Day 101: Geysers, Tri-Tip, and Corn Dogs

Today we entered our fourth national park of this trip, but it’s probably one you’ve barely heard of: Lassen Volcanic National Park. Compared to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, or Sequoia, it has to have a tiny fraction of the visitors. But I’m here to tell you: this place is seriously kind of crazy cool.

First off, this place is cool because they maintain their trails. Unlike the past couple of days, we haven’t had to spend time straddling enormous logs in the trail, trying to get over them. I know that’s boring to most folks, but, believe me, to us, it’s pretty great compared to the alternative.

Secondly, this place is cool because we saw an actual geyser today. And even though it wasn’t erupting, seeing a huge pile of rocks producing huge quantities of steam and smelling of sulfur from hundreds of feet away is kind of amazing. Hell itself seemed to be breaking to the surface, and that’s awesome.

Third, this place is cool because we saw boiling mud and a steaming lake today, too. It’s called Boiling Springs Lake, and it’s an ungodly color that’s somewhere between turquoise and pea-green. One look at it, and you know this place is different. Then you see mud by the side of the lake literally bubbling up with steam and blorp-ing as the bubble bursts, and it’s even crazier. Geothermal activity is completely awesome, as it turns out.

Fourth, this place is cool because we just had one of the best meals of our entire trip, and it cost us very little. Drakesbad Guest Ranch, located in the park along the PCT (and accessible via roads, which is how most people get here), is one of those seemingly curious holdovers from a period when people thought it was completely reasonable to build fancy lodges for rich people right in the middle of national parks. (I always think of Teddy Roosevelt’s time, but perhaps this time is now, too.) It costs something like $350 per night to stay here.

But…they also are friendly to PCT hikers, too, and in a fairly hilarious way. They’ll hold packages for you, but they also will serve you dinner for something like $17. This may sound ordinary, but, believe me, this is a dinner that probably costs guests something like $50 or more, and is kind of amazing. We were served some kind of fancy salad with avocados, bacon, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, and fresh bread with butter…and then tri-tip with roasted vegetables and baked potato. This is the kind of dinner you’d be happy paying a lot more for at some restaurant in San Francisco, but we got it out here in the middle of the trail.

Not only that, but eating dinner at Drakesbad also makes you, crucially, a guest — meaning you’re allowed to shower there and use the 98°, hot-springs-fed pool. And this is also fancy; I think this might’ve been the nicest, most beautiful shower of the entire trip. All in all, the effect was wonderful, getting a chance to get clean and then sit down to a leisurely dinner.

But the funniest part of dinner came at the end: after we were done eating the normal PCT-hiker fare, the kitchen started bringing us out…well, anything they’d made that day that they otherwise would’ve thrown out. We got an enormous plate of cookies (which I suspect was sitting out for afternoon tea for the paying guests earlier), and, most amusingly, a giant Zip-Loc baggie full of the children’s menu food — chicken strips and corn dogs. After fancy salad, tri-tip, beer, and cookies, did we want chicken strips and corn dogs? Of course we did. The chef and servers seemed pretty amused (as I’m sure they are every evening) by our willingness to eat all this stuff, but we didn’t care a bit…we were just really happy to be able to eat so much.

(Another funny part of Drakesbad is the way in which you’re simultaneously treated incredibly well by friendly people, and yet made to feel a distinctly second-class citizen, too. The PCT hiker dinner starts an hour after dinner is served for all those highly-paying guests at the ranch, and is served at metal picnic tables about thirty feet farther away from the lodge than the fancy, tablecloth-covered tables the real guests eat at. You’re also encouraged to use the single outdoor shower rather than the multiple, incredibly nice indoor showers that the guests get to use…but we snuck into those anyway. The entire thing produces this amusing effect of being a second-class citizen, even as you deeply appreciate everything that’s being done for you, too. )

Tonight, we’re camped at a campground just a few tenths of a mile away from Drakesbad, right along the PCT. We’re headed out bright and early tomorrow, but, tonight, we’re wonderfully full and clean…and we kind of love this place.

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