What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Where has the summer gone? Mine has been so busy I forgot to write. It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating the 4th of July and now it’s Labor Day. Let’s rewind to June 30th.

I headed up Hwy 44E to 89N to Mt. Shasta for my annual “workation” at their fun-tastic 4th of July street fair, parade, and walk/run. It was mid to high 90s and that is pretty dang toasty for up there. Nothing like the scorching 110 the valley endured, of course.

Mt. Shasta is such a wonderful mix of people. Country folk, mountain athletes, rednecks, new agers, hippies, and hipsters all living and working together – seemingly without much friction. A young gal with spiky purple hair, tattoos, and a nose ring sold me a new hiking stick at the ACE Hardware downtown. Her manager was a 60-something guy with a trucker cap, plaid shirt, and Wranglers. They were laughing together like the buddies they are. Nothing in common but their shared humanity. Imagine.

Even though I worked long hours each day, I still made time for a pilgrimage to Mike and Tony’s, the best Italian restaurant in the Northstate. A Tanqueray martini – straight up with olives, oysters on the half shell, a side of meatballs with garlic bread, and a sassy little pinot noir. If you haven’t been, put it on your bucket list. It’s old school and perfect in every way.

Mike and Tony’s

Stairway to Heaven – Bunny Flat

On the morning of July 3, I drove up the Everett Memorial Highway to Bunny Flat, where the road ends and the mountain really begins. I didn’t see any Lemurians, UAPs (new name for UFOs), or Bigfoot. What is the plural of Bigfoot? Is it Bigfeet? Or is the same word used for multiples, like sheep and deer?

The population of the City of Mt. Shasta explodes over the 4th of July holiday – from around 3,200 to at least twice that many. 3,000 – 6,000 people typically register for the run/walk, but not everyone actually competes. Every registrant receives a t-shirt and entry into the drawings for fabulous prizes, including two top-of-the-line e-bikes this year.

The prize drawing is an exciting spectator event. Winners must be present and there is about a two-minute grace period to say “HERE!” before another name is drawn. The crowd is ruthless, loudly counting down the winner’s remaining time in unison and cheering when little Bobby can’t make it to the grandstand. Hope that corndog was worth it, kid.

The Walk/Run was started by Dr. Jim Parker in 1980. Dr. Parker was the town doc, delivering all the babies and making house calls. He was also the announcer for the run and prize drawing until he passed away in 2014 in the best possible way.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of ALS in July 2012 and didn’t think he would be around by July 2014. Not only did he complete the 2-mile walk on the 4th that year, he also served as the Grand Marshal of the parade. He died the next night, technically July 6th, after attending a large gathering of friends and family at his home. How cool is that? I never met him, but I fondly recall his voice booming over the loudspeakers on the morning of the 4th. “Good Morning, Mt. Shasta!” I like to think he’s watching his legacy carry on – growing every year.

When heading to Siskiyou County from Manton, I always take Hwy 44 to 89 rather than I-5. It’s a gorgeous drive and some of my favorite places are right along the way. In fact, I recommend you take a day trip up that way while the days are still longish and warm.

If you live in Redding, take Hwy 44 east to the north entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park at Manzanita Lake, where you can stop to explore or not. We are very lucky to have this little gem of a National Park right in our backyard – things are already bouncing back from the devastation of the Dixie Fire, and many popular trails weren’t affected at all. If you don’t have a pass, it will cost you $30 to enter. Fear not. There are plenty of free things to do if you give Lassen NP no more than a wave as you pass.

Lassen Peak from Brokeoff Mountain Summit

About 1.5 miles before Hwy 44 and 89 split at Old Station, there is a very lightly used 1.7 mile nature trail called Spatter Cones in the Lassen National Forest. Spatter cones form when lava tubes break the surface along a fissure during an eruption event. Hot lava meets cold air and solidifies, leaving gaping round rocky holes. There are a number of spatter cones along the trail and they are mind-blowing. There is a short but steep climb to the part of the trail where the cones are located – not wheelchair friendly. The rest of the trail winds through forest. There is a pamphlet that explains the cones and the other geological delights along the trail.

A spatter cone

When you’ve had your fill of spatter cones, you can stop by JJ’s Cafe in Old Station, provided it’s Thursday-Sunday between 8 am and 2 pm. Breakfast, burgers, and beer. Yum.

Hwy 44 splits off towards Butte Lake, Westwood, and Susanville at Old Station. The Butte Lake area of Lassen Park is like nowhere else on earth. Mr. Standish and I have been there twice so far this summer. Once to hike Prospect Peak and once to hike the 14-mile Butte Lake – Snag Lake Loop. This is our favorite part of the Park and does not get the tourist “crowds” that the Hwy 89 corridor does.

Butte Lake

Snag Lake

Snag Lake and Fantastic Lava Beds

Cinder Cone and one of its babies

If you opt to stay on 89, your next stop is immediately after the Hwy 44 turnoff. Subway Cave is a huge lava tube you can walk through. It’s 46 degrees inside and darker than Wayne Newton’s hair dye. It’s another free attraction and kids love it. (You might even be able to leave a few in there if you play your cards right. JK…sort of.)

Subway Cave – Photo by Laura Christman – courtesy Redding.com

Once you’re cooled off, continue north on 89 through Hat Creek, and be sure to wave at the Oreo Cows on the left.

Also in Hat Creek is SETI’s Allen Telescope Array at the Hat Creek Observatory, a radio telescope that searches the universe for signs of intelligent life. If you’ve seen the movie Contact with Jodie Foster, it looks like that. Giant dish satellites receiving radio signals from all around the sky. They are closed on weekends, but you can visit for free during the week.

Back on 89 heading north, you’ll soon be at the 4-way stop sign where Hwy 299 intersects 89. Just north of that is McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, which has a short and easy trail down to breathtaking Burney Falls. There is a $10 entrance fee there.

Burney Falls. Photo from parks.ca.gov

A little way north of Burney Falls is Lake Britton and the Stand By Me Bridge. Remember in the movie of Stephen King’s novel when the kids were on the railroad trestle and a train was coming? It’s right there at Lake Britton. Turn right on the Dusty Campground road on the north side of the lake. You can’t walk on the trestle now, but Shasta Rails to Trails is working on getting it into their system. You can take photos, of course. Or relive the scene here.

Another 40 miles through gorgeous forest-lined highway with intermittent views of Mt. Shasta and you’ll be in McCloud. There are many places along the McCloud River running parallel to 89 to stop, walk, picnic, etc. Upper and Lower McCloud Falls are popular spots. Once you’re in town, there are a number of shops and restaurants and the largest wooden building in the state of California. At 106,000 square feet, the McCloud Millworks is amazing to see. I happened upon it accidentally years ago, exploring before work one morning. I may have gasped audibly.

The McCloud Millworks

And, of course, there’s always Mt. Shasta keeping an eye on everything. Ever-changing light and color play on its snowy slopes, clouds form and swirl, and UFOs give tourists free rides to the City of Telos inside the mountain where the Lemurians live. Maybe.

Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

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