My weathered clothes spun in the washing machine as my mind spun with thoughts. I was at the KOA campground outside Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. It had been a very full day, but I wasn’t reflecting on what the day had been. Instead, I was planning and looking forward to the next and final leg of my summer adventure. I had gone as south as I could and was now as north as I would go.
The day had taken me to many points of interest. Leaving the proper boundary of Lassen Volcanic National Park, I traveled about an hour over to Shasta State Historic Site on my way to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. The historic site contained the preserved remains of one of California’s once busiest gold mining towns, “Shasta City.” Along with ruins and the facades of old buildings, there was a rustic blacksmith shop, a bakery (which was unfortunately closed), and the old restored town hall which featured the site’s museum and historic jail. I paid $3 to go in the museum. It was well put together and informative about the Gold Rush in Shasta City. Here I learned about the influx of Chinese immigrants that came to California searching for gold. I’d later come to find that this type of immigration was common in many California mining towns in the era. The Chinese immigrants, however, got second dibs to the earth, sifting through rock already mined by the American miners, searching for whatever may have been missed and remained. Here in the museum I also saw artifacts from this old Western town, including vintage gambling machines from one of the town’s past saloons. In the basement of the museum was the jail, the highlight of the site. Down in the cells, holographic prisoners appeared to tell their stories of what landed them in jail. It was pretty high-tech for a state park. Between the information presented, the artifacts shared, and the holograms in the basement, this little museum captivated my mind and took me back to the California Gold Rush. If in the area, I would not pass this site up. It is worth a stop.
After my visit at Shasta State Historic Site, I visited another National Park unit: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Approaching, I tuned into an AM radio station giving general advisory warnings for tourists. I stopped at the Visitor Center to get a park map, inquire about hikes, and purchase a sticker. The main attraction of the area, and center of the park, was the Whiskeytown Lake- not nature’s lake, but one created by a dam in 1962 which flooded and covered over most of the once mining town. Water sport and lake recreation is big in the area, but I also found there to be quite a few waterfalls on short hikes. I was going to have a full experience, so I needed to get on the water and see some waterfalls.
I drove on the park road, which wound around the deep blue lake, scooting into mixed forests of conifers and deciduous trees, then revealing, occasionally, short mountains. Along the water’s edge and the road’s side were beige rocks. Despite trees, there seemed to be little shade. The trees were young, short, and the bright day’s sun reached every angle in the park.
My first stop was at Oak Bottom Marina. Here I rented a kayak and got out on the lake. I asked the attendant in the marina where to paddle. She told me about a sunken road in the middle of the lake that’s close enough to the top of the lake that I could get out and stand atop the underwater road. I thought that sounded interesting, but when I started paddling, the water seemed choppier than what I expected and motorboats went zooming by, creating jolting waves. The water didn’t look inviting either. It was dark, appeared quite deep, and had a mysterious essence. I did not want to end up tipped over in the water, so I stayed a bit closer to the water’s edge and paddled over into the lagoon-like area of Grizzly Gulch. Here the water was green, shallow, and warm. Trees grew right alongside the water and even leaned over the water’s edge- giving it a more of a Floridian Jungle Cruise feel.
After an hour on the water, I proceeded on the park road to my first waterfall: Crystal Creek Falls. Here I noted the temperature. My car displayed 114 degrees. This would be the hottest temperature I had experienced thus far in all my journeys. I liked it, for it was dry and comforting.
This first waterfall was named correctly for the water flowing from it was crystal clear. It was a short, stubby, rocky cascade but pleasantly attractive despite its stature. I kicked off my shoes to get down into the clear swimming hole at the foot of the cascade. It was very cold, surprising so for such a hot day, but then not surprising considering the snow-covered volcanic peaks not far off. As I was taking pictures of the waterfall my toes grew numb. Then I decided to immerse my whole body into the water for a fraction of a second. It felt so refreshing. A family made its way down to the water, and I decided to leave it all to them.
I drove just a little way further to the trailhead for Whiskeytown Falls. This 1.7 mile one-way James K Carr Trail was a heavily wooded and shaded area, unexpectedly reminiscent of some of the Big South Fork trails in Tennessee. Whiskeytown Falls was a taller series of cascades. It was reported to be 220 feet tall, but I can confirm that only a portion of that footage was visible from the trail.
Before leaving Whiskeytown I stopped by East Beach. I had all intentions of relaxing on the beach, but it was crowded with both people and ducks, and the humans were blasting their ranchera music as they disregarded the serene qualities of nature. I decided to continue on.
I headed into downtown Redding specifically to see its modern Sundial Bridge. It was a sleek and pleasant spectacle with its enormous sundial reaching into the sky above the Sacramento River. I hadn’t been in an urban environment since Albuquerque, and so it felt strange. I drove around downtown Redding a bit, but nothing else caught my attention. I was excited at the time for the amenities of urbanization, and thus before I made my way back into the mountains to the KOA, I visited a rather large grocery store. I bought some Greek yogurt to have right away and some milk and cereal to enjoy at my cabin.
It was here in the KOA I finally made the decision to alter the remaining route of my adventure. The itinerary had me going to Yosemite. Although it would have been a fine destination, as I have been to Yosemite before, the California coast with its sand and beaches was calling my name. I wanted to reach the ocean. I could make this work. I knew I would lose money on my camping reservations at Yosemite, but I was willing to let that go. Given that cell phone service did not reach this KOA, I asked to borrow the phone in the campground office to call the KOA in Visilia. Success! They could reserve me a campsite. This would just be a stop on the road on my way to the Los Angeles area. I thought perhaps I could stay with my friend Ricky in Huntington Beach, just outside of LA, but I had no means of reaching him. I figured if I didn’t get a hold of him, or visiting so last minute didn’t work out, I could always camp up in the bluffs by Laguna Beach at Crystal Cove State Park. I had camped there two summers prior. The uncertainty and the veering off the itinerary were exciting. I had been on the road long enough now, and had worked through so many situations already, that I had grown accustomed to figuring things out as they arise and making my way around. I would make it work.
The kind people at the office in this Lassen KOA, after letting me borrow their phone, informed me they were getting ready to close their office, but they rang out a pack of laundry detergent for me, and guided me to their washing machines. “Just turn the lights off when you are done.” I love the friendly mom and pop nature of KOA campground (or “Kampground”) hosts.
As I waited for my laundry, I studied the maps. On my way tomorrow I could swing over by the outskirts of San Francisco and visit the John Muir National Historic Site- the once home of the famous man! I had intended to go there the summer before but accidently ended up at Muir Woods. Yes, I decided. I would pencil that in.
When I had all my clean clothes in hand, I made my way back to my camper cabin. This KOA was small and compact, but the owners took pride in it and paid attention to detail, and it was quaint, all nestled in the pine forest among volcanic peaks. In freshly laundered pajamas, I enjoyed a cup of cereal and milk. I turned off all the lights except the small reading lamp attached to the cabin wall behind the bed. I was warm and cozy. My tummy was happy and full of sugared grains. I had a full day and was excited for the final few days that remained of my summer adventure.
Read the previous entry “Attack of the Squirrels” here: Attack of the Squirrels – on the verge (joshthehodge.com)
Check out my book Canyonlands: my adventures in the national parks and the beautiful wild here: https://www.amazon.com/Canyonlands-adventures-National-Parks-beautiful/dp/1711397873