Sunday, October 8, 2017


Lumber Town to Lassen

Here is the precept this series of three posts will set out to prove: California’s state route 89 is among the most beautiful highway routes in the entire country. 

I’ve traveled the whole thing, segments at a time, but never dedicated an entire road trip strictly to exploring 89.  October, as the aspens change after the earliest of snows, would prove the perfect time to check this off the bucket list.  Having gushed about the scenic wonders to my spouse, the trip would become a family adventure with Candi, my life partner and Edward the lab-mix piling into the Subaru and heading for the high country.  Enrico, the Yamaha, would wait forlornly in the garage.

Mount Shasta, California’s second highest peak, serves as the beacon at the northern-most end of state route 89.  Departing I-5 at Mt. Shasta City, 89 courses eastward through verdant pine forests, past the sno-park at Snowman’s Hill toward McCloud, an historic lumber town where we’d spend our first night.

Exiting the modern conveniences of the Subaru and stepping into the lobby of the McCloud Hotel [] is like being transported back in time about 125 years.  The interior is paneled in pine from before pine was turned into panels.  The furnishings are antiques you can sit on.  Scrumptious dinners are offered in season, but we were out of season and walked a block to the Old Meat Market Restaurant and Tavern – located in the town’s historic mercantile – for a steak.

A big fan of historic graveyards, a special one exists at the north end of Quincy Street up toward where the mill used to churn board foot upon board foot.  With a little imagination one can hear the puffing of the Shays as logs enter the mill and finished product leaves.

After the mill shut down, folks figured a tourist train through the forest might revive a bit of the economy.  Lovely thought, economically unsound. 

Now the rolling stock simply rests for eternity, I suppose.

The McCloud River is one of many watercourses along the route.  A tributary of the Sacramento, the McCloud offers dramatic waterfalls, peaceful swimming holes and a symphony of water music accompanying soft pine-scented breezes. 

A paved forest service road provides a six-mile detour though lush standing forest land and past several campgrounds and historic sites. 

Well-groomed hiking trails link Lower, Middle and Upper Falls.  I’d ignored this side road too many times.  Not today.

Crossing Dead Horse Summit, we enter the Pit River watershed.  (Along with the McCloud, the Pit is also a tributary of the Sacramento, their confluences being just upstream from Shasta Dam.)

McArthur Burney Falls State Park [] offers a grand and easy trail – suitable for children, but not for Edward – looping Burney Falls with signage speaking to the continual evolution brought about by the power of flowing water.

I can imagine spending forever there, just watching the tumbling cascade do its work.

Hat Creek is renown as a Mecca for fly fisherpersons. [] A county park on state route 299 just a few miles east of 89, offers respite from the road and a great place to picnic.  Also, cell coverage. 

We picnicked and awaited an important phone call.

Back on 89 a curious sign that I’d not seen before, read “Hat Creek Observatory.” An arrow pointed east.  “Why not?”

Down a lane and through a lockable gate, we travel across a high, October-arid meadow.  Rounding a bend, it is as if we are about to be greeted by ET. 

Just as the lobby of the McCloud Hotel transported us 125 years back, now we were being jolted ahead about a century. 

“The Allen Telescope Array is a response to one of the most enticing sirens…” begins the description of this perfectly placed remote sensing station.  []

A placard tells us that the radio telescopes are “carefully placed at random,” a phrase that only makes sense if you see ‘em.  To quote the late Huell Howser, “That’s a-MAAA-zing!”

Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in my growings-up backyard.  []  I’d probably hiked all the fore-country and backcountry trails before I left high school.  It had been too many years since my last visit and this one would be too short.

I’d first visited a site known as the “Devastated Area” – so named because this was the path of destruction when the side of the mountain blew out in 1915 – some forty-five years after the event.  I recall seeing cinders and tiny saplings struggling to take hold in an area set about with oddly strewn boulders that had been blown from or pushed down the mountainside. 

Now, some fifty years later (102 since the eruption) the saplings have grown and explanation needs to be offered as to why this area was once called “Devastated.”

Lassen Peak is a sentinel.  Highway 89 serpentines through the park…

…affording view after view of this magnificent mountain, perhaps the southern-most promontory of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range.

Never are we too far removed from evidence of the area’s molten past…


The light of a long day of travel, which proved to be too short, fades.  We dig in at a rustic cabin on historic Mill Creek – there’s a story here – intent on resting and recharging and readying ourselves for tomorrow’s adventure…


Next:  Autumn on 89, Part 2:  Ishi Country to Hope Valley

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful area for a drive. We have friends that routinely like to ride their motorcycles down to the Lassen area, but we haven't made it there yet.

    This makes me think we are missing out.