The first leg of the rock hunting expedition into the Warner Mountains began with two days at the ski lodge in Truckee. The lodge began as a small family group effort in the late 50s. After a shaky start the lodge grew with the original families, eventually taking on outside members. Today the ski lodge is a vibrant, up- to- date facility open to those who live in Sonoma County. There is an annual work party requirement which began the weekend of my vacation. Work party weekends are one of my favorite things to do, you spend time with members without the pressure of getting out early with all your ski equipment in time to catch the opening gun at the north Tahoe ski resorts.
Sunday afternoon, about halfway through the six-hour drive to the wilds of the Modoc National Forest, after the north end of Honey Lake, soft ‘plops’ began to pepper my windshield. Not the hard snap of grasshoppers or the clunk of butterflies but an altogether different sound. Taking my eyes off the road I saw the shattered bodies of winged caterpillars, slowly crossing the highway of death. They continued to sacrifice themselves on the leading edges of the truck in hopes of making the way safe for their queen, or so I imagined. Hours later they were unceremoniously scraped off and buried in the gas station trash can without regard to rank or status among their hive. Alturus is the last outpost of any size as the 395 Rd. arrows north for the Oregon border. Thirty-eight miles north and a brief stop in the bustling community of Davis Creek, population of 420 with a combination store, post office, license and permit sales, stands the wonderful Miss Maisie who runs the store and is the post master, the unofficial mayor and center of social life for Davis Creek. Here is where you pick up a permit to take one hundred pounds of prime Modoc obsidian.
Twenty-two miles on the turnoff, the Lassen Creek campground jumps up. I drove by the camp for the first time. After six miles of rough, dusty, washboard forest road, the bridge to the campground appeared. This was late Sunday and only one camper was there and they were setting up to leave. I picked one of the most beautiful camps I have ever had in a lifetime of camping. Nestled under a grove of mature pine trees, a few yards from little Lassen Creek, I was all alone. I set up my tent and emptied the truck. As I worked I could hear distant thunder as dark clouds roiled overhead. Taking the hint, I set my gear for rain and dug a trench around the tent. I took a seat facing west in the direction of the storm and settled in to watch the show. Within 20 minutes the thunder was close and the light show was in full swing, a light mist began to fall and the wind picked up. It was then that I realized that camping under big pines during a storm might not be such a great idea, pine cones dropped like small hand grenades all over the camp. When the sprinkle turned into a rain shower I moved into the tent and zipped up. Within a few minutes the skies opened up and the rain came down hard. I lay down on the cot and fell fast asleep. A green pine cone hit the top of the truck and woke me two hours later. I went outside and was treated to a clear, star filled sky, the air was clean and moist, the ground not too soggy. The next morning the creek was swollen with a bit of color, it must have rained much harder upstream. The following week I read in an old newspaper that the lightning started 22 fires Sunday night, the Cal Dept. of Fire (CDF) was able to control all of the lightening started blazes in the back country.
I was four days early for the regional rock and gem society annual event, which gave me time to explore the northern end of the Warner Wilderness Mountains of the Modoc National Forest. I drove on the pioneer trail which took the early travelers over the mountains from the horrific desert crossing they had endured. The Fandango Pass joined the Applegate Trail that brought early emigrants into Oregon and the Lassen Trail which peopled some of northern California and fed the gold rush of 1849. I ended up in the northeastern most town of Fort Bidwell, not much left there except some folks that love to live beyond the edge. Next on my agenda was Highway 2, the number refers to how close the road, check that, trail back across the mountains is from the Oregon border. At 7,000 ft., the air was thin, clear and wonderful. I passed mountain springs that gushed clean water and drove past furry critters that looked at me as if I had no business in their neighborhood. I pulled off at a little high-mountain gem named Lilly Lake, as I watched a small family fish, a Bald Eagle shot down off his perch high in an old snag, swoop down with a scream and grabbed a trout with a flash of talons. With a happy scream it flapped gracefully back to the perch and began to tear into lunch. I said to the mother, “That was worth the trip.” She said, “The Eagle works it until two or more Osprey come in and chase him off.” I screwed my hat on a little tighter and went back to my freshly killed salami sandwich.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Mycological Society. Look for his column each week in The Community Voice.