We had been toying with the idea of going through Lassen National Park enroute to Chester, where our job training would start. I was a bit anxious to just get there because Simone had lost her confidence in driving stick during a mishap a couple year ago, leaving me to pilot the entire trip. We rose at sunrise and crammed back into the truck for the final leg of our journey.
Birding along the way south didn’t prove all that fruitful but we did find a large group of Elk bedded down along 101. It was an unfamiliar oddity to see them in a field nex to horses, adjacent to the highway, and completely unconcerned. I couldn’t help but fret a little bit about an accidental collision with a bull elk.
Aracata came and went as we headed up into the Coast Ranges. The climb was putting some serious stress on the overloaded vehicle, which made for a white-knuckle drive until we crested and headed into the rain shadow. A landscape thriving off ocean driven moisture transformed rapidly into pine dominated red soil with the amethyst Redbud dotting the hillsides. The Trinity River follows highway 299 most of the way into Redding and once you’ve slid down lower its teal waters combined with the blooming Redbud were eye-catching to say the least.
Before we knew it we were down into Redding and back on I-5 South through the upper Valley. It was a bit of a shock going from the cool winding mountain lanes to a huge freeway in the hot lowlands. I was anxious to get back into the mountains and we soon were.
Highway 36 took us through open fields with Oak woodlands on either side. Giant rocks stood alone in the middle of fields, a reminder that a volcano was nearby and had once flung these erratics 60some miles away during eruption. Western Kingbirds and Bluebirds abound in the open areas and soon we were climbing again. Worrying about my aging truck, I had to remind myself to enjoy the landscape as Lassen came into view. The woodlands transitioned into tall pines and fir with the occasional mountain meadow. This was going to be an amazing place to work for the summer!
Chester was only ten miles away when we hit the cabins we’d be staying at initially. Although it seemed like it should be open, ready to live in, the place was apparently deserted. The only cabin open was a trailer in disrepair and full of mouse droppings. Fearing hanta virus, we vowed to sleep outside and went into Chester for dinner.
Back at the cabins, there was still no sign of anyone and we started to get a little anxious. Two friends alone with deserted cabins and a lonely highway – it sounded like the premise of some horror movie. It was then that I remembered I had seen Cougar tracks on the property and thoughtlessly mentioned this to Simone. The look of horror on her face was hastened me to offer to let her sleep in the truck and to take the edge off we watched some of Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood before a restless, worrisome night of sleep. I kept waking up expecting to find some deranged mountain man asking why we were sleeping in yard.