Travel Guide to California

Shasta Cascade

Explore the great outdoors with a mystical mountain, mud pots and more

by john flinn

Poets, artists, adventurers and New Age mystics are drawn inexorably to snow-capped Mount Shasta, which juts 14,179 feet into the Northern California sky. It is such an imposing presence that it creates its own weather—most notably the strange-looking lenticular clouds that form on its summit. Some people see in them a jaunty beret, others a UFO mother ship. Some believe the mountain to be a vortex for spiritual activity, and at least two religions have been founded on its flanks.

Mount Shasta is the focal point of one of California’s least-populated regions, a land of high-desert tumbleweeds, majestic rivers and craggy volcanoes. This is where the West Coast’s two major mountain ranges—the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades—run headlong into each other.

Just to the south of Shasta, Mount Lassen, the southernmost of the Cascade peaks, erupted in 1914-1917, spewing ash as far as 200 miles away. Today, pots of boiling mud and steam vents smelling of rotten eggs attest that this volcano is far from dormant.

To the west rise the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains, relatively unvisited gems that are popular venues for fly fishing and horseback trips. To the north, the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, which extends into southern Oregon, is part of the Pacific Flyway; in the fall its skies are darkened by more than a million migratory birds.

City & Town

For travelers, Redding was nothing more than a pit stop along Interstate 5 until the opening of the instantly iconic Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in 2004. On the lower flanks of its namesake peak, Mount Shasta City sports a main street lined with New Age bookstores and shops selling crystals said to have mystical powers. No less an authority than James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon, once claimed that the pretty alpine hamlet of Weaverville, gateway to the Trinity Alps, was the closest he’s ever come to a real-life Shangri-La.

insider's tip

While hiking on MOUNT SHASTA, keep an eye out for the LEMURIANS, a race of psychically advanced beings believed by some to live in an enormous cave inside the mountain. They are said to speak excellent English, with a “slight British accent.” lemurianconnection.com

The Great Outdoors

Mount Shasta is irresistible to climbers; in the spring, summit-seekers are strung out along its most popular routes like ants on an anthill. To get to the top you need an ice axe, crampons and the skill to use them safely. But on Mount Lassen, its neighbor to the south, a well-graded trail runs all the way to the 10,457-foot-high summit. World-class fly fishing abounds in the Trinity Alps, and those willing to walk a short distance with their rods are almost guaranteed a spot to themselves. On the Salmon River, between the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains, Otter Bar Lodge (otterbar.com) is one of the West’s premier whitewater kayaking schools.

Heritage & Culture

The Shasta Tribe of Native Americans, a band of hunters and fishermen who lived in cedar-plank houses with basements, once occupied much of what is now far-northern California and southern Oregon. Their population dropped rapidly as settlers seized land following the discovery of gold in Yreka and Upper Soda Springs in 1850. To the east, at what is now Lava Beds National Monument, the Modoc Tribe and the U.S. Army fought the last of the Indian wars in California in 1872-73. In the late 1880s, the Central Pacific Railroad spurred development of the timber and tourism industries. In the 1970s, New Age seekers began filtering into the area, culminating in 1987’s “Harmonic Convergence,” which identified Shasta as one of the world’s “power centers.”

Family Fun

The Sundial Bridge is the big draw, but for families the surrounding Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding offers a full day’s worth of activities emphasizing the Sacramento River watershed, and including a wildlife center, museum, playground, botanical garden and a recreated logging camp. turtlebay.org

5 Must See, Do

SUNDIAL BRIDGE Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s now-iconic cantilever pedestrian span across the Sacramento River is the centerpiece of the worthwhile Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. turtlebay.org/sundial-bridge

SUMMIT FEVER With the help of a local guide, fit beginners can reach the 14,179-foot-high summit of Mount Shasta via its classic Avalanche Gulch route. shastaguides.com swsmtns.com

OTHER-WORLDLY A visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park is packed with surprises. Who knew this geological marvel framed millennia ago offers hikers trails that lead past steaming fumaroles, and boiling mud pots where wildlife pops up unexpectedly—it is an underrated gem. Backcountry camping trips are possible for the adventurous soul. nps.gov/lavo/index.htm

MEN IN TIGHTS Stretching 11 miles from the southern Cascades to the Central Valley, Chico’s sylvan Bidwell Park stood in for Sherwood Forest in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood staring Errol Flynn. visitcalifornia.com/experience/bidwell-park

ROMANCE OF THE RAILS In Dunsmuir, a classic old railroad town, rail buffs can inspect a 1927 Willamette steam locomotive, dine in a vintage Pullman Club Car and bed down for the night in a genuine caboose at the Railroad Park Resort. rrpark.com



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