Monday, July 26, 2010

McCloud River Falls, Upper Middle & Lower - Shasta Trinity National Forest

I've been wanting to head up to the Shasta area for the last year or so. Last year a friend of mine bought a vacation house in the McCloud area and last week I finally made it up there. Additionally thanks to another friend I've been on a waterfall kick and managed to find 6 of them while I was up in that area. It was quite an adventure at times including having my vehicles ECU (computer) go out on me on a random isolated dirt back road on the way up Burney Mountian. Well after limping my vehicle out of the Lassen National Forest at 5 mph I eventually was able to get a rental car and continue to Dunsmuir and then on to McCloud to check out the 3 waterfalls on the McCloud River.

Just east of McCloud in the Shasta Trinity National Forest there are 4 waterfalls. The 3 more know are the Upper, Middle & Lower McCloud Falls. A forth named Big Springs is also in the area but I didn't manage to make to that one, oh well got to leave something for next time. The easiest access to all 3 of the McCloud falls is located about 20 miles from I-5 on Hwy 89, or about 5 miles east of McCloud. Fowler Public Camp Rd is on the right, it is well marked and paved. There are two or three other roads from Hwy 89 but this paved and will take you to all 3. Once on Fowler Public Camp Rd stay straight for the lower falls or turn left on the unnamed paved road to head to the middle and upper falls.

If you are going to be in this area and you are in need of some outdoor gear or to arrange a guided trip, check out the newly (5/25/12) opened McCloud Outdoors & Gear Exchange.

From the top - To match the video I'll take you thorough it from the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls area has a few picnic tables next to a skinny, shallow and lazy McCloud river. But don't be fooled the awesome power of nature is just out of sight at this point. A path leads from the parking lot along the river, soon this listless creek is squeezed into a narrow slide like channel of volcanic irregularly shaped rocks causing swirling eddys in the river. (Be cautious if you climb over the protective railing to get your video and you're  jumping around on these rocks, aside from the danger of being swept over the falls there are water filled holes in the volcanic rock that can be 3+ feet deep.) The water picks up speed in the slide and then falls about 25' to a beautiful clear blue-green pool. There is no easy way down to the bottom, you could make it but the climb back up will be challenging. If your looking to swim keep in mind you have two more easy to get to waterfall swimming holes just down the road. From the overlook there is a trail that will take you to .3 miles to the middle falls or about 1.5 miles to the lower, or you can drive to the respective parking lots.

Middle Falls - Middle Falls is the show. Now I'm sure there are people that will say they like the upper or the lower better for this reason or that but in my opinion the one to see is the middle. From the viewing point up above the falls you will see the river widen and streak with white as the water once again picks up speed in anticipation for the fall ahead. From this point you can't really get perspective of what exactly your looking at. The trail from the upper falls and the path from the middle parking lot meet up and descend to the base of the middle falls. As you wind your way to the base of the falls the noise of the water crashing gets gradually louder and louder. After 3 or 4 switch backs, there it is. The moment it comes into full view you will stop in your tracks and gaze in awe at the beauty of nature. Make your way across the slick rocks to the pool below the falls. From here jump in the pool, or just gaze up at the pounding 50' tall, 100' wide waterfall. Again the trail continues to the lower and so does the road.

Lower Falls - Leaving the middle falls the river once again becomes lackadaisical and you wonder, where did all the water go that you just saw pounding over the middle falls? Just before the lower falls the river once again narrows and then pours over and drops about 12'. I found this to be a great swimming hole. The water is clear and you can see any hazards in the water below. That's important if your planing on jumping into the pool below, at your own risk of course. Like the upper the lower has picnic tables and is a stroll from the parking lot.

The McCloud River Falls are no secret. Do not have the expectation of being alone with nature at any of these spots or even the ability to get clear shots of the falls without other people in them. That being said its worth checking out. Give yourself 2-3 hours to make your way around. If you choose to swim or jump use caution bring a friend and remember your pretty much out of cell range and emergency care is a ways out. So please use caution and have fun, come back and share your experience. Oh yeah I forgot to mention how during you exploration of this area you are in the presence of a 14,179' Mt Shasta giving you something else to gaze at with awe.

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View McCloud River Falls in a larger map

Friday, July 9, 2010

Montgomery Woods State Reserve

        Montgomery Woods State Reserve is a magnificent redwood forest located about 30 minutes from Hwy 101 in Ukiah, Mendocino County. Aside from possibly being the best redwood grove in Northern California its isolated and usually deserted, with the exception of a few people on the weekends. Now isolated is a relative term, sure it's on a little traveled road but it's only 14 (13.8) miles from Ukiah. From N. State St. in Ukiah turn on to Orr Springs Rd. (See interactive map below) This will take you directly to Montgomery Woods. The road is paved and is mostly two lanes but at times it slims down to one. Watch out for the locals as they fly around the blind turns and race down the straight-a-ways. The road winds up the hills toward the Mendocino Coast, on this morning I could look out and see the morning fog retreating back to the ocean. The road then winds down into a canyon and you will pass by the Orr Hot Springs Resort, from here you have about 1.8 miles to go.

        The parking lot traditionally has been hard to find. Its a gravel lot on the left side of the road (when traveling from Ukiah) and easy to pass by. The State started a project to make some improvements to the Reserve that should be finished 7/30/10. A restroom structure now marks the parking lot, it appears that the parking lot will be paved or at least re-graveled and an informational kiosk is under construction. Until the work is complete the area is only open on the weekends. You can also get here from Hwy 1 on Comptche Ukiah Rd, its a 30 mile drive but expect it to take about 50 min.

        Once you park and begin your walk to Montgomery Grove you will come to a metal bridge, take an immediate left. The trail is short about 0.5 miles, but steep. Once you crest the hill you will find yourself in one of the most beautiful redwood forests on earth. Uniquely green ferns and clovers carpet the forest floor. A year round creek snakes its way through the forest and under some of the fallen giants, at times diapering under the forest floor completely and reappearing as a bubbling spring. The canopy nearly blocks out the sky. My high-end GPS device had a difficult time maintaining a signal. There are two species of redwoods here, the older Sierra Redwood and the taller Coastal Redwood. At one time the grove was said to have the tallest Redwood in the world at 370 ft. Two others have been found else where making it the 3rd largest but still impressive.

        The cycle of life is very defined in this ecological paradise. On one side of the canyon you can see evidence of a lightning fire that singed the grove during the 2008 firestorm. The vegetation is making a good recovery. Some people where horrified by the damage the fire caused but keep in mind that is was a natural cause and fire is a part of life in a healthy forest. If you can take your eyes off the giants that dominate the grove you will see redwoods in all stages of life. From young saplings angling for there sliver of sunlight, to the massive trees themselves to the fallen moss covered grandfathers returning to the forest floor.

        A trail continues on from here it skirts the side of the canyon taking you past rocks with plaques with different dedications to early conservationists of this area. Depending on the time of year the SW side of the canyon may be impassable due to an overflow creek that develops in winter. The trail will lead you to a fallen tree that the Boy Scouts have built a bridge across. The trail winds back toward the start along the opposite canyon wall. The path will lead you to another Boy Scout project, a raised walk way leading around a large moss covered rock and over a marsh of ferns. There you will find one of two log carved benches. The trail then works its way back to the main cathedral where you first entered this redwood paradise.

        There are other trails that fork off in different directions, there is even another easy to miss parking area on the opposite side of the street about 0.4 miles back toward Ukiah. I have not hiked these because every time I come here I end up spending all my time in Montgomery Grove. I find the grove to be a very spiritual place and I think no matter what you believe in you will feel it here. So please help keep this special place pristine, please pack out your trash and keep to the path ways. Redwood forest floor is delicate, the roots of the trees run shallow and depend on the soil to be non-compacted.

       I hope you enjoy Montgomery Woods as much as I do. Please come back and leave a comment below about your experience.

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