Monday May 25: We are up early to finish packing, as today we are leaving the Pit River Campground in northeastern California on our journey back to Idaho. We have a quick breakfast of yogurt topped with applesauce, and as we are getting ready to go, we hear the couple, who came in late yesterday, shouting at each other and babies crying. Someone calls the sheriff. How sad that people live in such unhappiness; it is very unsettling to me. Not a good way to end such a lovely peaceful stay as we have had here.
We are soon on our way, heading north on highway 299, with beautiful cumulus clouds billowing above us. Past Fall River Mills the valley opens up; lots of ponderosa and some ranch land, then back into sage brush land.
When we arrive at Goose Lake, which straddles the California-Oregon border and appears on the map to be a body of water stretching for 20 miles, there is virtually no lake left. The drought has made it impossible for this lake to be replenished. Dry steep barren hills and sagebrush dominate the landscape along with the mud flat that was once a lake bottom.
We had planned to spend the night at Goose Lake State Park, but it is still early afternoon and seeing the condition of the area, we decide to push on. It is a bit of a long haul to our next destination, but Clifford is up for it. The road, although narrow, is straight and flat with not much traffic, so we make good time. Leaving Lakeview, the town north of Goose Lake where we stop for gas, the landscape reminds me of the country south of Lamy, New Mexico, where we used to live: rugged with sage, juniper, and small pines.
Arthur Lake, which on the map is much smaller than Goose Lake, is a sizable body of water set in a most barren landscape of flat land to the west and rock-strewn mesas along the highway to the east of us.
Once past Arthur Lake, the mesas open up to miles and miles of sagebrush, nothing but sagebrush.
We are happy to finally arrive at the town of Riley, where we turn at the junction toward the BLM Chickahominy Campground just a few miles to the west.
We drive through the campground, grateful to be here, looking for a site out the wind. We end up picking a site, designated by nothing more than a rugged plank picnic table, alongside the reservoir. It is windy everywhere, so we might as well go for pretty. The landscape here has its own unique beauty with a mix of black lava rock, obsidian, and sagebrush. The reservoir is lower than normal, but it still has water and here we have the best views. Later the wind dies down and it is quite pleasant. Even though we are doing a modified set-up, the tub of pots and pans is accessible and I cook a real meal to nourish our weary bodies.
Before heading to bed, I take photos of the lovely sunset colors reflecting off the water and write in my journal. Clifford, worn out from the day’s driving, is in bed before I am, which doesn’t happen very often. Looking out at the reflections on the water, I am glad for the stillness at the close of this day.
Friday May 22: I begin my day at the Pit River campground by doing a few yoga stretches under the great limbs of the oak tree at our campsite.
After breakfast I make a cup of coffee, grab my journal, and head over to the day use area. It is more private there and the picnic tables offer a view of either the river or the lagoon, depending on which table I choose. I write several post cards to family and friends before I write in my journal. So peaceful sitting here, writing and listening to the sounds of the river and the birds.
Journal and coffee by the lagoon
In the afternoon we make a trip to Fall River Mills to the post office to pick up a package sent to us with stuff we left at our friends’ guest house: Clifford’s hotspot, which we need, and our coats left in a closet. Thanks, Kate! Back at camp, Clifford naps while I write and take photos. Rain comes in the afternoon – very welcome in the drought-stricken northwest.
We walk down to the river in the early evening, talking about this and that until the sun goes down. Back at camp, we watch a big cumulus cloud grow and move slowly away, to be replaced by a handsome sunset.
Saturday May 23: I am up at 7:00 a.m. and greeted by mist hanging in the trees around the campsite. I hustle on over to the lagoon for photos before the mist fades away. Even though I never once got a photo of mist while in the redwoods or visiting the ocean on this trip, here in the dry northeastern corner of California we have another misty morning. Go figure!
Today, after breakfast, we go to Burney, a town about 15 miles to the west. We need gas, propane, and water. We also want to get caught up with email, so find a little city park where we can hang out using Clifford’s hotspot. Although email works, I can’t upload photos to wordpress and waste a lot of time trying. Clifford gets some of his things done while we are here, but it isn’t that much fun or productive for me. I will have good internet eventually, but I don’t like wasting my precious time.
After dinner I head down to the river and the lagoon before the warm light fades. Clifford was going to go with me, but he is dallying, so I go on by myself. Upon returning to camp, he still wants to go, so we return together, too late for photos, but lovely in the dusk light and nice to have a short outing together. At the camp, every site is over- flowing with cars and people for the Memorial weekend. Not far from us a group plays guitars and sings a lot – nice to see families and friends getting together to do that.
Sunday May 24: We are staying at Pit River another day since it may be hard to find a place to camp if we leave today, being Memorial weekend. I spend much of the day organizing and packing, which takes longer than usual since food, utensils, and clothing need to be available for three one-night stops between here and Lee’s Creek in western Montana, where we will be staying longer. For the one night stops, we don’t open the Pony (our pop-up tent trailer) all the way or unpack the tubs that are closely packed on the floor space for traveling. It is not very convenient, but takes a lot less time to set up and take down, since mostly we just need a place to sleep and a couple of meals at each stop.
I make my usual trips to visit the lagoon and the Pit River while Clifford studies all day.
In the evening I make a campfire, the only one during our stay here. This has been a good spot for us with the river and the lagoon, trees, shrubs, and flowers, the sky with great clouds, mist, and rain. An oasis of lovely beauty, nourishing for the soul.
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.
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.
Back at camp I write a blog about our stay in Ashland and pick photos for the blog that will come after that. As I sit at the table, my cell phone rings, which surprises me, as we didn’t seem to have cell service here. As soon as I answer, the connection is lost. I try texting and it works, and that is how we discover the “Pony Vortex:” one spot on the table where, if the phone is held upright, a good connection can be made. This is awkward, since moving the phone up or sideways results in the connection being lost. I don’t use it much, but Clifford has a data package on his phone (his inexpensive android that pretends to be a smart-phone) and he makes good use of it.
The early evening light looks especially inviting, so I hustle on over to the day use area and am rewarded by very pretty light on the trees, the river, and the lagoon. I hang out there until the light fades; what a great way to end the day a very full and fun day!