilometers (182 miles) northwest of Molossia, and contains a variety of volcanic features, visited often by the Molossian Institute of Volcanology. The last such visit was in 2003, so this was new ground for much of our current volcanology team. The goal of this visit was Bumpass Hell, an active geothermal area near the center of the park. On our way to Bumpass Hell, we stopped at the Sulfur Works, a small geothermal area alongside the road, where we first experienced steaming fumaroles and boiling mud pools - as well as the characteristic "rotten egg" smell. Following the stop at the Sulfur Works, the team traveled on to the parking area of Bumpass Hell. The trail to Bumpass Hell was a fairly easy hike of about 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles), each way. It skirted a ridge with spectacular views over the area of the ancient Mount Tehama caldera, and then rose up over the ridge to drop down into Bumpass Hell. The final descent was a little steep, but we were rewarded with excellent views of the steaming valley below. Upon arriving at the canyon floor, paths lead over boardwalks that gave views of the major features. There were many steaming fumaroles and large boiling lakes, much like a miniature Yellowstone. It was noted that there were few mud pots this year, perhaps the legacy of a fairly dry winter. After the team explored the valley and took many photos, we returned by the trail to the parking area. Following lunch alongside beautiful Lake Helen in the shadow of looming Mount Lassen, we returned home to Molossia, ending an amazing volcanic weekend.
2011 Soda Lakes Expedition
This expedition occurred in March of 2011. It was the first expedition undertaken by the Institute in seven years. We arrived at the Soda Lakes at about noon, and explored the southwest shore of the larger lake, Soda Lake. This location offered us a panoramic view of the lake, as well as a chance to learn about the fauna of the water. The principal inhabitants appeared to be brine flies, which numbered in the thousands. The lake is known to be home to brine shrimp, although none were in evidence. The team took a sample of the lake water, which produced negative results for the elusive shrimp. That done, the team drove south and visited Little Soda Lake briefly, before returning to Soda Lake for a picnic lunch. Following that, the team set out to circumnavigate Soda Lake, driving along the crater edge on an undulating road, perilously close to the steep crater wall. This journey completed the examination of the Soda Lakes and the team headed home to plan for future volcanological voyages. Thus ended this expedition.
2004 Lava Beds National Monument Expedition
This expedition occurred in late May of 2004. It was the first expedition undertaken by the Institute to this area since its founding. We arrived at the Lava Beds visitor center at about 0815, and spent a few minutes obtaining "bump hats" to augment our previously obtained caving gear, which included gloves, flashlights and headlamps. The staff was very helpful, and pointed out the better caves, as well as the caves that were closed because of bat habitats. Our first stop along Cave Loop was Golden Dome Cave. A narrow entrance led us down to a large room, with threads of gold in the ceiling. We only went a short way into this cave before turning back. Our second stop was Hopkins Chocolate cave, which we explored as far as the Pillar Block seen in many old photographs. We then went on to the Blue Grotto cave, exploring as far as a massive breakdown block. Pausing at the Natural Bridges, a series of collapsed lava tubes, we next explored much of Sunshine Cave, so named for the large openings in the room of the cave. Our last stop on the Cave Loop was Sentinel Cave, which is a fairly easy, yet quite interesting one-way trip. It was the best cave of the bunch. After Sentinel Cave, we drove over to Skull Cave, a few miles away, and climbed down into its freezing depths to see the floor of ice. After Skull Cave, we hiked to Symbol Bridge, about a kilometer from the road and viewed the petroglyphs at this location, still spiritually important to the local Modoc Indians. For the rest of the expedition, we battled clouds and rain, which hampered hiking and photography. After roaming the park all the way to Captain Jack's Stronghold, we stopped back at the enormous Homestead Lava Flow, and then explored Black Crater, a series of spatter cones. Following our stop at Black Crater, we visited Fleener Chimneys, another series of spatter cones with unusually well-defined vents. This was our last stop of the day, but much was left unseen and will be visited in the future. Thus ended this expedition.
2003 Lassen Volcanic National Park Expedition
This expedition occurred in August 2003. Research prior to starting this expedition revealed that there were a few areas of interest still not explored during previous visits to the Lassen Volcanic National Park. Of particular note were Subway Cave, Spatter Cone Trail and a more in-depth exploration of Bumpass Hell. We began this expedition with the exploration of Subway Cave at the junction of California 44 and California 89, at Old Station. We immediately discovered two things: First, Subway Cave is a very popular attraction at Lassen, and busloads of people arrive to explore its short length; and second, our battery was dead in our flashlight. Not 100 feet into the cave and we were surrounded by inky blackness, causing us to beat a hasty retreat. We opted instead to explore the Spatter Cone Trail, which is just a mile up the road from Old Station. The trailhead is located across 44 from the Hat Creek Campground, and winds for about 1.5 miles through pines, manzanita and sage. There are maps located at the trailhead, and we followed ours closely as we hiked. A series of numbered posts indicate the various features along the trail, including a collapsed lava tube, lava flows and, of course spatter cones. Many spatter cones. The trail left the trees fairly quickly and it became hot out in the sun. It was interesting to see these cones, essentially "mini-volcanoes". We hiked from cone to cone, exploring each as much as possible and taking photos, before returning to the car. We next stopped at the store at Old Station and purchased new flashlights, then returned to Subway Cave. The busload of people was just leaving and we shared the depths with only a very noisy young family. This time our exploration was successful. Subway Cave is an easy hike, the cave floor is flat and the ceiling high enough to make it a walk in the park - if the park was underground. It was a very enjoyable exploration. Our voyage then took us to Bumpass Hell, which we had last explored in 2001. This visit was somewhat longer, and earlier in the day than the last, and we were able to spend more time exploring the basin. We noted that some features had changed since the last time we had explored here, including new mud pots, changed size and shape of some of the pools and more mineralized runoff in the creek. Following our visit to Bumpass Hell, we departed Lassen Park. Thus ended this expedition.
2002 Lassen Volcanic National Park Expedition
This expedition occurred in July 2002. It was decided that we should travel to Lassen during summer, both to avoid snow and as an escape from the summer heat in Molossia. We arrived at the parking area and trailhead for the peak at about noon. The trail rises about 600 meters (2000 ft) and is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in length. From the parking area, the mountain loomed over us, and the ascent seemed impossible. We could see people on the trail far above, tiny dots moving along a distant ridge. There was considerable resistance from two of our team against making the climb, but the team leader prevailed and we set out. Immediately we saw how tough the climb was going to be. The altitude at the trailhead is 2600 meters (8500 ft), and the air is already thin. A short way up the steep first portion of the trail, and it got thinner, fast. We found ourselves having to stop every thirty meters or so, to catch our breath. After the initial half kilometer, the trail passes through scrub pine, manzanita and wild flowers. The path winds comparatively gently upward through this lovely scenery until the pines give way at about 2900 meters (9500 ft), and simultaneously the trail starts the switchback phase of the climb. The switchbacks follow a narrow ridge along the slope of Lassen Peak, winding upward, seemingly forever. On and on we trudged on the narrow path, still stopping for "air breaks" every thirty meters at the most. There are plaques placed at various points along the trail, describing various aspects of Lassen Peak, volcanism, and Mt. Tehama (the larger precursor to Lassen). At about the halfway mark on the trail, one of our team decided he wanted to quit and go back down. We coaxed him into continuing on, and pressed forward. There is a sign that indicates when you are about 800 meters (.5 mile) from the summit, and from there the switchbacks continue until you reach the top. It took us about three hours to reach the top of Lassen Peak. At the summit, trails leads through the jumble of lava that fills the crater. We explored this area for over an hour, finally reaching the shallow vent that is the site of the most recent eruptions of 1914 - 1917. It still had a small snowdrift in it, even in July. Time and fatigue sapped our will to climb to the pinnacle that marks the very top of Lassen Peak. Instead we started back down, a much faster process than going up. It took about an hour to reach the parking area, and from there we drove home, stopping to celebrate our accomplishment at Chili's. Thus ended this expedition.
2002 Long Valley Caldera Expedition
This expedition occurred in August 2002. We traveled south along U.S. 395, reaching the Long Valley area at about 11:00. Our first stop was Inyo Craters. We parked in the parking area and hiked the easy 400 meter (.25 mile) path to the area of the craters. The trail was busy, as the Long Valley Caldera is home to Mammoth Mountain, a very popular recreation area. We took pictures of the two craters that have water in them; South Inyo Crater has a olive drab green pond at the bottom and North Inyo Crater has a lime green pond at the bottom. The northern crater is about 150 feet deep and the southern one over 200 feet deep. That done, two of our team made the hike to the top of Deer Mountain, which contains Summit Crater. The ascent was steep but fairly short. The crater is not much to speak of, being filled with trees and scrub. There is no lake in this crater, nor is it very deep, but the edges are still steep enough to warrant caution when climbing.
Returning from Summit Crater, the two halves of our team rejoined and we returned to our vehicle, traveling on to Obsidian Dome. Here we explored the rocky face of the dome, and hiked up to the top via a road. The top is as jumbled as the dome face, filled with many fantastic lava formations. Returning to the vehicle, we ate lunch and then drove south to Hot Creek. Hot Creek is a very popular bathing area, in spite of the danger of sudden changes in water temperature. There are steam vents along the canyon walls, and hot pools belching boiling water. We took a few photos, wished we had brought our swim suits, and then left. We drove through the town of Mammoth Lakes, and visited the Earthquake Fault, a geological rift related to the frequent seismic shifts in the caldera. From the Fault, we drove north on U.S. 395 and turned off on Pumice Mine Road to visit the Devil's Punchbowl. This shallow crater was created in the same manner as many craters in the Long Valley and Mono Basins, by superheated steam blasting a hole out of the ground. It is not a major tourist attraction (and not even a major crater), so we were the only ones visiting it. We took pictures and pressed on. Our last stop was Panum Crater. Panum is in the Mono Basin, outside the Long Valley Caldera. It is one of several craters around Mono Lake. A short hike leads to the pumice rim of the crater, and another short hike leads to the top of the volcanic dome in the middle of the crater. We hiked the trail through the obsidian rock formations at the top of the dome, then returned to the parking lot and headed for home. Thus ended this expedition.
2001 Lassen Volcanic National Park Expedition
This expedition occurred in October 2001, just before the snows came and the park closed for the winter. According to plan, the team began its mission with the ascent of Cinder Cone. We arrived at about 11:00 at the dirt parking area next to Butte Lake. The trail from the parking area to Cinder Cone is well-marked 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) in length, and fairly flat, with 20 signed points of interest along the way. It begins by skirting the Fantastic Lava Beds, a enormous jumble of lava rocks that were created during one of Cinder Cone's active phases. It leaves the immediate edge of the lava flow, and rises gently toward a open ridge area in which Cinder Cone stands. From the base of the cone, the trail to the top rises steeply about 214 meters (700 feet), over a surface of loose volcanic scoria. The climb was very tough, and one member of our team had to turn back. At length, we reached the top. The interior of the cone consists of two craters, one inside the other. The outer crater forms a sort of shelf around the lip of the cone, while the inner crater is a fairly typical inverse cone. A trail leads around the entire lip of the crater, and then down into it, to what was once the vent of an active volcano. It was very windy up there that day, so we really didn't spend much time on the crest, in spite of the wonderful views of the Fantastic Lava Beds, the Painted Dunes, Lassen Peak and the surrounding area. Of the three of us that completed the ascent, two of us decided to go down into the cone. The trail into the cone seems steeper than it is, and the climb down took just a few minutes. At the site of the vent there is a jumble of rock, larger than the scoria that makes up the cone in general. We marveled that we were standing atop what had one been an active volcanic vent. We the hiked out of the crater and back down the side of the cone, returning to the parking area.
Our expedition then traveled across the "top" of Lassen Park via State Route 89 and and into the park, through the Chaos Crags and the Devastated Area, along the eastern slope of Lassen Peak to the parking area next to Lake Helen. From there we began the hike to Bumpass Hell. One of our team had become ill at Cinder Cone, and remained behind at the parking area. The trail to Bumpass Hell is a fairly easy hike of about 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles), one way. It skirts a ridge with spectacular views over the area of the ancient Mount Tehama caldera, and then rises up over the ridge to drop down into Bumpass Hell. The final descent is a little steep, but nothing like the slopes of Cinder Cone. There are excellent views of the steaming valley below as you descend into Hell. The trail is well-marked and fairly busy, as this is one of the most popular features of the park. Upon arriving at the canyon floor, paths lead over boardwalks that give views of the major features. There are many steaming fumaroles, mud pots, and large boiling lakes. The effect is very much like a snapshot of Yellowstone. Concerned for our team member we had left behind, we decided not to remain long in the Hell. Nevertheless, we saw all of the major features, and took photographs of the more prominent ones. That done, we hiked up the steep path out of the valley and returned to our vehicle. The expedition was complete.
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