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Old-World Hospitality in an Ancient Setting

by Inga Aksamit

ummer is the time to get outside and reconnect with nature, basking in the warmth of the sun and the companion-ship of a loved one. My husband, Steve, and I enjoyed a relaxing weekend at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch on the eastern side of Lassen Volcanic National Park, soaking up the hospitality
of hosts, Ed and Billie Fiebiger.

We could hear boiling water and forces deep below the surface of the earth.

Lassen Volcanic National Park has gone through a series of volcanic transformations over the last 3 million years, and Drakesbad sits in a crater bed formed long ago. Now the peaceful meadow is ringed with forested lava cliffs bordered by a clear running stream. Mighty Mt. Lassen, which last erupted in 1914, looms in the distance, her snow-covered peaks watching protectively over this “Yellowstone of California.”

In the dining cabin our hosts, Ed and Billie, who have made this area their summer abode for the last 20 years, labor daily to make sure that guests are comfortable, patiently giving directions to nearby lakes and encouraging all to take advantage of the outdoor activities that are available.

The lodge, founded by Edward R. Drake, is now a part of the National Park Service, and is run as a concession by Ed and Billie, who hail from the Bavarian Alps and Switzerland respectively. The rooms are comfortable, but rustic, most with no electricity so guests can disconnect from their electronic tethers.

Meals are served in the dining lodge with breakfast and dinner cooked to order, and lunches a self-serve affair. Dinner consisted of a salad of field greens dotted with fresh raspberries, followed by grilled lamb chops with a hint of smoky flavor, and salmon topped with a light lemon-parsley sauce, steamed vegetables and rice. The wine list was substantial and impressive for such a remote location.

We hiked out to Boiling Springs Lake — a scant mile through a wide meadow, followed by a gentle uphill climb — that brought us to the edge of a boiling lake surrounded by a barren shore, scorched by the acid flows from the lake. As we drew near we could hear boiling water and forces deep below the surface of the earth. Looking up, the hulking shape of Mt. Lassen was visible as the sun set, its last rays warming the tip of the peak in a shimmering halo of light, a horizontal shaft piercing the granite flanks.

A second 1.6 mile hike took us to Devil’s Kitchen, where a good sized creek fell from a narrow gorge to mix in with boiling mud pots. The rocky banks were reminiscent of a battlefield scene with smoking bomb craters, as many fumaroles belched smoke while boiling pots gurgled.

Back at the ranch, a dip in the pool was refreshing, though the air temperature and water temperature were about equal at 95 F. The water that feeds the pool is from a hot spring that is mixed with the cold creek water, and many happy campers spent hours by the pool frolicking and unwinding.

Experiencing nature and relaxation are the name of the game at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch, and the old-world hospitality of Ed and Billie provides a gracious and luxurious immersion in the outdoors in comfort and style.

Drakesbad Guest Ranch: 866/999-0914;      www.drakesbad.com.

Inga Aksamit is a freelance travel writer based in Marin County, California.

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Peaceful Meadow Trails Lead to Fumaroles Belching Smoke
Steve Mullen photos