Roadtrip

California Department of Fish & Wildlife / Flickr Creative Commons

At Red Rock Canyon, we’ve arrived at the edge of the Mojave Desert. Before we push on, let’s take a side trip. Let’s go romp with the reptiles at the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area—some 40 square miles that protect these venerable but threatened ancients.

The Desert Tortoise Natural Area is not a place to free your backyard tortoise, now that you’ve gotten an apartment and can’t keep her. Do the right thing and call the local animal shelter instead. Your beloved pet will not survive here, a very harsh environment. And pet tortoises often bring dire diseases that threaten the already threatened wild animals who live here.

Tom Hilton

Winter is upon us. Fortunately, even in winter, when we desperately need a cure for cabin fever, most California parks are wide open and welcoming. Including our 200-some state parks, most of them still open at least for day use.

One notable, still almost a secret even in Northern California, is Plumas-Eureka State Park—a perfect summer getaway for family camping and hiking, but also a wonder in winter. Among other unique details, Plumas-Eureka near Blairsden is home to the annual Historic Longboard Revival Race Series, now in full swing.

Eric Davis / U.S. Fish And Wildfire Service

To kick off our California island tour, this week we head up the road to visit the Farallon Islands some 30 miles west of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. These wild granite islands and sea stacks, distance geological relations of the Sierra Nevada, are also known by mariners as the Devil’s Teeth Islands, out of respect for their deadly shoals. Many ships have run aground in these unfriendly, roiling waters. Native Americans from around the Bay knew them as the Islands of the Dead, where the spirits of the dead could abide.

But life—abundant, wild, sea-going life—is the defining feature of the Farallon Islands, which Bay Area natives also knew.

Tosh Chiang / Flickr

  

 

We head up the road this week in search of cool once again. To the mountains this time—lonely Lassen Volcanic National Park, fully accessible only in summer and early fall.

But do cultivate a better sense of direction than the park’s namesake, Danish immigrant Peter Lassen. According to a journal entry by his friend, Gen. John Bidwell, Lassen “was a singular man, very industrious, very ingenious, and very fond of pioneering—in fact, of the latter, very stubbornly so. He had great confidence in his own power as a woodsman, but, strangely enough, he always got lost.” This almost led to his lynching on at least one occasion, when he confused Lassen and Shasta peaks while guiding a party of immigrants westward, taking them more than 200 miles out of their way. Oops.

Bob Wick / U.S. Bureau of Land Management

We head up the road this week in search of natural air conditioning, along the California coast again. The Lost Coast, this time, that unruly stretch between Fort Bragg and Eureka that made even road builders give up—which is why Highway 1 and 101 angle inland in these parts. 

Locals, of course, snort at the very idea that this splendid area was ever lost. It’s always been here, albeit shrouded in fog most of the summer and inundated with rain otherwise. California’s isolated “Lost Coast,” virtually uninhabited and more remote than any other stretch of coastline in the Lower 48, has since been found by folks looking to get away from all those other folks.