As I write this, I'm sitting in a long-past-use-by-date old office chair that I inherited from the young woman from whom we purchased our previous home, and which I've dragged across Northern California for almost 20 years because I can't figure out how to get rid of it. I'm also looking out the window of my little home office at a fog-and-mist-shrouded hillside that drops down to a mountain highway approximately a quarter mile below us, and which I presently can barely see between the fog and rain. The CalFire station directly across the highway is invisible now, and the only way I know that it's still there is because they just went through their every-Sunday ritual of testing all their various sirens and other warning/emergency sounds-producers a short while ago. I'm able to say that they all continue to work fine.
Our rains have been pretty constant for the past several weeks, with only an occasional break of a day here and there where we've seen some sunshine and clear views to the north and east, so it was a
pleasant surprise the day before yesterday when we got a sudden respite from the rain and fog, and lo and behold, there were our two big mountains, Lassen to the east and Shasta due north, both completely blanketed in pure, blindingly white snow! Holy smoke! We haven't seen that in two long years, and had almost forgotten how strikingly they appeared in winters past. Pretty cool, and very welcome.
However, the coming of the snow and ice in the high country also means that activities on both mountains shift focus dramatically, and they do it very quickly. Many of the secondary access roads are closed or irregularly maintained, and only those individuals familiar with winter mountain travel should undertake casual or poorly-planned driving trips into those areas where such knowledge is needed. The ski parks and other commercial outdoor recreation sites around Shasta are well maintained and managed, and skiers, boarders, and others who enjoy the alpine lifestyle flock to them each and every day during the season, particularly at weekends, and if you plan to go you should take any opportunity to make reservations and other arrangements in advance. Take a look at the website visitmtshasta.com for a comprehensive view of all that's available in and around the mountain and in the pretty little town of Mt. Shasta City; you'll find all the usual mountain town stuff, including good food, drink, and cozy places to rest.
Most people find significant differences in the feel of our two big Norcal mountains, and I understand that completely. To me, Lassen seems to be a friendlier mountain, if that makes sense. It is substantially less massive, for one thing, and doesn't have quite the fierceness of demeanor that Shasta can present, especially during inclement weather. Too, Lassen is managed and maintained by the National Parks Service, and features excellent camping and recreational facilities, and excellent trail systems, which make it very accessible and usable for the average tourist. Shasta, on the other hand, is not a national park, but is a part of Trinity/Shasta National Forest, and is maintained by the US Forest Service. Facilities are fewer and less family-friendly, and one gets the feeling of being in the real wilderness once away from the roads and parking areas, which isn't necessarily always the case at the more-visited and busier Lassen. I suppose a more concise way of putting it is to say that Shasta is a mountain for mountain people, while Lassen is more a tourist's venue. Both, however, are beautiful places, special in their own ways, and should be visited by anyone travelling Northern California. We'll take closer looks at both in the next several weeks.
Due to weather we've been kept close to home (indoors for the most part) for the last two weeks or so, but yesterday we couldn't take it any longer and had to make a break for it, I gathered up my pal Lulu (see picture above), threw old towels in the back of the car, put on trail shoes, and off we went. Given that weather was still iffy, we elected to make the short drive to Swasey Recreation Area, just a few miles down the road, and the nearest true wilderness to our hill. It appeared that we probably had a couple of hours before more rain moved in, so we struck off from the trailhead and took the Wintu trail eastward and up the side of the rise toward Mule Mountain. The trees, mostly cedar and pine, were still dripping and there was a good deal of water standing in low spots; the streams were running freely, cold and clear, for the first time in almost a year. Lulu, who is an old girl for sure, and who frequently takes 10 minutes or so to work out the kinks and stiffness when she decides to get active, was frisking along like a puppy, and finding interesting scents everywhere she turned. Birds were singing, squawking, and flitting around like mad, and squirrels were hopping through the trees and chattering at Lulu as she raced around their trees and chased them when she found them on the ground. The sun kept peeking through the canopy of trees, but couldn't quite sustain itself, so that we mostly were navigating through shade and shadows; as the afternoon wore on it got colder, and after about an hour and a half we intersected the Meiner Loop and started back to the car. We made the trip back a little quicker than the trip out simply because it's mostly a gentle downhill trek on the Loop to the trailhead. We could occasionally hear the flock of mountain bikers who frequent the area on a regular basis, but only encountered one of them during our entire hike, much to Lulu's delight, since she considers them a blight on her forests even though the great majority of them are good neighbors who treat the trails and their fellow users with respect. At any rate, we got back to the car just as the sun disappeared for the day, and the temperature started to drop as we stood watching a pair of horsewomen load up and prepare to call it a day. Time to go.
Swasey is only one of many trail systems that are scattered across our part of California, all of them, as far as I know, well maintained and used by thousands of outdoor lovers regularly: hikers, trekkers, trail runners, strollers, mountain bikers, horse lovers, and a host of otehrs who simply love being outside in this beautiful place. I recommend that those of you coming to our part of the world who love these same things spend a little time checking out the hundreds (if not thousands) of websites maintained by various interest groups touting them all, so that you can more thoroughly enjoy your time with us.
Finally, a note to you fellow lovers of our Norcal wines. A favorite of mine, but one that too frequently slips my mind, is Husch's Dry Gewurztraminer, the most recent iteration of which is the 2014 Anderson Valley Dry Gewurz, a pretty wine that can easily be loved by pretty much everyone. Husch has been producing fine wines, particularly sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and gewurztraminer, in blessedly rural Mendocino forever, since before even the pot growers discovered the area, and they continue to do so. Thank goodness. Because they make very good wines and sell them at fair prices, a combination of facts that the folks who bring you Workingman's Wines set great store in, as you know. And this model is no different: pale gold color, a fresh, spicy-grapefruity nose, and soft peachy-grapefruity flavors that linger and bring a nice expansive crispness to a finish that is a perfect and perfectly-assembled foil for the richness of holiday and winter foods. And, at $14, give or take a buck, it is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Try it, you'll be very glad you did.
We'll be back very soon...