Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Mt. Shasta and Siskiyous Offer Lots of Potential Fun
By Tom Baake
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Mt. Shasta looms on the landscape of Northern California.

In previous columns I’ve noted how we’re relatively close here on the South Coast to places that people travel great distances to see. The California Redwoods are the best example. They’re only a few hours away. Most Californians would have to drive a lot longer than that to enjoy “their” redwoods!

We’re also closer than most Californians are to some of the Golden State’s lesser-visited yet beautiful places, such as Mt. Shasta and the Siskiyou County area in California’s northernmost reaches.

At 6,347 square miles, Siskiyou County is one of California’s largest, and its rugged contours take in such remote territory that it can literally take all day to drive across. Although I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that. It would be like driving across Montana just for fun. Montana, in fact, is often used to describe Siskiyou County, not only because of a vaguely similar (yet obviously much smaller) shape, but also as a reference to Siskiyou County’s resemblance to Montana’s diversity of features, forests, and geology.

At 14,162 ft., Mt. Shasta is the defining landmark, with its seven glaciers and, some say, mysterious presence. No Shasta trip is complete without a visit up the mountain, and depending on the time of year and the depth of snow, it’s possible to drive a well-engineered and paved road up to timberline at about 11,000 ft.

The road traverses forest zones from spindly pinelands to stately Shasta (or “red”) fir, and there are campgrounds and hiking trails. Cross-country skiing is a wintertime treat, while downhill skiers and snowboarders have fun at Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

Other attractions include Lake Siskiyou, just outside Mt. Shasta City. It’s much smaller than better-known Shasta Lake (40 miles south), but lake levels are kept stable so there’s no unsightly “bathtub ring” of exposed dirt shoreline. Resorts, campgrounds, cabins and other amenities are open seasonally.

Meantime, in setting of sagebrush, juniper and volcanic rock east of the community of Weed is

Lake Shastina, popular with anglers and water skiers. The mighty Sacramento River finds its headwaters in Siskiyou County, while Klamath River courses through here as well. You could spend ages exploring wilderness areas in and around Siskiyou County, including the fabled Marble Mountains.

The Lava Beds National Monument is a fascinating maze of underground lava tubes that visitors are welcome to wander through – they even lend you a hardhat and flashlight.

Like much of the Pacific Northwest, there’s a rich history of logging and mining. The county seat, Yreka, preserves a classic western-style downtown, with loggers, miners and cowboys well represented by business names and decor. The county courthouse has some awesome gold nuggets as well as other mineral specimens on display, and as in every sizeable town in Siskiyou County, there’s a museum.

Find the Sisson Hatchery and Museum just outside Mt. Shasta City. The hatchery is California’s oldest, and still operates with a gravity-fed water system that flows through various pens and holding tanks. Buy a handful of trout feed to toss into the pens – they rise like piranhas in a chaos of finny flapping!

Find another historic display in nearby McCloud, a one-time lumber and railroad company town that still has many original homes and commercial buildings. The surrounding forestlands hold beautiful rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and trails, and there are campgrounds and other accommodations.

Dunsmuir, at the county’s south end, is the “railroad town,” with lots of history and artifacts on display.

This obviously is just a brief glimpse of a fascinating place not all that far away. The other good news is it’s close enough to make returning easy. Well, easier than Montana.

Getting To The Siskiyous

Getting there can be a bit of an adventure or a piece of cake, mostly depending on the season and weather. It’s a 5-hour, 250-mile journey, although the whole way is highway (Highway 42) or freeway (Interstate 5).

Simply put, head over on Highway 42 to I-5 and go south. There are five mountain passes (six if you count Camas Mountain), the highest being 4310-ft. Siskiyou Summit, and all (except Camas) can get snowy in winter. This time of year, however, as in late spring, all summer and early fall, it’s smooth sailing, so consider a Siskiyou sojourn sometime soon!


(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.)
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