Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Visiting Mount Shasta

I've been living in Northwestern California for about nine months now, and I feel like I've explored the coastal areas pretty well (beach, marsh, redwood forest, although of course there's always more to explore with these awesome places). And now, finally, I can add mountains to the list.

In mid-March, Paul and I drove a few hours east and north, through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and up to Mount Shasta, a 14,000 ft peak at the southern end of the Cascades. We narrowly skirted a big rain/snow storm (actually rescheduled our travel plans to avoid it) and spent three perfectly sun-filled days driving past breathtaking scenery and exploring a totally new environment for both of us.

One of the main things we wanted to do, of course, was get up onto the mountain. We were able to drive partway up Mount Shasta (up to about 7,000 ft) on a highway that's kept plowed through the winter. There was more mountain still to go, but this was plenty high enough for me. And it was definitely winter at this elevation. Look, a mountain!!

We walked for a bit along paths made by skiers and snowmobiles, heading a little further up the mountain, and surrounded by stately trees and blue skies and so much snow:

Given that we could see the very tops of signposts peeking out of the snow near our feet, we estimated we were walking on at least four feet of packed snow. Wow. Every once in a while we'd take a wrong step and sink down a foot or two.... But mostly the footing was stable. Aside from a few other people, some very happy dogs, and a passing snowmobile or two, the place was just immensely clean and quiet. I have missed snow very much, and mountains are incredible places. The view from this elevation was, unsurprisingly, amazing:

There were so many delightful things to see on the mountain. Despite the snow (or maybe because of all the moisture melting snow brings?) many of the trees were covered with this shockingly green lichen (also note at least one bright-green tree in the above picture):

Mountain Chickadees were flitting from tree to tree, mostly high above our heads, but at one point a couple of chickadees came down to forage in a shorter tree nearby, and I got to admire these wonderful little birds up close:

This chickadee seems to have been sipping from a little stream of sap that was dripping from this tree's trunk:

These little birds were constantly moving from branch to branch, picking up morsels of something or other from between needles:

I was so happy to get to hang out with these fancy chickadees:

And of course, I think any chickadees are adorable, even when they have scowling eyebrows:

I could have stayed up on the mountain much longer, but we hadn't anticipated how strong the sun would be up there (now I know!), and besides, there were plenty of other places to explore. So we headed down the mountain again.

In the woods and scrub around the mountain's base, we saw lizards (too stealthy and fast for me to get decent pictures of them) and birds and lots of other creatures. A little Douglas Squirrel sat huddled in a tree near the path:

Hundreds of little moths (I haven't been able to identify the species, but they were about 1/2 inch or smaller) flashed bright pink wings as they puddled on the paths and made little flurries in the air:

I got to admire the strangely red (presumably living) and gray (dead) portions of branches on abundant Manzanita bushes, which were also in full bloom:

A large Canada Goose sat near the edge of a cliff overlooking a gorge (with that white forehead, I believe this is a subspecies of Canada Goose I've not encountered before):

I also saw my first California Quail while in the town of Mount Shasta -- one male even ran across the road with his little head-doodad bobbing! No pictures, however, because it was a residential area. What must it be like to live in a place where quail wander into your yard?

On the drive back west, we stopped at Shasta Lake to visit the Lake Shasta Caverns, which were great. (Mountains and caves in one trip? Goodness!) I wasn't able to manage pictures inside the cave, but the outside scenery was no less amazing. Here's a view of the (man-made) lake:

And some particularly craggy cliffs nearby (a Peregrine Falcon pair had a nest near here):

One of my favorite parts of this stop, though, was the family of Acorn Woodpeckers that made a huge presence here. Is this bird actually real? What a weird woodpecker!

These woodpeckers were calling raucously to one another and flying up to snatch insects out of the air and stash them in crevices in the trees:

I knew Acorn Woodpeckers were famous for making stores of acorns in trees, but I had no idea they did the same for insects as well (allaboutbirds.org confirms this is so). A couple of Steller's Jays were joining in on the insect-snatching action as well, sometimes getting into tussles with the Acorn Woodpeckers when one of the birds got too close to the other:

I love every part of the Acorn Woodpeckers' weird outfit, but I especially enjoy the stripey-splotchy black pattern on its breast:

So yes, a trip to Mount Shasta and surrounding areas was definitely a good idea! Here's to sun and mountains and snow and woods and amazing new animals. And now I'm back in Humboldt County, making the most of my last few months in Northwestern California. I've fallen behind on local sights to share, so expect more posts soon!


  1. Great to see the lake looking so normal. I gather that it's only a few feet shy of capacity after the El Niño you've had this winter, where a year or two ago it was like 150 feet below capacity and looked like a landscape feature from another planet.

    1. Wow, I just looked up pictures of Shasta Lake from 2014. It looks like a totally different place! What a difference a ton of rain makes.