Sulphurous blasts of steam shoot up from holes in the ground, fogging the area with a lingering, eggy aroma. The kind of smell usually released in the bathroom. Primordial as Hell. To be exact Bumpass Hell, a valley of churning, roiling mud pots located in Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. Mt. Lassen is less than an hour to the east of Redding, where I reside, and is an active Volcano. Statuesque pine and fir trees outline the valley and crawl up the encompassing slopes. Life seems to have abandoned the lower areas. But billions of years ago, this might not have been the case. Biochemists are recreating one of the most important events in the evolution of life: when hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen came together in the primordial soup to form DNA, amino acids and the remaining building blocks of life.
The beautiful surrounding terrain and Bumpass Hell stand together like a gorgeous young lady and her homely friend. Bumpass Hell is barren and dangerous. But, to biochemists, it is indeed a precious place. If they are correct, the extreme conditions here are the key to the momentous coupling of the components of life. To them, this is one of the richest places on Earth--bubbling in its kettle, the closest chemical ingredients from which life may have grown over 4 billion years ago.I live in a geologically fascinating area richly laced with origins of creation. This is but one example. 4 billion years? I have a hard time imagining 4 billion of anything--let alone years. I grew up exploring this area. It is right in my front yard. When I step into this region, the world I know disappears. Who says time travel isn't possible?
Film clip: Bumpass Hell Mud Pot