Thursday, October 16, 2014
CALIFORNIA’S NORTHERN CASCADE: MOUNT LASSEN AND MOUNT SHASTA
Day 1 of the Volcanic Legacy Tour of California and Oregon
In about 1959, my folks prodded my seven-year-old butt up to the top of a snowy Lassen Peak. At the time it seemed like torture. My toes frozen inside some raggedy Keds, I don’t remember enjoying anything on the way up. Going down, however, without an inkling of how dangerous it might be, sliding down a three hundred yard snowfield made the day quite worthwhile. There would be no snow this day.
I try to make it back every year, but it had been a while since my previous visit. It had also been years since I’d done a road trip with my brother: he on his classic 90s era BMW 1000 GS.
Eschewing the glorious Deer Creek Highway from Chico, we bolted up CA 99 to Red Bluff. California’s State Route 36 east of Red Bluff tilts from the valley floor and in about 36 miles rises into the volcanic ridges and floes of the Cascades. Passing through the climatic zones on the October ascent is exhilarating. I can’t remember the last time I’d ridden this route from farmland to forest.
Turning north on CA 89, we enter Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of the state’s best-kept secrets. There are plenty of hikes, plenty of smells and lots of interesting flora, fauna and geology. One could spend weeks.
Once in the park, we paused for a bike portrait with Broke Off Mountain in the background. Broke Off is a better hike that Lassen Peak. Longer, but a more gradual climb. And when you get to the summit, you have a nice view of the park’s namesake mountain. Mom and Dad pushed my butt up that one, too.
Inside the park, CA 89 winds past fumaroles, alpine lakes and ridges made of volcanic mud and ash. Sparse vegetation, if it gains a foothold, grows slowly in these 8,000-foot climes. Tremendous views are offered south to Lake Almanor, west to the Sacramento Valley and always of the mountain.
We pause at the Bumpass Hell trailhead and then at Summit Lake, recalling family adventures from decades ago.
But, as on too many of my trips, our goal was further up the road therefore our pauses were too brief and our cameras used too little.
CA 89 may be one of the prettiest roads anywhere in America. It breaks off from US 395 in Mono County, crosses the spine of the Sierra Cascade and ends up uniting with I-5 in Mount Shasta, CA.
We travel through Hat Creek Valley, past McArthur/Burney Falls State Park and stop for a roadside photo-op once the Queen frames herself at the end of a straight stretch.
McCloud, CA is a moment off the highway. The old lumbering town still has remnants of the rail line that brought timber to the mill and products to the mainline. Brother Bill’s wife was born at the hospital there. We find the old building is being restored.
The McCloud Hotel is a fine place for a romantic evening, but since I’m with my brother, we choose to stay at a Best Western in Mount Shasta. An evening walk around town affords a peek at the Queen as dusk settles.
We retire wishing we’d covered a little less ground and smelled just a few more of the roses along the way.
Note to Self: When riding with someone else I often wish I’d stop to take a picture as I whiz past something historic or beautiful, but don’t because I don’t want to hold the other guy up. I need to quit worrying about that.
© 2014Church of the Open Road Press