Wednesday May 20: After breakfast at the guest house north of Sacramento, we say good-bye to our generous and gracious hostess, who urges us to take any food from the fridge or cupboards that we can use. Our coolers are packed to the hilt as well as a grocery bag of goodies! Then we are on our way north, but rather than camping in the Sierras as planned, we decide on a route that will take us more directly back to Idaho, not as the crow flies, but according to the easiest road to travel with the Pony (our pop-up tent trailer).
We travel I-5 north to Redding, the scenery ever-changing around us. At Redding, we take highway 299 with our destination being a BLM campground along the Pit River near the town of Fall River Mills. The road is narrow, winding, and it is raining, so our travel is slower on this stretch of road. The landscape is still very scenic, but the lushness of the coastal area is being left behind.
We arrive at the Pit River campground in the early evening and are surprised to find only two sites still available (this is only Wednesday, after all), one by the gate and one by the toilet. It is a no-brainer that we choose the one by the gate. I was somewhat close-minded toward being here because of the big hydroelectric plant that we passed on the way into the campground, and this is definitely not the Sierras or Mount Lassen, nor is it right on the river. But as we settle in, I see that, although the spot is small and we can’t get far off the road, it is still a nice site with a great spreading oak tree on our front side, a tall ponderosa right behind the Pony, and shrubs all around for privacy. Many trees live here, and the Pit River and a lovely lagoon can be seen from the day use area.
We walk down to the river before we finish setting up, as we want to take a look before it gets too dark. I learn from the information kiosk that the Pit River, named for the pits dug along its bank by the Ajumawi tribe, is the largest river system in northeastern California, with a watershed of over 4,000 square miles.
Soon after we finish setting up, it begins to rain again – glad we didn’t have to set up in the rain; the timing was perfect.
Thursday May 21: There is a little mist in the early morning, but it dissipates before I get to the river. As I take photos of the lagoon and the rapids that span the river, I keep a watchful eye for the otters that I’ve been told live here, but see no sign of them.
After breakfast we drive to the Vista Point to look down on the Winter’s Road and the bridge over the Pit River. This toll road and the bridge were built in 1871 to bring tourists to the area and purchased in 1872 by Captain William Henry Winter, the founder of Fall River Mills. Later the road was purchased by the county and the toll was dropped; the road and bridge were abandoned in the mid-1950’s. The bridge has been washed out and rebuilt several times and the portion of the road that we can see is mostly covered with landslides. However, it was very popular in its day, being very scenic with the great waterfall just above the bridge and the surrounding craggy bluffs.
We decide to go on to Fall River Mills, just a few miles beyond the Vista Point. We need to find access to the internet and get water, since there is neither at the campground. By chance, we discover the Fort Crook Museum. The original fort, established in 1857 to protect travelers on the Shasta-Yreka Road, was named after General George Crook, who was both a fighter of and an advocate for the Plains Indians. This is an exceptionally well-developed museum detailing the history of the area. We spend quite a long time looking through the buildings and all the authentic décor, clothing, tools, and so on.