West Coast Report Eight: Wednesday

Let's twist again, like we did last summer . . .

Mount Shasta

We first saw Mount Shasta as we crested the mountain pass north of Yreka. (I have no idea how the natives pronounce that word; but surely they didn't mean for it to match the coastal city of Eureka. I settle for "why, Reeka!" myself.) What a magnificent view those valley dwellers seem to have. Shasta is nearly as impressive as Rainier (no Seattle pride here; after all, Rainier's a good 300 feet, a full football field, taller). We stopped at the scenic overlook and, despite a little haze, the mountain appeared clear and overwhelming. I looked over the fields (this was a bit north of the city still), somewhat hoping to spy some wildlife, and noted how the houses were all built to catch a full view of the mountain. I felt a bit sorry for the folks whose land lay behind an intervening hill. Hopefully their property values (and therefore taxes) were appropriately lower.

Since no wildlife was visible and since the day was advancing, we headed south. Then we got to Yreka, and for no obvious reason at all the whole city was built on the wrong side of a small hill. Sure, the water may have been more plentiful, and the trade routes more logical, but the whole city is just not able to see Mount Shasta at all. The very southern approaches to the city can get a glimpse of the top of Shasta, but even that view is now somewhat blocked by the interstate we were driving on.

As we passed Weed (was the name chosen to discourage settlement?), Shasta was even more magnificent. One can get a lot closer to it on a major road than to Rainier further north. However, being so much shorter (that all-important football field) and maybe because it's further south, it is not snow-capped at all. More like snow-streaked. Even the folks in Redding (further south, at the north end of the Sacramento Valley) who painted a mural on their store wall only put white splotches on the brown mountain. Artistic license would have permitted at least a small snow hat.

As we approached Redding, we passed mountain after forest-covered mountain, all draped in evergreen trees. I don't know if the puffy-tipped branches are on Ponderosa pines, nor if the tall, dark trees are Douglas firs, nor which, if any, were actually redwoods, but there was quite the superfluity of conifer-ness everywhere. Oh, once in a while you could see a stand of deciduous trees (what word does that remind me of so that I always think that trees that lose their leaves sound like they're chewing?), but it was always just a token representation among the needle-node pilers.

Redding, I assume, owes its large size (about a hundred thousand people in the area) to its forestry business, and the business is obviously centered upon conifers (evergreens with cones). So it was a surprise to find palm trees in Redding! I'm pretty sure they were deliberately introduced (nearly all of them just happened to spring up by motels), but they are obviously doing okay despite the nearby presence of totally inhospitable mountains.

To the Redwoods

Once we'd seen the palms, we headed back across the Coast Ranges to see the redwoods again.

Did you ever see a highway
Go this way and that way?
Did you ever see a highway
Go this way and that?

A right curve, then a left curve,
A right curve, then a left curve.
Did you ever see a highway
Go this way and that?

We traveled 300-plus miles to go 134 miles today. I took over driving when we got near French Gulch. (Okay, so it's not as big as Redding, but it's where one of Kathy's friends used to live.) I didn't particularly mind the up and down or the side-to-side, though it did mess up my speed estimates. The rock slides were well-marked and the road crews were already working on a couple of questionable piles of mountain along the slide areas, but somebody needs to help Humboldt County afford some yellow paint.

As we reached one typical twisty-turny-uppy-downy section of road, the middle line disappeared. No stripes, no solid lines, no little reflectors built into the middle of the road to catch your headlights and tires, no anything useful. Just realize that your half of the road probably isn't as far over as you'd like and pray (really) that the person coming around the corner hasn't take his half out of your side as well. Of course, the folks coming the other way were closer to the ascending mountain, so they were at least more likely to hug their road edge. I was the one they were probably praying would remember to stay at the outer edge.

After about four miles of that (and it took about fifteen minutes, since this driver didn't want to meet someone else at too great a speed) they either put back the stripes or at least put down large yellow Post-It Notes where the stripe ought to be. (I doubt that 3M supplied the Notes, but that's what they looked like, stuck to the asphalt and waving in the wind as we drove by.)

By the time we reached the coast, we were too late to enjoy the redwoods in their true colors and glories. So we've stopped off in Fortuna (south of Eureka) and will head south in the morning.

Special Sights

Buffalo. Pipes down a mountain. Red dirt peeking out between tree roots and undergrowth. Dragon. Shasta Lake (apparently artificial?) with the water line at least 20 feet below the normal shoreline. To really impress us about the danger of speeding around corners, a large lighted sign (like the ones that say "road work 10 pm to 5 am") that actually showed a truck tipping over rather than relying on a tipping-truck picture. Bear crossing signs. Gazelle.

Okay. The buffalo are here in Fortuna, about a mile up along the river. The huge pipes near French Gulch look like those that carry water away from road beds (we passed a couple smaller ones ourselves today), but there didn't appear to be a road up there. I wonder if they were actually part of a water system, since they could as easily be said to lead up from Whiskeytown Lake as to lead down the mountain. The dragon was a metal sculpture just north of Yreka (with a nice view of the mountain); it was complemented by an oversized cow at the south approach to the city (still with a good mountain view). I imagine the water level was low because the trees ended abruptly above bare reddish-brown slopes that dropped into the blue lake. The animated tipping-truck sign was neat, and very effective; for the rest of the trip, I was taking the "slow traffic turnouts" to allow others to pass me. (That amounted to about eight vehicles; I wasn't all THAT slow!) The area probably has had quite a few bear in the past; plenty of place names mention them. Like the tsunami names along the coast, there are places that like to point out how dangerous and fearless they are because of their willingness to be called "grizzly." (And one sign suggested you buy your next home from Richter Scale Realty.)

And the Gazelle we saw was a small town.

Next day