©2023 Robert Sickles
This is just a little travelogue. We went to Mt. Shasta in Northern California for a few days last month. I don’t really have much of a point to make in this story—I'm on vacation from having deep thoughts!
We’ve heard for years that the vicinity of the snow-capped volcano is magical, full of wonders and mysteries, from majestic views of mountain sunsets to eerie phenomena in the night sky. I will tell you that our experiences there recently were mainly of the earthly realm, and very satisfying. We were on, around and under the volcano’s sprawling fields of lava, climbing over boulders to find a mile-long cave. We hiked to see some beautiful waterfalls, and crossed over a high mountain meadow to a spot where we sat silently for a while in the sun. We enjoyed staying in a luxury cottage by a pond where the only sounds were the occasional calls of bullfrogs, jays, geese and grebes.
We started out with a short flight from Seattle to Redding Airport, touching down late afternoon at a toasty 110° F. We picked up a Turo car rental and drove an hour to meet up with our daughter and her partner who had traveled by car from Olympia—they stopped for a night along the way at Crater Lake in Oregon. We arrived to find them already unpacked and preparing a salmon dinner for us.
The secluded cottage was facing a wildlife preserve and dreamy pond. It's a shallow body of water, but this year the water level was decent—it often dries up in summer. We wondered if we'd find supernatural beings out in those woods. But instead of bug-eyed ET’s, we found the California-sized mosquitos and bats were in rare form. No lizardy aliens, but we were surrounded by baby frogs that literally covered the ground wherever we stepped. And rather than spotting a sasquatch, we crossed paths with a burly resident who struggled to manage a brisk walk with several of her rescue dogs.
Linda and I met a fascinating woman, Annie, along the trail around the pond. She enjoys her alone time in a rustic cabin she built years ago. It’s almost as if we saw her in the same spot every time we went out, prompting our daughter to suggest that Annie was not a real live person. Hmm, maybe… or just an interesting woman from Berkeley who loves to hike the trail after breakfast, like we did, and who enjoys meeting people like us.
Pluto Cave near Shasta is on many tourism lists of things to see, but we were warned that the cave was located in an illegal marijuana-growing area, and that we should keep our eyes down and refrain from stopping to take photos. It sounded a little third-world... did they mean that some guys with big guns would be stopping us on the road? Never daunted, our adventurous party forged ahead. The cave is located outside Weed, California, an aptly named town. We were told the unfriendly growers might have removed the signs leading to the cave to discourage tourists, so we were relying on GPS to get us there. At an unremarkable dusty road jutting off the highway into the bush, GPS said “turn left here.” Really?
The marijuana farms mostly look abandoned or run down, maybe because there isn’t a hot market for illegal pot anymore? But it was still a creepy place to drive through. As we bounced over the dirt road that was getting narrower and rougher, I kept thinking we were led astray somewhere and should turn back. But our GPS said “at the next intersection turn left and your destination will be on the right.” Intersection? Again, really? But sure enough, we found a wide spot in the road with another tourist’s parked car, a kid’s bike on their rack. I said “There’s no other place around the place, so this must be the place.” It took some trial and error to find a path that led to the cave—still, no signage or marked trail. We eventually heard the other tourists' voices coming from a small opening in the rocky ground, so we knew we were going in the right direction.
Pluto Cave is an ancient lava tube that extends for a mile or more beneath the surface of one of Shasta’s huge lava fields. There are a couple of cave-ins along its length and that is where you find an entrance, but you have to climb down 40-50 feet on a steep jumble of huge and jagged lava boulders. Linda and I looked at that gaping pit and would have considered it too treacherous for a couple of seniors like us, but our fellow travelers took our hands and guided the way.
Once inside, most of the cave floor was fairly easy to navigate and we found ourselves in an enormous surreal space. We stood below a beautiful sky-lit rotunda created by a cave-in. Ahead of us, the path continued far into total darkness, but without proper gear we decided to go back out the way we entered. I was struck at how terrible a place this must have been with a 2000° river of molten rock coursing through.
Any of the daring or strenuous things we did while exploring the Shasta area would not have been possible without the prodding, encouragement and good nature of our companions! And always, they were completely attentive to our safety, for which we are very thankful.
One hot day, we made a several mile trek into the deep shaded woods to see three waterfalls on the cold McCloud River. And at the trailhead at the end of a long road up the flank of Mt. Shasta, we hiked up close to the tree line onto a sunny expanse, Bunny Flat. Silent, except for bees working the tiny, low-growing flowers.
Please see our slideshow at the end of the story.
To unwind after our adventures, we spent some time shopping and dining in little alpine-like Mt. Shasta town. Like Sedona and Taos, the woo-woo businesses there are among the mainstays of the local economy. Others include forest/park/water management, accommodating vacationers and skiers, and equipping Pacific Crest Trail hikers and mountain bikers.
Someone suggested that many businesses fail in Mt. Shasta because “The Mountain” is selective about what energies it will allow into the town. It is true that the usual proliferation of franchise and corporate stores and fast food places are absent. Same with upscale bistros and swanky boutiques.
There are guided tours that specialize in UFO sighting, bigfoot expeditions and such. You can pay to be taken to a magnetic anomaly and watch your compass point the wrong way. Go to the side streets to find alternate medicine therapies, tai chi or yoga classes. The big souvenir shop in town has the usual gifts and collectibles, plus a whole wing devoted to didgeridoos, Native American flutes and shamanic drums, bells and gongs. Linda likes crystals and there seemed to be a crystal shop on every corner— not only for geology buffs, but for those interested in the stones’ magical, spiritual and supernatural properties. We noticed a shop that was devoted entirely to teachings of Guru Mooji! The connection of Shasta to otherworldliness is renown, and people love to go there to find worm-hole portals to other dimensions and mysterious energy vortexes, and to make contact with alien visitors.
In another vein, Linda and her daughter thought it would be interesting to check out a singing bowl session. It’s a form of sound therapy, one way to tune your chakras. Linda found the sound and vibration unpleasantly intense at first. I guess when your chakras need aligning, it can take a little jangling vibration to loosen up. Otherwise, we didn’t have any further mysterious encounters—that we know of—it was just fun to be a tourist around all of that anyway.
The little Shasta Historical Museum displays a small collection of old Indian baskets and tools, and the elderly docent commented how easy it was, back in the day, to “round up” most of the Indians from Northern California and relocate them to reservations in southern Oregon. I thought he ought to have added “especially after the Indians were decimated by wars and disease.” Only a few compliant bands were allowed to remain nearby on treaty lands. Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of the museum and the brilliant history of prosperity: ranching, railroads, timber, dam-building and mining. Big sigh.
The headwaters of the Sacramento River gush from a crevice and fill a small rocky pool in the city park. People regard it as a sacred place and bring jugs and bottles for the water. I don’t know if there is a claim of healing properties, but one hearty-looking local said he has come to the spring for the water all his life. Another man was seated on the edge of the pool with his hands raised and chanting in an ancient language.
This trip was good for us, we stretched our horizons, did creative things and saw a unique part of the country. Our enthusiasm for travel had been dampened in the previous couple of years, so it’s good to be out there again. But air travel these days… meh!
Click full-screen icon for our short slideshow