Capturing History: 10 Mind-Blowing Photos from the Lassen Peak Eruption

Due to the brave and enthusiastic work of early 20th century photographers, we can see exactly what the eruption looked like

When Lassen Peak Erupted in 1914, there were no advanced photographical instruments. There were no DSLR’s or drones or GoPro’s, making the visual documentation of the eruption both difficult and astounding.

From many places in NorCal, you can see the peaks of two large and active volcanoes, leaving one to daydream about what an eruption of one may look like. Due to the brave and enthusiastic work of early 20th century photographers, we can see exactly what the eruption looked like.

Here are 10 mind-blowing photos of the Lassen Peak Eruption:

10. Watching the eruption from nearby Red Bluff must have been exciting:

9. B.F. Loomis was the foremost visual documenter of the eruption. You will see his photos a lot on this list:

8. Some people went up to the peak to see the eruption:

7. A view of Lassen Peak just before 1914, showing just how much the eruption altered the mountain:

6. The steam was flowing heavily at the peak:

5. Eventually, steam took over the park:

4. Lassen begins to emit steam from its peak:

3. People gather to watch the eruption in downtown Red Bluff:

2. A cloud of ash over Lassen Peak:

1. And finally, this is the best and most prominent photo of the eruption from B.F. Loomis:

Such incredible photos! Since the photos of the eruption were not seen immediately, words were used to tell the public about the historic event. The following description is paraphrased from the USGS document A Sight “Fearfully Grand”—Eruptions of Lassen Peak, California, 1914 to 1917 By Michael A. Clynne, Robert L. Christiansen, Peter H. Stauffer, James W. Hendley:

“Lassen first showed signs of coming to life on May 30th, 1914 with steam explosions near the summit. These continued for almost a year, more than 180 releases in all, expanding the summit crater by 1,000 feet. On the evening of May 15th, 1915, the first lava was sighted spilling down the flanks of the volcano and filling in the summit crater. A few days later on May 19th another explosion created a new summit crater. There was still 30 feet of snow at the summit, and the hot rocks created a half-mile-wide avalanche that spilled down the side of the volcano and into Hat Creek four miles away.”

“As the snow in the avalanche melted it mixed with volcanic materials to form a mudflow called a lahar. This then raced down Lost Creek canyon for another seven miles. Hat Creek Valley was flooded with muddy water on May 20th, which damaged several ranches in the Old Station area. Floodwaters headed down Hat Creek to the Pit River, over 30 miles, and witnesses claimed the muddy waters killed many fish. Of course, there were salmon and steelhead in all these waters back then. More lava spilled from the summit on the 19th and 20th reaching down the mountainous flank another 1,000 feet.”

“The next powerful explosion happened around 4:00pm on May 22nd blowing rocks high into the air above the summit. Shortly thereafter a column of volcanic ash and gas rose some 30,000 feet above the mountain, which was visible from 150 miles away. A pyroclastic flow, an angry burst of hot gas and rock blasted down Lassen’s flank at up to 450 miles per hour and 1,000 degrees clearing three square miles of virtually everything in its path.”

“Another mudflow (lahar) was generated by the pyroclastic flow that again blew 15 miles down Lost Creek and releasing another blast of muddy water down Hat Creek. Volcanic ash flowed down the mountain and fine volcanic ash blew in a northeasterly direction as far away as Elko, Nevada. Smaller eruptions continued between 1914 and 1917, and steam continued to leak from the calming volcano well into the 1920s.”

Of course, there was also some video documentation of the blast:


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