Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Roaming Near Redding - 2

Saturday, 4th of July

We got an early start on Saturday morning. We drove to the Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, a vast grasslands region that was the ancestral homeland of Pit River Indians who have lived in the area for thousands of years. We walked along the banks of clear sloughs, wishing that we had kayaks to explore further. Off to the north we could see the flanks of Mount Shasta looming in the distance.

This was a day for roaming. Only a few miles away is the tiny town of Cassel, home of Packway Building Materials. Business there during the snowy winter months is slow, so the owners entertain themselves in their spare time making giant welded metal scuptures.The cast of colorful characters on Cassel Road includes a dinosaur, dachshund, goose, fish, snowman, penguin, skier, ant, chicken hawk and rock man. The first one they built was a 40 foot long,16 foot tall, five ton big blue dinosaur, based on the Packway Materials logo. Its body is a Readymix drum and part of another one. Chutes from a concrete mixer were for its neck. Its head is a gasoline tank and the tail is part of a sawdust collection system from a sawmill. The most intimidating sculpture however, is the giant ant.

From there we traveled on to the spectacular McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. The park's centerpiece is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, but possibly the most beautiful. Teddy Roosevelt once described Burney Falls as the "eighth wonder of the world". As we descended the short walk down to the bottom of the falls we noted that every few feet lower, the air temperature dropped another degree or two, and by the time we reached the base of the falls the temperature had dropped from over 90 to a cool 65 degrees!

We found another cool escape from the day's heat when we made a stop to get out a flashlight and explore Subway Cave, an old lava tube formed when hot molten lava cooled and solidified on the surface, but kept flowing beneath the ragged crust. As the flow diminished the still liquid lava drained away, leaving an empty rock tube that with a little exercise of imagination could remind you of a subway.

We reached Mount Lassen in the early afternoon, and drove the circuitous road around the mountain that climbs to about 8,000 feet. The three of us left the pickup truck in the parking lot at the base of the trail that leads to the summit, and walking slowly to accommodate to the thinner air, started climbing the dusty gray pumice rock path, pausing every few minutes to catch our breath. Jane stopped to sit on a rock and enjoy the view at about 9,000 feet, and Bruce and I continued higher.

Another hour's climb brought us, still a thousand feet below the summit, to a 45 degree slope with a patch of very icy snow a hundred yards wide. A narrow ledge had been hacked out of the snow, and people had managed to inch their way across this treacherous stretch, but the day before two people had lost their footing and gone spinning and sliding down the steep incline for 1,500 feet down the mountain. One had escaped with serious cuts and scrapes, but the second had hit his head on a rock, and had to be carried out on a stretcher several miles to a spot where he could be airlifted to a hospital by helicopter. We weighed the risk against the goal, and decided not to try to reach the summit. We jogged most of the way back down, reaching the bottom in less than half the time it had taken to climb to the 10,500 foot level.

By the time we had driven back to Redding we were all pretty tired. About the time we were seriously thinking about sleeping, we heard deep thumps and distant explosions. Climbing to the upper balcony of the motel, we were able to watch a wonderful fireworks display. A perfect end to an adventure-filled Independence Day!

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