Devils Kitchen is the second largest display of geothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park next to Bumpass Hell. This fascinating formation can be accessed on a moderate, 4.4 mile round trip trail which offers solitude and shade, two things Bumpass Hell lacks. In late August, I only saw one other person – a fellow ranger – on the trail.
Within the first half mile, the trail crosses Hot Springs Creek. The dusty footpath then bursts into sunlight and winds through meadows. Purple asters spill over the boardwalks while butterflies and blue dragonflies scatter before my feet. A flash of orange and black - a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly - flits by a wildflower. A nighthawk, a plump ground-nesting bird, scurries through the long grass. Sounds of rushing water fill the backdrop as the trail parallels the creek.
The steepness increases as I leave the meadow for the forest. I still have most of my breath when I reach the hitching post for horses at the start of a loop trail around the geothermal features. I smell the sulfur before I see the steam arising near Hot Springs Creek, a bold interplay of heat and water.
Devils Kitchen is a secretive place – the land does not reveal all its treasures at once. The short loop walk is designed like a maze, each new turn affording unexpected views. Depressions dot cracked white earth, while lush ferns flourish alongside the creek mere feet away. Algae and patches of grass persist amidst murky grey-blue waters and fumaroles. Sulfur colors a jumble of rocks bright yellow, a shade so vivid it hardly looks real. Red and orange soil stands close for contrast.
Farther along, steam rises high to meet the silhouettes of pine and incense cedar. I hear the steady glop, glop of a mud-pot, the sound louder and deeper as the feature continues to lose water this late in the season. I barley dodge a flurry of steam blown towards me by the wind. The air is hot, and the sulfur smell overpowering. I take a last lingering glance at this kaleidoscope wonderland before climbing back up the trail.
My experience was solitude and discovery; the trail holds different messages and mysteries for each of us. Explore your park, and write your own chapter across its dynamic landscape.