Driving Obscure CA Highways So You Don't Have To
On the journey over Willamette Pass in southern Oregon to explore the Klamath region of Oregon and California, concluding with a rainy visit to Shasta Dam.
As some of my faithful readers will know, I drove to the 2005 SAM conference, since it was only in Eugene, OR, and I have time on my hands for such indulgences. Wonderful drive northward, and it was great to escape the rain that had been suffocating the delta area for a few days nonstop. The sun was out in full force by the time I'd hit Redding and it stayed sunny all the way to Eugene. Rain didn't come to Oregon until Saturday, and my journey home Sunday was also an on-again-off-again rain affair. With some snow for good measure.
I drove home via a long, scenic tour of the Klamath region of Oregon and California. Partly this was to kill time -- R3's flight wasn't supposed to arrive in Sacramento until 9:30 pm so I needed something to do in order to make the timing of my own arrival at the airport work out. Thus, I decided to drive along OR 58 to US 97 and then down into California. I also wanted to take the opportunity to drive CA 161, the most northern east-west CA highway and one that runs parallel to the state line, about 25 feet south of said line. From there I wanted to see CA 265, a tiny little thing near Weed, CA.
So that's what I did. I climbed up to Willamette Pass, encountering slushy conditions along the way, and arrived at the pass in a light snowfall. I thought about putting on the tire chains I'd purchased for the SAM roadtrip, but the conditions really weren't that bad and simply driving carefully would be fine. So, on down the backside into the high scrub of the Klamath region. There I met up with US 97 and headed south toward the city of Klamath Falls, OR. Rain and light snow alternated depending on the change in elevation (I think this is what they call the "wintry mix" on the East Coast), and the outside of the car was a mess, but the road was straight. US 97 drives along the eastern shore of Upper Klamath Lake (partially frozen) and then arrives at Klamath Falls, where I stopped for lunch. After lunch, it was on to OR 39 for the remaining trip south, accompanied by the railings of some right-wing health nut on the radio.
The OR 39 leg was quite short and I was soon over the border into California. Immediately there was the turnoff to CA 161 -- not more than 25 feet from the border. CA 161 is a desolate road, straight except for a "V" shaped dip in the middle in order to take you to Lower Klamath Lake and the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. I stopped to photograph the road signs of course and to look at the scenery. By this time the rain had stopped and the sun was just peeking through the dark clouds. CA 161 ends at US 97, so I resumed my travel down that highway, heading toward I-5.
Mt. Shasta dominates the skyscape of Siskiyou county, and yesterday was no exception. Once you leave the Butte Valley you're greeted with the massive presence of the mountain, and yesterday's partly sunny/cloudy mix made for some really impressive views. I dodged death in order to get a shot of the mountain from the middle of the highway and then moved on toward Weed. CA 265 was actually a little difficult to find, and I ended up retracing my steps along US 97 for a couple of miles to make sure I hadn't missed the turn-off somewhere. Eventually I found it though, right in downtown Weed. It's only about half a mile long, but it is signed once in either direction.
From there it was I-5 southward. The rain kicked up again as I listened to an interesting series of interviews on NPR, and soon I was greeted with signs indicating the upcoming exit for Shasta Dam. Remember, I need things to do until 9:30 pm, so I exited. The road to the dam also happens to be CA 151, so that was a slightly added incentive. Shasta Dam is the largest dam in the state and one of the largest in the country. Like Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam, it's a Depression-era structure, and like Grand Coulee it's one of those massively long gravity dams (Hoover is an arch dam). The rain had begun again, so I toured the small Visitor Center for a bit. Not too bad, but still not as cool as the Hoover's center. I saw cars driving across the top of the dam, but also saw security fences and barriers at the entrance, and walked over to ask about driving. The security person said you could drive across, but you needed to apply for a permit and background check at the sheriff's security hut. No thanks, especially since you can walk across without any government blessing. So I walked out onto the dam, camera snapping away. It's really neat, and the weather yesterday made for a unique setting. I got back in my car at 4:30 and decided I should get back on I-5: I didn't really know how long it would take to get to Sacramento, and you never know about traffic or accidents, particularly with all the rain. So I resumed the drive south, treated myself to Round Table Pizza in Willows (which is in Glenn county, don'tcha know), and moved on. I was still waaaaay early and drove around northern Sacramento for a while, randomly, until 8:15 or so before giving up and parking at the daily lot of the airport to wait it all out. Of course, all the rain in L.A. delayed R3's plane by 30 minutes, so it was a slow wind-down to an interesting exploratory day.
Pictures are here.
Posted: Monday - February 21, 2005 at 11:40 AM