Southern Cascades with Mom

Last year, my mother asked me to go with her back to Rocky Mountain National Park, which we had loved when we drove across the country many years ago. We made the trip, but I wanted to show her that you don't have to leave California to see absolutely amazing mountains. Everyone knows about the Sierra, and Mom of course has been to Yosemite and Tahoe. But I also adore the less-visited Cascades, and wanted to show Mom the closer ones. She has seen the most well-known Cascade peak, Mt. Rainier, but had never seen the parts of California that are north of I-80 (which is approximately 1/3 of the state, and virtually absent of crowds and traffic).

All of our sightseeing was on or right near California 89. This unbelievable highway starts near Topaz Lake on US 395 on the Nevada border, comes up along the east side of Lake Tahoe, crosses I-80 near Truckee and the Donner Pass, runs through the Plumas National Forest, passes Lake Almanor to become part of the (highly recommended!) Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, then becomes the main road through Lassen Volcanic National Park, going up to 2,590 meters (8,500 feet) to pass Lassen Peak, and finally enters the Shasta National Forest, where it passes Burney Falls and the McCloud Waterfalls, before running into I-5 just south of my favorite mountain, the incredible Mt. Shasta. I haven't driven the whole thing, but someday I'd like to, because all of the parts I've seen have been spectacularly gorgeous. On this trip, we drove just the northwestern part of the road, picking it up from CA 36 east of Red Bluff, and taking it all the way back to I-5.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

On Saturday, we visited Lassen Volcanic National Park, where a volcano erupted in 1915 and continued to erupt for several years thereafter. Until Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, Lassen was the leading study site in the continental US for recovery from volcanic devastation.

Starting at the southern end of the park, we first visited a site called the Sulphur Works.

When Eric and I first visited Lassen in 2003, this site was still blowing off a great deal of volcanic steam. Even on our 2008 trip, the amount of steam was still substantial. It's astonishing to me how little steam there is here now.

The mudpots in the area are still dramatically boiling, however.

More dramatic views in the Sulphur Works area. The first time Eric and I came to Lassen, in late July, there was snow on most of the ground, most of the lakes still had ice on top, and it was raining heavily. This time, in early August, it was sunny and hot.

A little bit further up the road is the trailhead for Lassen Peak. Eric and I climbed the mountain in 2008, and much of the trail had been covered in snow. This year, it's dry as a bone.

Lassen is one of the most (if not the most) accessible peaks in the Cascades. The road goes up to around 2,590 meters (8,500 feet), and the mountain (since it blew its top off nearly 100 years ago), is only about 3,050 meters (10,500 feet) tall. While the hike to the peak is still steep and challenging, it is not a technical climb. And you can get up to a high elevation without even getting out of your car.

We stopped to look at Summit Lake.

I had brought the Weeble (our canoe) so we could paddle around Manzanita Lake. It was lots of fun getting the boat out there, but I didn't bring the camera out on the lake. While unloading the car, however, I spotted this great bee.

It was around this point that I started having trouble with the camera. It would take a few tries to get a picture. Sometimes, the camera would display a message saying only "Error 99" rather than writing to the CF card. I tried swapping out the CF card, and, when that didn't work, the battery, but I still kept seeing "Error 99." After canoeing, we drove into the small City of Burney, on CA 299, and I texted Eric to see if he could figure out what "Error 99" was. (I could not get an internet connection on my phone out there in the hills.) He told me to try reseating the lens, which allowed me to take a picture of the hotel room but nothing further. Once Eric actually looked "Error 99" up, he told me to take out the battery and the CF card at the same time and leave the camera off without them in it for ten minutes. This did not solve the problem. The camera needs to go to Canon for service, and it will be two to three weeks before we even know how much it will cost to repair it. In the meantime, though, I would not have it for the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately, I had also loaned my backup pocket camera to Eric for the weekend, as we had ordered him a new one, but its shipment had been delayed. So, NO CAMERA.

Choices are limited in Burney, which is a very small place. We had some unremarkable Chinese food for dinner and stayed at the Shasta Pines Motel. The motel room was nice and large, with a real bathtub, and the place had great wi-fi. The owner told me that they cable it up from Sacramento. Everyone everywhere we went in Burney was exceptionally friendly, quite a different experience from the city. The one problem was that our next door neighbor came home in the middle of the night and passed out drunk with the TV on loudly. I was able to sleep through it until the sun came up, but then I just couldn't sleep and had to call the motel owner. He later told me he had just gone into the room and turned off the TV, and the sleeping man did not even notice.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

On Sunday, we first went to Burney Falls, one of the largest falls in California. This has always been a favorite place of mine, and Mom said she liked it even better than Lassen. I find Lassen more unusual and dramatic, but I also am a waterfall freak, so I love Burney Falls, too.

I was surprised to find that I could take a reasonably decent picture of the falls using only my Android.

It's a little bit difficult to zoom with the phone, but with time I managed it.

Mom at Burney Falls. Since the Android does not have a flash, I couldn't really capture both Mom and the falls in the same photo.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation had a promotion going on to clean up the park. If you took a garbage bag down to the falls and brought it back full of garbage, you would get a bunch of stickers. This was, of course, a program for children, but Mom is a teacher and asked if adults could do it, too. We took a bag down.

This sounds like a fabulous park clean-up plan, but the downside of it is that, if you are looking at the trail for garbage, you don't see as much of the lovely scenery, and you certainly don't see any birds. I did see a lot of cigarette butts. At one point, Mom spotted something under a rock. Honestly, she's such a good spotter that she should be a geocacher. I started to pull the thing out (fortunately wearing latex gloves provided by the park service), and it turned out to be a poopy diaper. Can you imagine someone just sticking a poopy diaper under a rock? It was gross, and the bag of garbage really smelled bad after that. The park ranger gave us the whole strip of stickers for our poopy diaper trouble.

It was still relatively early in the afternoon, and the ranger recommended that we spend the rest of our day looking at other waterfalls on the McCloud River. I had never been to that area before, so this was a new adventure for me, too.

McCloud Waterfalls

The McCloud River runs through the Shasta National Forest. On the way to the McCloud Waterfalls, we had fabulous views of Mt. Shasta's amazing peaks. The McCloud River has three beautiful waterfalls. While this area is only about 27 km (17 mi) from I-5, it feels incredibly remote and peaceful. I am also told that, since it is Forest Service territory rather than a state or national park, you can bring your dog camping.

The three McCloud Waterfalls are known creatively as the Upper Falls, the Middle Falls and the Lower Falls. Mom and I did the relatively short walk from the Middle Falls to the Upper Falls, but we drove to the Lower Falls.

The Middle Falls, with one of my favorite high-elevation plants, manzanita, in the foreground.

The views of the Upper Falls from the trail were quite dramatic.

The McCloud River rushing toward the Upper Falls. It takes time to frame a picture like this with a lousy phone camera, and while I was working on it, I was stung twice by a ridiculously aggressive wasp. Ow!

The lovely Lower Falls and the cool pool below it.

I really wanted to get into that pool, but access to it involved either jumping off of those rocks to the left side of the picture (which I was not about to do), or crossing the river and climbing down the steep other side. I tried crossing the river, but found the current too strong. So, I just wallowed in the shallow depths of the rapids above the falls. Since it was so hot, the cold water felt positively lovely. I met some tourists from Melbourne, Australia (after having met some Japanese tourists on the trail). I was very surprised that people from other continents would be able to find this place, while I have lived in California for almost two decades and had never visited it before.

Well, at last it was time to leave this lovely area and say goodbye once again to the Cascades. We had dinner at the very reasonable and tasty Black Bear Diner in Willows. The Black Bear Diner used to have just a few locations in the southern Cascades, but now there are 53 of them, into Oregon and Utah! We were making great time getting back to the Bay Area until we got back to I-80, where we came upon a motorcycle fatality and spent an hour going 2.5 miles. I should have turned off onto I-680 and come up through Oakland. I had to make up the lost sleep on my lunch hour the next day.

Other than the motorcycle fatality, the neighbor's TV, and the wasp, it was an awesome trip, and I can't wait to get back to the Cascades again! I was glad to have given Mom a chance to see this lovely place.

Last updated: 08/07/2012 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman