Sunday, July 05, 2009

Illustrated History of the Father/Son Camping Trip

Last week, I took my son on an adventure to, among other places, my childhood hometown. We visited some of my old haunts and camped in the mountains overlooking the canyon in which the town is located. Let's get this trip started! As always, remember that you can click on the photos for MUCH better detail.

I know: choices, choices. No, that's not me, but I went to the college that is referred to in the sign. After almost four hours of driving north from Sacramento, I stopped at my Junior College alma mater, College of the Siskiyous. I figured it would be a perfect place to get out and let my almost 5 year-old son burn off some energy, because our destination was still two more hours away. College of the Siskiyous (more commonly referred to up there as C.o.S.) is located in a small town called Weed, California, which is located along the slopes of Mount Shasta on Interstate 5. It used to be that if you took a certain exit off I5 in Weed, this sign awaited you at the bottom. It was no big deal until the Internet came along, and photos of the sign went viral. Some bureaucrat must have taken notice, because the sign at the bottom of the exit now says Central Weed/College of the Siskiyous along with their respective arrows. By the way, the town is named after a man named Abner Weed, who located a lumber mill there because almost constant winds in that area dried out freshly cut lumber faster than surrounding locales.

What better place to have my son get out of the car than at one of the prettiest track and field/football stadiums you will ever see? I ran track and cross country at College of the Siskiyous, and I spent many an hour running in that beautiful setting, including when there was snow all over the track or when the fog was so thick you couldn't see the finish line from the top of the straighway. I ran several important races on that track in high school as well, since it is only one of two all-weather tracks in the entire county. Look at the deciduous trees mixed in with the evergreens overlooking the stadium, and imagine the sight during the fall when those deciduous trees turn colors. When I went to football games while attending CoS, I would often forget about the game and just study the trees.

And he's off! I have watched my son run quite a bit, and I have to say, he can run his butt off for only being five. He lifts his knees and pumps his arms very efficiently, and I have never even taught him how; he just does it.

Ah, the solitude of the track. I will try not to push them into the sport, but I truly hope both my kids give track and field a try. It's the best!

After leaving Weed and CoS behind, we continued along I5 for another half-hour to a town called Yreka. At Yreka, you leave I5 behind and begin traveling west along a winding two lane highway called State Route 96 for about 70 miles. When we were within about 15 miles of our destination, I saw two helicopters hovering in the canyon way in the distance. As we got closer, I started to smell smoke, and then we rounded the bend to see a fire in the hills above the highway. The fire started right along the highway (cigarette tossed from a car perhaps?) and the fire climbed the hill from there. A pilot car had to guide traffic through the area, as there were firefighters parked all along the highway.

And then we arrived! No, that sign is not a joke; that is the name of the town in which I grew up. It is an old gold mining town that was founded in 1851. It was originally named Murderers Bar, so I guess things could have been worse. The story goes that one day in 1851, a bunch of gold miners struck it rich, so that night in their camp, they partied hard and the camp was very happy, hence....

Growing up there could feel rather isolating at times, being so small and off the beaten path, but I wouldn't trade my experiences of growing up there for anything in the world. This is the kind of little mountain town to which people flock while on vacation, and I lived there! Every day was a vacation.

After obtaining a campfire permit at the local ranger station and additional provisions at the local grocery store, I took my son to my favorite swimming hole, which is located at Clear Creek, about 10 miles downriver. As a kid and as a young man, I spent countless hours at this most holy of recreational places, swimming, snorkeling, jumping off rocks, socializing with friends, and yeah, drinking beer. My son loved this place just as much as I thought he would.

With a little coaxing, I got my son to swim to the other side where the jumping rock is located. The swimming hole varies between about 10 and 15 feet deep, and there is a fallen tree on the bottom that has been there for decades that you can actually swim under. God made that jumping rock as if it had been designed to be one. There are places to jump from varying heights into varying depths.

As you can see, the swimming hole extends for quite a ways. The bridge is State Route 96, which shows you the convenient access to the Clear Creek swimming hole. I have watched quite a few people jump off that bridge into the water below, including my own brother. I even watched one person dive off. Jumping off the Clear Creek bridge was some kind of local badge of courage. It seemed like we all knew who and who has not jumped off that bridge. At the moment however, my son is not too interested in the bridge. So many rocks to throw and so little time.

My son and I eventually relocated from the upper swimming hole to the one right below the bridge. There are always those neat little rapids that divide the upper hole from the lower one. My son was sitting there tooling around, when he said in a somewhat panicked tone, "Daddy, there's a little lobster by that rock!" Mmmmm, crawdads are good eatin'.

As we hiked up back toward the car, I couldn't resist capturing this perfect example of why it is called Clear Creek.

We drove back upriver, through town, and up Indian Creek Road to a turnoff at Doolittle Creek. There is an old logging road that goes into the Doolittle canyon for miles. The logging road splits at one point, and if you take the fork that travels up the mountain, you arrive at a bend in the road with a practically unobstructed view of the Indian Creek canyon below, with a mountain called Slater Butte which dominates the horizon:

After parking the car, we set up camp. It was dinner time when we arrived, so I quickly got a fire going, pulled out our gear, and set up some grub. While my son was sitting at the table eating, I walked up the road a few paces and captured our campsite. Not surprisingly, not a single car passed by us on this road the entire time we were parked there.

Whoa there Kiddo! Find a smaller piece of wood if you please! If you like to go camping, I highly suggest you blow $3 on a mosquito head net. We only needed them for about an hour as dusk turned to night, but it would have been a very harsh hour without them.

As a concession to this young boy, who, for the first time would be sleeping in some pretty creepy and isolated woods for the night, we slept in the back of the CR-V you see parked behind him. I collapsed the seats and laid out some blankets above and below us. My 6'2" frame didn't exactly fit very well, but he felt safe in the car from all the bears and mountain lions that he was sure were hiding behind every tree.

The next morning, we woke up and ate some breakfast and then drove back down the hill to do some more sight-seeing. We would be leaving around noon to make a three-hour drive to my parents' place, so time was at a premium.

A big highlight of the morning was hiking up the Town Trail. You park at the trailhead, and then begin an ascent up a zig-zagging trail that takes you to a special view at the end. The trail gives one a perfect overview of the flora of the Siskiyou Mountains. These woods are not like the dry coniferous forest where my parents live, which is dominated by pine and manzanita. These mountains are a mixture of fir, pine, oak, madrone, dogwood, and lots and lots of poison oak. I have been in many different forests, and the forests in these parts are easily the spookiest I have ever encountered. It is partly due to its isolation, but there is something more. Perhaps the denseness of the forest has something to do with it, or maybe it is stories of Bigfoot that are so famous in the area. Whatever it is, I have had long conversations about it with my mother, who feels the same way I do about these woods. We are at once fascinated and intimidated. I know it sounds cliched, but you always feel like you are being watched.

As my mother once said when she tried to put the mysteriousness of these woods into words, these woods seem to hold the answers to that which we do not know the questions.

And then we reached the end of the Town Trail. Now the name makes sense doesn't it?

It occurred to me that I hadn't been in a single photo so far, so I handed the camera over to my son. Not bad, Kiddo! Yes folks, I grew up in that little town behind me.

Then it was back down the mountain to the car. It was approaching lunch time by that point, and it was time to start heading out of town. But we had one more stop to make. A few miles outside town, just off the highway up a short dirt road, there is a primitive shooting range. I had brought along my 9mm pistol, SKS, and a .22 long rifle with me, so it was time to start teaching the boy how to shoot. Ooooh, did you squishy anti-gun statists just gasp in horror? I know you did, because I can hear you. Believe it or not, teaching little boys to shoot at this age used to be quite common; it still is in these parts. Not to mention, do you think I am going to take my son deep into the spookiest woods I know without a way to defend the both of us? Well, if you are still squishy about it, then behold:

I helped him hold the .22 steady and aim, but he had the stock in his shoulder and he pulled the trigger himself. It was great, and you couldn't wipe the smile off his face. We had eaten lunch at the range before we started shooting, so after I packed everything back up, we were on our way to my parents. As we began driving, my son began to tear up and began whimpering. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me, "I miss this place already." That's my boy.

We got from SR-96 back onto I5 and began heading south. Just south of Yreka, I snapped a quick photo of a hay barn with an illustration of a strong sentiment up in those parts. The state of Jefferson is a dream of forming a new state out of northern California and southern Oregon. Both of those regions feel marginalized and neglected by the major population centers and government officials of their respective states, and very rightly so! The population centers and capital city of Oregon are in that state's north, and the population centers and capital city of California are in that state's south. As I drove around Siskiyou County, I saw signs and seals referencing the state of Jefferson in front of businesses, in front of peoples' homes, and as always, this cool hay barn. The dream of forming a state of Jefferson was actually gaining steam in November and early December of 1941, but then the U.S. became involved in world events that put the dream way on the back burner. If the state of Jefferson intrigues you, go here.

My wife and I had prearranged that she would leave Sacramento with my daughter and meet my son and me at my parents' place near a small town in northeastern California called Burney. We all ended up getting to my parents' house within 15 minutes of each other. We stayed at my parents for three days, and as nearly always, my kids wanted to visit the Subway Caves lava tube near Mount Lassen, which is an active volcano in those parts. I have to admit, I never try to talk the kids out of going. I think it's fascinating.

On the way back from Subway Caves, we stopped at a campground along Hat Creek. This is not just my opinion, but Hat Creek is considered by fishermen to be one of the best fly fishing creeks in the United States. It's also drop-dead gorgeous. The kids and Grandma seem to agree.

My son takes in Hat Creek. Don't fall in; even in late June, the water is just a couple degrees above freezing. That is pure snow melt off the slopes of 10,000+ foot Mount Lassen.

I don't know what that flower is called, but I sure thought it was pretty.

Here is a closer look.

A big ant caught my son's attention.

Of course, his little sister wants to help in the investigation. When she gets older, my daughter will also be camping in the woods with me. I can't wait to see her swim in Clear Creek!

I will leave you with a little piece of advice. When taking in the beauty of the forest, as you look around you, take the time to look up as well.

Good Day to You, Sir


gbradley said...

Nice Trip report.
The swimming hole reminds me of one that I will taking my middle son to a week from Friday.
It's next to the Oregon Creek covered bridge north of Grass Valley.

Anonymous said...

You don't visit Happy Camp, you experience it, and no matter how long it has been since you lived there, you are always a resident.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking me back down memory lane!! Brought back alot of great memories.... ;-)

Law and Order Teacher said...

That was really interesting as a product of 1950s suburbia (think Levittown) I only saw places like this as a tourist. Beautiful.

g jenner said...

Hi there! As a resident of the State of Jefferson, just had to stop by and say, nice travelogue.

Also, you might want to check out 2 books I co-authored on the State of Jefferson:
Also a 3rd regional book on WESTERN SISKIYOU COUNTY: GOLD & DREAMS, that has a lot of Happy Camp and regional history. And I have a SOJ blog, too:
as well as another blog:

Come and visit!! Or check out:

I've lived here for almost 40 years now -- married to a fourth generation cattle rancher. I'm also a teacher and have had many kids attend COS. My nephew also went there, then went on to Chapman. He thoroughly enjoyed his tenure at COS, esp. the winters and the chill on campus

I'm a CSU Chico alum, as is my husband and 2 of our 3 kids....

Here's to the State of Jefferson!

yvonne said...

flower = tiger lily

I never knew about the Town Trail. That's cool.

Darren said...

Awesome pictures.

I told you I bought a 13' fiberglass trailer, didn't I? Can tow it behind the Camry!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report Chanman--that was a gorgeous photolog of the area and your trip. It is awesome that your son got to shoot--makes me think that Ian might need to take that up in a year or two--he would LOVE it. We'll have to put that area on our camping list--I want to check out that creepy forest. Thanks again for sharing.