April 30, 2020
A gentle breeze rustled the oak leaves and whispered in the pines above us as we woke. The night had been incredibly quiet, other than a surprise at about 10 pm of an old rickety pickup that headed up the road and, not surprisingly, back down again perhaps 30 minutes later. We wondered where it might have gone on this steep, rocky dirt road to nowhere.
It was chilly outside, so we got up and quickly made coffee, which Susan took to a nearby sunny patch with her chair to warm up and watch the sun climb. I made breakfast and readied the truck for the last day on the road.
We’d chosen last night’s campsite partly because it was close to the last waterfall of the trip. Potem Falls is considered one of the more romantic falls in the area. I wasn’t sure what that meant so we headed down the long dirt road until we found the unmarked pull-out. It was Thursday morning and there were no other cars by the falls, which were close enough to the road that they could be heard driving by.
We parked and took a short trail downhill that brought us to an elegant tall stream cascading into a large pool below. The sun was just beginning to shine on the waterfall with the pool still mostly in the shade and the sound of the fall was captivating, especially in the morning. I had to admit, it was romantic and we were glad we had it to ourselves to enjoy as we embraced next to it. We lingered a while as the sun warmed us more. As we hiked back up, I thought about how a waterfall has a personality: it could be romantic like this one, or spiritual like Faerie Falls or dramatic like Middle Falls.
As we drove down the road from the waterfall, we crossed a bridge over the Pit River. The Pit is the longest tributary of the Sacramento River and flows into Shasta Lake along a four-mile long arm. Unlike the streams and falls we’d seen, the water in the Pit was not as clear and we had heard it was sometimes closed to swimming due to algae blooms.
Continuing our journey, we passed by more of giant, many-armed Shasta Lake, which at this time of year might either be filled to capacity by a good wet winter or left far from its high water marks after a drier one. Still a beautiful lake, the dry brown shoreline was somewhat less inviting at low water.
A year ago we had driven by the lake following a very rainy winter and it was full to the brim. This year had been much drier and the lake was already low, not a good sign for the rest of the year. It’s always odd to see how lake levels change in Northern California. The lakes may (or may not) fill up over winter, but no matter how much rain falls the lakes are partially drained each summer for use hundreds of miles away. Much of the water makes its way through rivers and canals to Southern California where it is used for agriculture (and to water lawns and fill SoCal swimming pools). Lake Oroville, near where we live, has a lake level that can drop as much as 100 feet over the summer, sometimes exposing old settlements. Northern Californians endure the fluctuating lake levels in stride, but most don’t like it.
We had driven the I-5 bridges over Lake Shasta a number of times before, but never stopped to explore it. This time, we decided to find access to the shoreline and hoped to cross the dam. Alas, the dam road was closed due to coronavirus but we were able to drive down a nearby access road to a parking area above the lake. From there we walked down a fisherman’s trail to the shore, picking our way over driftwood and rocks, then relaxing and watching the ripples in the lake from the rocky shoreline that would have been submerged if the water had been higher.
We drove back home in the early afternoon, leaving the more beautiful parts of I-5, with towering Mt Shasta and Shasta Lake disappearing in the rear-view mirror. Today was our grandson’s second birthday and we were invited to a FaceTime celebration later in the afternoon so we couldn’t stay up north too long. Normally, we try not to have anything important scheduled during our trips, but we didn’t want to miss an important birthday, even if the coronavirus was keeping us from being there in person.
Though we saw many waterfalls on this trip, we knew there were many more to explore and we hoped to get out again soon to see them before the summer slowed their flow, or during the summer when we could swim in their pools and enjoy their cool mist.