We woke up in Carson City with only limited WiFi. I could get it to work on my NetBSD box when I used dhcpcd instead of dhclient, but M. couldn't get it to work on her MacBook Air at all. So much for Super 8, which had done us so right on last year's trip (and, I guess, there was also the dirty coffee pot and generally lack-luster room, but what really matters is the Internet access).
We decamped to a coffee house, fueled up, and buzzed north past Reno and on to Lassen. I convinced M. that we should take the twistiest, smallest roads possible, and we were amply rewarded along CA 89 with views of streams and amazing railroad bridges curving all over.
Of course, as beautiful as it was, it still took a few hours to get to Lassen. It was amazing to notice the immediate change in the character of the mountains, with much exposed rock and steep walls. It was even more amazing to find that the national park was free for the weekend. Woo hoo! $10 is only a drop in the bucket, but there's a certain pleasure in getting something for free!
We looked around a fairly nice new visitors center and enjoyed two moderately overpriced but filling and reasonably tasty panini sandwiches while looking out on the volcanic landscape. Then we headed off to bug the poor rangers.
I had noticed a Lake Helen on the shoulder of Mt. Lassen, and wondered if it had any relationship to Helen Lake on Shasta. The ranger on the desk had no luck with some quick web searching, and we suggested that we could just try to look it up that evening. As I strolled out of the building, the ranger chased me down and showed me an entry in a history of the area, explaining that Lake Helen was named after Helen Brodt, the first white woman to climb the mountain. [I later found a web site that explains that Helen Lake was named after Helen Wheeler
, a different Helen.] What a strange coincidence, and how helpful of the ranger to really dig in on this stuff!
We had a great drive up the mountain on a pleasantly twisty road, past a bunch of volcanic features that would've had me leaping out of the car in wonder a year ago, but which seemed only interesting after seeing Yellowstone. There was still plenty of snow on the mountain, with torrents of water pouring down cascades all over, and flowers coming up just on the edges of the snow.
At the high point on the road, we clambered up the snow a few hundred feet, and watched some dude ride his kayak down the snow a few times. It looked like great fun until his kid fell off on the last run, making a belly flop onto the pavement that probably didn't do any real damage, but sure looked like no fun. It looks like a reasonable hike to the top (once the snow melts), without any particularly technical bits; I'd love to give it a shot sometime.
We zipped down to the final ranger station, forgoing a few interesting short hikes in the interest of getting farther up the road. We did stop at the final visitor center, and yet another friendly ranger identified the California Corn Lillies that we'd seen, and the fascinating Mountain Hemlock, which grows in clusters due to animals caching seeds in clusters and then forgetting them.
By the time we reached the edge of the park, it was pretty late, so we headed up to Shasta, got on the I-5 (neatly avoiding all of the parts of the I-5 that we'd driven before, so this was all new), and staggered up to an okay dinner and another mediocre Super 8 in Yreka.