This year we’re making a point of visiting inland California, in contrast to our usual dash to the Pacific Coast Highway, which we have done for six of our eight years of fulltiming, missing only the summer we spent at the Roadtrek factory helping build this Roadtrek, and our summer in Europe.
This year we hit highway 395 in Barstow and meandered north up the Owens Valley to Lake Tahoe, stopping at Mount Whitney and the Long Valley Caldera. We took advantage of the shopping in Carson City and headed north of Tahoe up into the northern Sierras for an enjoyable week on the Little Truckee River, and then set our sights on Mount Lassen National Park.
The thing about the park is the best way to see it is on US 89, which has all the attractions on it – glacial overlooks, hot springs, the mountain itself, and so on. The trouble for us, though, is that this route is like Going to the Sun Road in Glacier- they don’t get the snow cleared off until midsummer. And last winter was a truly spectacular one for snowfall in the SIerras – 238 inches, or 20 feet of show. The road was closed until mid-July. So what we did was jog east, come over the top of the park on highway 44, and down to the northwest corner, Lake Manzanita, and hit the campground there. You can’t boondock in national parks, so a campground it was. We would just try to behave and pass for normal, and see how it went.
I am ashamed to admit I didn’t get any photos of Mount Lassen itself – coming in on 44 we saw many spectacular views of it, but took no photos, thinking we’d have plenty of opportunities. But we couldn’t see it from the campground, and the road we took out of the park also had no views of the mountain. I had scoped out the campground on Google Maps, and there were a few spots in the northwest corner of a clearing in the 150 foot tall pines and firs that cover the area. This would give us solar power and a shot at the TV and internet satellites, I barely managed to get the dishes set up – those trees are TALL. I had to move the dishes around until I could hit a notch in the wall of trees on the other side of the clearing.
We stayed a couple of nights but the campground crowding (and generators- you KNOW how I feel about generators) got the best of us, and we headed north to Mount Shasta up highway 89. You get an idea how big these mountains are when you see them from 80 miles away. You don’t really need a lot of navigational aids driving up here – just head for the mountain. Shasta loomed large on the horizon as soon as we left Lassen, and we spotted Lassen right away as soon as we got up on Shasta.
First, though, we had to stop by the Rangers Station in the town of Mount Shasta and get the low-down on dispersed camping opportunities in the area. I had downloaded MVUMs and had some ideas, but wasn’t real confident, so I thought I’d talk to the locals about current conditions. And it’s a good thing, too – I find out that you can’t camp within five miles of town. That’s a municipal rule, not a Forest Service one, probably to discourage the local homeless population from getting too comfortable.
From town the Everett Memorial Parkway (also called A10) is a paved road snaking up the mountain to the main jumping-off place, Bunny Flats Trailhead at 7000 feet. Later on in the summer the road open up to Panther Campground at 8000 feet or so, but – you guessed it – it’s not cleared yet. Bunny Flats is where all the mountaineers finish driving up the easy 7000 feet and start the hard on-foot 7000 feet up to the 14,000 foot summit. I explored the unpaved Forest Service side roads for a good camping spot as soon as I got five miles out of town, but they were full of snow. We ended up boondocking in the biggest gravel pulloff we could find off A10 at about 6800 feet, maybe a half mile short of Bunny Flats.
It was below 40 degrees in the morning, warming up to 60ish in the afternoon, and beautiful cloudless skies. More traffic than I would like, since we were only 50 feet or so off the paved road, and people would pull in, take photos, and drive off, but once it started to get dark, we would be all alone. Sometimes. On a few nights, we’d be sharing the pullout with people sleeping in their cars. Still, it’s better than a campground. I hiked the area, including going up to Bunny Flats on a Saturday morning, where there were at least a hundred cars parked, and young urbanites dressed in full Mount Everest regalia puttering around with all their equipment, getting ready for their assault on the mountain. I talked to the Forest Service volunteer who worked the trailhead. He said most of the people knew what they were doing, but if I heard a helicopter that usually meant that someone didn’t follow proper outdoor protocol. Sure enough, the next day I heard a helicopter. It’s only eight miles from Bunny Flats to the summit, but it’s a 7000 foot elevation gain.
I also hiked in through the snow to the place I had picked out on Google Maps satellite view to camp in – Sand Flats. There’s the Sand Flats Loop off the north side of A10 – we had gone in the bottom entrance, about a half mile, and then had to back all the way out after we came around a corner and were confronted with a two foot high snowdrift across the road. Our pullout at 6800 feet was across the street from the top entrance, and walking in half a mile over crunchy, squeaky snow got me to Sand Flats itself – a giant clearing with a spectacular view of the mountain. Later on in the summer I’m sure it will make many boondockers happy, but for us it was just too early in the season. Maybe next year.