A few hundred miles from San Francisco, a sky full of stars awaits.
My husband and I have bonded over the outdoors for the past 11 years. It all started when I visited him in western France where he was completing an internship. One afternoon, he proposed that we go for a run along the coast. I said I didn’t know how to run and he thought that was absurd. I spent the next 30 minutes awkwardly flailing my arms, running behind my husband in track pants too big for me (I had to borrow his because I didn’t even own a pair), trying not to trip along the forest trail. Since then, we’ve discovered that Mother Nature has the power to heal us. Our arguments and resentments have found a way to dissipate over pink mountains, desolate beaches, glacial lakes, and even the tiny hill with the Verizon tower behind our house.
When my husband started a new job at a stealth startup a few months ago, I knew our life was going to change. I tried to prepare myself to not see him as much as his new job took over most of his time. But I found that no amount of pre-work could really prepare me for such a drastic change in lifestyle. With more time alone on my hands than I’d had in many years, I found myself reading blogs about how couples maintain their relationships. I knew we had to carve some time for ourselves, away from routines and constant connectivity with the rest of the world.
So when I saw that Lassen Volcanic National Park was celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service with a dark sky festival to coincide with the Perseid meteor shower, I began to plan our getaway. Only 240 miles from San Francisco, it was the perfect weekend trip. Unfortunately, there was no lodging available for the weekend of the festival but, undeterred, I booked a cottage at the Highlands Ranch Resort for the following weekend. In the middle of a forest, with the Cascades around us and Mt. Shasta overlooking us from the east, we would be far away our regular lives.
As we left San Francisco further and further behind, our conversation loosened. We caught up on the past few weeks and then settled into a comfortable silence as the dark shapes of trees and savannah-like landscape passed us by to the otherworldly sounds of Pink Floyd. We watched the arc of the moon, waiting for it set and leave the sky in darkness. We tried to spot the Milky Way. Before we knew it, we were pulling up to the Highlands Ranch Resort just off of Highway 36. Our host, Wendy, had told us that she would keep our cottage unlocked because we were arriving after hours. We found it, dropped our bag, put on an additional layer and came back out to the patio to watch the last of the moon’s glow fade away, leaving an expanse of black showered with stars.
As we sipped Scotch, held hands, and breathed in the heady scent of fir trees, I felt the loneliness of the past few weeks slip away. We watched the stars until 3 a.m., even spotting a few lost meteors hurtling through the atmosphere.
Breakfast at the Highlands Ranch Resort was delicious and hearty. We fueled up on spinach, mushroom and cheese omelets, coffee and orange juice before heading out to hike the Lassen Peak Trail. We talked about everything from the mundane (a contract to install shutters in our house) to the dreamy (salivating over other trips we want to take together). We talked about how this year has brought a tide of change for both of us. The whitebark pines, the rocky ridges, the switchbacks and the open vistas made for quiet listeners. Dinner and more stargazing followed. Before we left the park the next morning, we stopped at Emerald Lake and took a dip in the refreshingly cold water. We marveled at how healing a short weekend getaway could be and promised to not get lost in the routine. Of course, the planning falls to me. But that’s a responsibility I will gladly take on.
Future visitors to the park, I recommend timing your visit with a waning or new moon. Unadulterated night skies are the highlight.
Where to stay: Highlands Ranch Resort has a rugged luxury feel and seven brand new cottages with incredible views. It’s only 10 miles from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the southwest end of the park.
If you prefer to stay inside the park, there are eight campgrounds within, four of which take reservations in advance. The only lodge in the park is the Drakesbad Guest Ranch, but it gets booked pretty far out in advance.
Where to eat: Within the park, there are three places to eat: Lassen Café at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, Manzanita Lake Camper Store (where we enjoyed a delicious late lunch), and the Drakesbad Dining Hall. I also highly recommend the restaurant at the Highlands Ranch Resort.
What to do: NPS has a fantastic list of day hikes within the park. They also have a list of other things you can do during your visit, including boating and hiking in summer and skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
Suprita Kudesia Makh is a writer, public health professional, and lover of stories and the outdoors.