Friday, July 22, 2011


 ...on the Old Applegate Trail.

IN THE UNIVERSE OF LONELY PLACES, if limited to the planet earth and further refined to the continent of North America, one might be surprised that in our most populous state there are reaches that are pretty much unpopulated. On my ever expanding and contracting “To Do” list was a crossing of the Modoc Plateau in northeastern California.

Please click on any picture to enlarge...

Folks, indeed, had passed this way before. Excerpts from their journals might give a lesser rider pause. Or a rider with any sense. But not me.

DAVIS CREEK is a one-time berg situated on US 395 where the Applegate Trail begins to circle beneath Goose Lake. A worn stretch of pavement heads westward, becoming gravel as it turns north and slips along the lake’s west shore.

...especially this one!
On the AAA map I placed atop my tank bag, I had assiduously marked the intersections that would be critical to this journey.

The left turn away from Goose Lake led me to a nicely cindered road that coursed under lodgepole pines. The forest floor had been groomed to guard against a lightning strike rocketing down one of these slender miracles, igniting the underbrush, creating inferno-levels of heat and flame, and then leaping to become a devastating crown fire. Made for a pleasant morning.

Eventually, the forestland gives way to scrubbier vegetation as the ground is more dominated by the basaltic floes that typify the Modoc Plateau. Cattle guards at intervals along the route indicate that people do something in these sections.

The map indicated there’d be at least one stream crossing, and I’d hoped for a bridge, however, a well-engineered slab proved to be more than adequate for crossing Boles Creek.

Pausing on that Boles Creek ford for a snapshot, a view of the lava and resultant plant life becomes clear. Not much succession has taken place since that steaming mudflow of a million or so years back: only stands of grasses in small pockets and the occasional and hearty juniper standing against the bitter winters and the broiling summers. I get why this place is so lonely.

Further on – and unsigned when traveling from east to west – one passes into the Clear Lake Wildlife Preserve. I drove for what seemed like miles before I realized that the rise in the land to my right was actually a dike built, perhaps, to stabilize the waters in a very shallow “Clear Lake.” This Clear Lake is not to be confused with the Clear Lake in Lake County – which is California’s largest natural body of water. The flat terrain and the lack of bait shops and worn-out resorts should be a clue.

TULE LAKE, CALIFORNIA is a place where one of my high school buddies was reared. On my short list was to see what the excitement was all about. Didn’t find any – but in the town’s defense, it was a weekday.

Tule Lake was also site to a World War II Japanese Relocation Center. Tours are ranger led on Fridays and Saturdays. It was Wednesday. Addition to the short list.

Availing myself of paved roads I took state route 161 across the north edge of the state. Captain Jack and the Modocs lived up this way and, after themselves being relocated to the Klamath Reservation in Southern Oregon, they broke out and held up in what is now the Lava Beds National Monument. The small band held off a large contingent of US Cavalry for weeks, ending only when, at the table of peace, Captain Jack, pulled a revolver from his waistband and shot dead the commanding officer, General Canby.

FOLLOWING US 97 SOUTH from Dorris, I branched off below Macdoel, knowing it was only 25 miles to Montague, and five more to Yreka where I would spend the night.

Nobody indicated that the roads would be far less than clearly marked. At one junction, I counter-intuitively took the road less frequented, checked the map, doubled back and ended up taking it anyway. The Forest Service up that way doesn’t necessarily mark every spur’s intersection with a road number. I found that if I assumed the unlabeled route meant it was the one I wanted to be on – and I frequently referenced both the AAA map and the DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer – I might make it to my destination.

Still, a threatening sky prompted a churning in my gut that matched the occasional churning of my rear wheel.

It wasn’t until I found myself crossing the headwaters of the Little Shasta River that my need for Maalox subsided. Something in the immediate environment actually matched something on my map.

Emerging from the little canyon formed by the Little Shasta, I was greeted by a view that made the few miles of uncertainty worth the angst.

AFTER OVER 100 MILES of dirt road on a 240-mile day, I arrived in Yreka in time for a nap followed by dinner (with a nice Chianti) at an Italian eatery.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

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