Glow Hour at Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic NP in Nothern California is one of the least visited national parks in the Western US, mainly due to its rather remote location, way off the popular itineraries along the Pacific Coast. Additionally, the area is not easy to access most part of the year (late spring, summer and fall only). The current number of visitors per year (only about 400.000) really does not do justice to its beauty and attractiveness. The park is home to snow-covered volcano peaks, colorful geothermal areas, wildflower meadows, clear mountains lakes and there is also one very special area we loved most right in its northeastern corner: Butte Lake section featuring lovely Cinder Cone surrounded by so-called "Fantastic Lava Beds" and the even more fantastic "Painted Dunes".
The view over the colorful ash dunes from top of Cinder Cone is mesmerizing. In summer, do not arrive too late there, since the dunes will be in complete shade in late afternoon. They are located right below the crater in southeastern direction, so fall season is the best time to catch the evening light on the dunes. But they will look more brownish and way less pinkish at this time of the day (see image).
The "Painted Dunes" are one of those (many) locations, where we prefer the "glow hour" over the renowned "golden hour". Only the soft light reflected from the red or orange sky, after the sun disappeared below the horizon, reveals the most fantastic colors. The "glow hour" starts about 15 minutes after sunset and lasts only a couple of minutes. Just like the famous "Alpenglow" at higher elevations, all subjects facing west will be suddenly light up once again, but without any harsh shadows and with a lovely warm and soft glow.
It's only a 4-mi-round trip from the parking lot near Butte Lake to the top of Cinder Cone an back, but it is classified as moderate since you will be doing a 400 ft climb in just a 1/4 mi on soft volcanic ash (one step forward, half step back...). Here is a trail description as well as a trail map.; and keep an eye on the park's road updates/closures.
Btw, we were all alone at Cinder Cone during the whole evening. So if you're looking to avoid the crowds, consider traveling to Northern California and visiting Lassen Volcanic one day... ;-)
Image data: 4s at f/16, ISO 800; Canon 100-400 mm, 1:4.5-5.6 L IS USM at 400 mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Related Links: Our favorite images from the United States