Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to smoking fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), mud pots, boiling pools, lush meadows, streams, crystal clear lakes, and towering volcanoes. It is also home to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, a 110-yr-old mountain hideaway, where a friend and I spent a couple rustic nights last June in a bungalow below the stars.
The adventure began near the tiny Northern California town of Chester, where we drove down a winding, 17-mile dirt and gravel road to the entrance of the ranch. Here, we found a small group of bungalows and a lodge, tucked at the base of a hill, surrounded by a giant meadow and a towering forest of trees.
Like most rooms at the ranch, ours didn’t come with electricity, but made up for it in old-time charm. It came with two wooden beds, a heater, and a bathroom with shower and a solar lamp and kerosene lantern. It also boasted a wooden patio protruding into the meadow, with spectacular views of Lassen Volcanic Park, surrounding mountains, the hot springs pool and the resident horses. The patio is also a great place to meet the ubiquitous deer and marmots that graze in the tall grasses a few feet from the room.
Once settled in, we joined other Drakesbad guests at the main building for a gourmet dinner of wine and grilled Salmon, with lobster claw meat and giant prawn risotto; English peas, baby carrots and asparagus Vin Blanc. For dessert we split homemade cheese cake with drunken strawberries.
After dinner we soaked in ranch’s soothing hot mineral springs-fed pool. Still in the same spot since Drakesbad (German for Drake’s bath), opened in 1900, the pool is a great way to unwind after a day in the 5,000-ft elevation of the mountains.
Back at the room, I lit the kerosene lantern and read about the legendary history of the ranch and all the hydrothermal wonders such natural steam vents, bubbling mudpots, hot springs and volcanic rock that surround it. Devil’s Kitchen is a perfect example of these natural phenomena.
To get to Devil’s Kitchen we hiked about an hour through lovely Warner Valley meadows and forests. The journey took us over wooden bridges, past lonely creeks and through marsh and thick woodlands to an eerily beautiful area, encompassed by crackled yellow and red mounds of earth erupting with streams steam. As the steam swirls into the air it hisses and plops and sounds like the earth is cooking.
The volcanic park’s unique hydrothermal system is caused when rain and snow water fall and seep deep into the ground and is heated by hot molten rock beneath Lassen Peak. Rising hot water boils to form boiling pools and mud pots. Super-heated steam reaches the surface through fractures in the earth to form fumaroles like those at Devil’s Kitchen.
After our hike we enjoyed a great prime rib lunch at Drakesbad’s kitchen and then soaked in the rustic resort’s natural and therapeutic, hot springs pool. Back at the room, we lit the kerosene lanterns and I fell asleep reading a classic novel. In the morning we devoured a great county breakfast in the lodge and then saddled up for a horseback ride to Terminal Geyser.
Horses have been a part of Drakesbad since the early 1900’s. The ranch offers guided trail rides (check website for pricing) for beginners and experts. Ours 3-hour trek through the forest and meadows came with post card views of Lassen Peak, nearby Lake Almanor, and glorious fields of Mule Ears flowers.
Other fun activities and Drakesbad include fishing expeditions, massage treatments, and numerous things for the kids such as treasure hunts, arts and crafts, “ice cream socials,” and star gazing nights.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch is located in Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. The ranch is open June 6 – October 13. All meals are included with price of room and kids stay free. For more information on visiting Drakesbad Guest Ranch, call (866) 999-0914 or visit: www.drakesbad.com