Road diary: September 15-18, 2012

    Saturday, September 15
Leave Oakland around 10:30 AM.
Central Valley from I-5 very dry, yellow, "withered and sere" like the EA Poe poem.
Reach Corning ~1:30, stop for lunch at Olive Pit. (Have since learned of a recommended dive in Willows on old US 99 called the Last Stand; may try that next time.)
North again at 2; we hope to see if Mt. Shasta area is a good central spot for exploring northern California in future years.
I-5 lined with numerous crudely lettered cranky right-wing billboards; valley appears to be Tea Party country.
Redding a mere 94 degrees at 2:30; must be cold wave.
Lake Shasta is low, but (after viewing photos at home) not as low as in 2008.
License plate on horse breeder's pickup truck: EQWINE.
Into McCloud around 4, check into B&B at old Mercantile building.
Unpack and head out for McCloud River and 3 waterfalls (Lower, Upper, and Middle Falls).
Great scenes; river very popular with trout fishermen, like nearby Hat Creek.

    Sunday, September 16
Awake to view of Mt. Shasta from bed; if staying here, ask for Charles Miller Room for best view (CM was early area photog).
Head out to photograph town in early morning light, since hotel cafe doesn't open till 8.
Squeak in at cafe ahead of party of 14; order quickly.
Today is Scott Valley excursion NW of Shasta. Drive up to Yreka through pine forest, then yellowed grassland, then high desert.
At Yreka, take CA 3 SW to old Fort Jones.
Just short of town is house for sale by owner, whose phone number is for San Diego.
Study flagpole. Ft. Jones and nearby town of Etna argued over which has higher flag. Was a trick question; Ft Jones has taller pole, but Etna is at higher elevation.
Visit 1873 Methodist church; verger from Davis shows us around.
Head west on Scott River Road into flat farmland, then south on Quartz Valley Road, a mining region back in the 19th C.
Look for old mining center of Mugginsville but miss it completely in its present humble state. This was old stage road, but towns have mostly fallen into picturesque decay.
Reach tiny Etna, locally famous as birthplace (house has plaque) of Randolph Collier, the "silver fox of the Siskiyous", a legislator who brought home the bacon for county residents.
South on 3 to tinier town of Callahan, with old stage stop hotel, old elementary school, old Grange hall, and one utter ruin.
Take Callahan-Gazelle Road from Callahan to Gazelle (duh), where it is called the Gazelle-Callahan Road.
It passes overs dividing range of hillsand descends past views of farms and Mt. Shasta.
Then south at extremely tiny town of Gazelle on old US 99 to Weed and I-5 to Mt. Shasta city.
Drive up Everitt Highway to highest point on mountain reachable by road, past Bunny Flat and Panther Meadow.
(Locals say there used to be panthers on the mountain slopes, but the bunnies ate them all.)
The road below the tree line is flanked by perfectly conical cedars at lower elevations and firs higher up. I see how "The Country of the Pointed Firs" got its title.
Take summit-climb permit application at trailhead just in case; will make nice bookmark anyway.
Return to McCloud, have dinner at McCloud Hotel across the street from our B&B. Hotel is under new management, which is good; the old guy who used to own it was becoming increasingly eccentric. Food pretty good, service very attentive. Wish new owners success, hope it works out for them; McCloud seems to be on the economic edge, needs tourism.
Though oddly our B&B is filled to capacity with divers. PG&E has brought them in to work on underwater valves in river dams.

    Monday, September 17
Original east-of-mountain itinerary plans dashed by Forest Service; those roads not suitable for passenger car this year, so we take longer counterclockwise route around Shasta on paved FS roads (excepting side trips on dirt).
Pass through forests and lava flows; landscape varies frequently and suddenly among lush / grassland / rocky.
Stop for lunch at snowmobilers' warming hut. Outside it actually, on account of wasps inside keeping warm.
North of mountain, no more tall firs; nutrient-poor soil with pines, juniper, chaparral scrub, yellow rabbitbrush.
Stop at Grass Lake meadow. Was once a real lake with a 32-room waterfront resort. But during renovation in early 1900's, "a dynamite blast created a hole in the [hardpan] lake lake bed allowing the water to drain out into the porous volcanic rock below". Oops.
Shasta Valley along US 97 is lined with strawberry fields. We exit to Deer Mountain and scope out hiking trails; nice, but no views; trees on all sides. Logging truck roars down road; won't have trees to kick around much longer.
Back to McCloud for gas, beer, steaks.

    Tuesday, September 18
Homeward bound, after visit to untouristy but very picturesque sections of McCloud. Old RR station and lumber mill once did round-the-clock business, now overgrown with trees. Revenge Of The Cedars...
Stop again in Corning at Olive Pit for lunch. Discover their Oliveburger contains no olives, is basic hamburger, but chopped olive topping available.
License plate frame on PT Cruiser proclaims "I am a friend of God". Wonder if He is on Facebook.
In Colusa, pass rusty 1000-gallon tank labeled "Soy sauce" a mile from rice-processing plant.

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