Archive for December, 2009
As mentioned in past posts, this autumn’s trip route had to be adjusted almost daily due to rapidly changing weather conditions. My plan had been to spend time closer to the coast early in the trip, then move eastward at the end. However, as the days and miles rolled by, we ended up moving ever east and southward. I would get up each morning, check out the current weather around me, read the weather forecasts emailed to the blackberry by my brother back in Canada, and then map out the next move while munching on breakfast. After a time, it began to feel like a strategic game – as though California was an enormous chessboard of sun and clouds, blasted by roving storm systems. If I moved here, it was likely that I’d be clobbered by rain. If I moved there, strong winds out of the north might dump snow on me. The trip route became entirely improvisational, often wandering off over some mountain range or down some highway I’d never even considered before breakfast.
The trip over Mount Lassen became one of the many route modifications on my journey. Twice in past years, I’d intended to visit Lassen, only to be thwarted by early snows blocking off the main road through the park. On this year’s trip, Lassen seemed to be among the few areas with stable weather so it was simply a seize-the-moment decision to go. Under clear skies, we followed Route 89 as it entered the park boundary to begin the winding ascent over the summit.
Being both driver and trip documentarian, I didn’t take many photos along this route. If you’ve driven through Lassen, it’s likely you’ll know why. A narrow highway, occasionally topped with patches of icy melt, winds ever upwards, while the often narrow shoulder dives abruptly several hundreds of feet down screes unbroken by trees or any other solid objects. For the acrophobic (such as myself), concentrating on keeping the van on firm pavement occupied most of my time. Clicking while driving, even at a snail’s pace, was not a temptation.
Fortunately, there were turnouts from which to photograph the several beautiful lakes along the route. Emerald Lake was, true to its name, a wonderful translucent green, reflecting even the most minute patches of snow from the slope beyond (top photo – click on all photos for larger views). Similarly, Lake Helen (above), and Manzanita Lake (also above) provided “post card” opportunities for shots – the kind of thing I suppose we come to expect in a national park.
However, for me, it’s the smaller places or objects that tend to capture my attention. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to landscapes where a White Pine is often the tallest point in view. Or, perhaps it’s that I tend to spend a lot of time looking down at my feet, focusing on insects and other tiny beings. I took greatest delight in watching mysterious eddies form, disappear, and then reform across the surface of the swift, crystal waters of Hat Creek (above), or measuring a massive corn-cob-like conifer cone against my shoe.
We camped at two sites within Lassen – at Manzanita Lake, near the northeast park boundary – and then at Butte Lake, which is accessed from a road leading south into the park from Route 44. At Butte Lake, it seemed that we might be the sole campers, until late in the evening when a car pulled in and someone pitched a tent well-removed from our site. The campground is sheltered by a towering Ponderosa Pines. The sound of the breeze through their needles was unbroken by human-generated noise. There are lava flows – massive jumbles of black rock pressing against the forest and a large tongue extending into the lake (click on photo below to see an area of the flow in the background). I would have liked to hike the trail leading to the Painted Dunes, but dogs cannot be taken on the park’s trail system (see this visitor’s account and photos of the dunes and nearby cinder cone). Instead, we settled on wandering around nearby the campground where we came upon one of the largest and most beautiful Ponderosa pines that I’ve yet seen while traveling in the west. I wish I’d thought enough to have Sage and Sabrina sit in front of it for scale, but take my word – it was quite a tree (see below). The next morning, leaving Butte Lake, we traveled east to Susanville, and then south down the eastern side of the Sierras. More about that soon.
Although we covered great distances on this trip, I tried to break things up so that we were traveling only short hops between campsites. However, that wasn’t always possible, so we did occasionally put in a long day of driving. Even then, I’d try to pull off the highway and go for at least one or two walks at some point during the day to give us all a break – me from driving, and Sabrina and Sage from being cooped up in the van for too many hours.
One of our longer hops took us from the Siskiyou region of southwest Oregon, east through Grants Pass and Medford, and then into California, south past Mount Shasta to the Redding area. About midday, we turned off of I-5 to wander west up the Klamath River in the direction of Happy Camp. We stopped at a couple of spots to spend time by the river.
During the mid to late 1800s, a stagecoach road followed the river north from Yreka (see #3), and west along the Klamath River toward Eureka . Remnants of the old road can be seen along Rte. 96. In those days, stagecoach and wagon roads traversed some of the most rugged areas of California (see map). When you’re traveling along older highways, especially along rivers, over bridges, and through passes, it’s still possible to find ssections of the stagecoach roads and cart tracks – now not much more than overgrown paths. Many of them make great places to get out and stretch your legs and study the landscape.
One of our stops was at the Forest Services “Tree of Heaven” campsite. The campground was supposedly closed for the season, but the gates were still open. The park is named for a large Tree of Heaven planted by Chinese workers who farmed on the flats by the river and sold produce to miners in that area (see #4).
The river stones along sections of the Klamath are beautiful – many soft colours. I photographed a feather atop of one of them. This region is known for its diversity of migratory birds and the park features a short wheelchair accessible interpretive trail emphasizing birds and their habitat.
A plant we were to encounter quite often while traveling through this region is Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis). It’s an invasive species introduced around the 1850s. It’s quite a nasty plant, as you can see from the spines on the flowerhead in the above photo. The flowers are bright yellow, but once they are dried and have gone to seed, they blend in with other dry vegetation making them difficult to spot. They aren’t something you want to stumble into, especially with dogs. These are among a group of plants that I and a lot of other people refer to as “stickers” because they have seed heads, or other plant parts, that break off and stick onto your shoes, clothes, and more importantly, into dogs’ paws or the underside of their bodies. When you’re traveling through the more arid regions of California and in Arizona, it’s important to take the time (often!) to check your dogs for spiny plant parts that may be wrapped in fur, or stuck between dog toes. The presence of plants like these are a pretty good reason to stay on trails or walk in areas where such plants don’t grow.
Another annoyance that we ran into several times in the Siskiyou, Klamath, and all through the Sierras, were ticks. In a couple of places, we found ourselves inundated, which was a major gross-out for me as I absolutely hate the little buggers. Luckily, before leaving home, I had packed something for ticks in my “dog box”. I don’t routinely use topical treatments for ticks as we rarely encounter them in eastern Ontario, but there’s obviously a need in these regions.
After our side trip along the Klamath, we continued south past Redding to visit with friends. Due to weather, my plans underwent yet another revision, but more about that in my next post.