mountains and rivers – part 1   4 comments

Posted at 12:34 pm in california,rivers

Leaving the redwoods behind, my journey turned east on a path that would eventually lead to Arizona. It was now the ninth of November, and I was becoming increasingly concerned about possible encounters with bad weather on the route that I would follow for the next few days. Although there were quicker and less risky ways to reach my destination, on most of these days, I chose solitude over speed and convenience.

In my last post, I mentioned retracing a little of the previous day’s route in order to cross the Shasta Trinity National Forest region. After leaving Scotia and Rio Dell, I headed north and then pulled off the highway at the junction with Hwy 36. A couple of friends who are familiar with the region had emailed me the night before and both wrote something to the effect of “whatever you do, *don’t* take 36 east through the mountains.” No explanation, just a cryptic warning. Under other circumstances, I probably would have taken those warnings as challenges, but the weather was looking pretty iffy. I knew that there was always the possibility of encountering snow at elevation. Although the first stretch of visible highway looked innocuous, I noticed a warning sign stating that trucks with tandem axles and anything over a certain (very short) length should not use that route. With some regrets, I drove back through Eureka and Arcata to catch 299 heading east along the Trinity River.

In retrospect, I probably made the right decision. Although the higway was winding with occasional changes in elevation, it was a good drive. But on the westward end , as we ascended into the mountains, we passed through heavy mist and light rain — the kind that makes you wonder if you’re actually driving up into the clouds. If the temperature had been a few degrees lower, that mist and rain would have been snow and ice, making the drive treacherous. For once, we were in luck as the weather remained above freezing. As we continued eastward, the sun broke through, leaving only the highest mountaintops shrouded in mist. To the north, the Trinity Alps dominated the landscape. I would have loved to take more photos, but there were precious few safe turn-outs along the route, so I restrained myself from taking any chances for the sake of a few pictures.

At one look-off, there was a terrific view of the Trinity River far below (see photo above – click on all images for larger views). I was tempted to drive down one of the steep river access roads, but decided to save that for another time. I will return. Of that I am sure. But next time, it will be earlier in the season when camping would be a little less dodgy.

On the eastern side of the range, the change in climate soon became apparent. The air was much drier and warmer. The conifers of the western side gave way to live oak, madrone and manzanita. As we descended the countless curving switchbacks above Whiskeytown Lake, the sun broke through and a certain gloominess in my spirit began to lift. I’d been avoiding thinking about my state of mind for several days, but now that I was in the warmth and sunlight, I realized just how much the rain and cold had been weighing me down. Another hour of driving and we arrived at the house of friends, one of whom is another brave C-warrior (you know who you are). After an evening walk, dinner and catching up on the latest news, Sabrina and I caught a few hours of sleep before continuing on our way…

Written by bev on January 25th, 2009

4 Responses to 'mountains and rivers – part 1'

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  1. Many years ago I made the mistake of driving Highway 36 from the coast to Red Bluff. It was the most winding road I’ve ever been on, with one hairpin turn after another. It’s a grueling journey that can only be made at a snail’s pace. I had to stop a few times because I was carsick and nauseous on a ferociously hot summer day. It definitely made an impression on me.

    I love seeing the Trinity River. Many, many years ago I thought about buying land outside of Weaverville, down along the Trinity. It’s wild back there. Roger’s daughter lives north of the Alps in Siskiyou County. I believe it’s all considered the State of Jefferson!

    robin andrea

    25 Jan 09 at 8:33 pm

  2. robin – After I crossed through the Trinity River area, a few people told me about taking Hwy 36 and having experiences similar to yours. A couple of people told me that it’s not a good highway to take if you’re nervous of driving along roads with huge drops and not many guardrails. That probably would do me in. Good thing I didn’t try to drive that road. I might try it some time when I have a friend along, but maybe not!


    27 Jan 09 at 9:59 am

  3. Bev – I get a much better picture now of your route through northern California. The dearth of towns along Hway 36 compared to 299 would seem to fit with your description! From what Robin says I would not be able to handle Hway 36 either.

    Is the middle photo of the Trinity River? At first I thought it was the highway until I looked at the enlargement. Then, it seemed like the river is actually elevated above the countryside to the left.

    I haven’t checked the subsequent post yet but did you make it up to Shasta Lake?


    28 Jan 09 at 8:53 am

  4. Wayne – Yes, the middle photo is the Trinity River – it runs parallel to the highway for quite awhile. I think the appearance of the river (elevation compared to land to the left) is just an illusion. At that point, the river is wide, but not particularly deep. Most of the rivers in the mountains are like that — more like water running over stones for much of the year, but often with the potential to run deeper and much faster after rains.
    I didn’t make it to Lake Shasta on this trip, but camped up on the McCloud River above Lake Shasta in autumn 2007 and have driven past Shasta in 2006 and 2007. It’s quite a large, scenic lake.


    29 Jan 09 at 10:11 am

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