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ADVENTURE AND MYSTICISM IN THE SHADOW OF AN ICONIC MOUNTAIN
Jutting 14,179 feet into the Northern California sky, Mount Shasta is such an imposing presence that it creates its own weather—most notably the strange-looking lenticular clouds that form on its summit. Some people see in them a jaunty beret, others a UFO mother ship. It’s no wonder the snow-capped volcano has long held a mysterious attraction for poets, artists, adventurers and New Age mystics.
At least two religions have been founded on the flanks of the mountain, which some believe to be a vortex for spiritual activity, and a race of psychically advanced people named the Lemurians is rumored to live inside.
Mount Shasta is the focal point of one of California’s least-populated regions, a land of high-desert tumbleweeds, majestic rivers and craggy volcanoes. This is where the West Coast’s two major mountain ranges—the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades—run headlong into each other.
Just to the south of Shasta, Mount Lassen, the southernmost of the Cascade peaks, erupted less than a century ago, spewing ash as far as 200 miles away. Today, pots of boiling mud and steam vents smelling of rotten eggs attest that this volcano is far from dormant.
To the west rise the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains, relatively unvisited gems that are popular venues for fly fishing and horseback trips. To the north, the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, which extends into southern Oregon, is part of the Pacific Flyway: In the fall its skies are darkened by more than a million migratory birds.
CITY & TOWN
For travelers, Redding was nothing more than a pit stop along Interstate 5 until the opening of the instantly iconic Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in 2004. On the lower flanks of its namesake peak, Mount Shasta City sports a main street lined with New Age bookstores and shops selling crystals said to have mystical powers. No less an authority than James Hilton, author of Lost Horizon, once claimed that the pretty alpine hamlet of Weaverville, gateway to the Trinity Alps, was the closest he’s ever come to a real-life Shangri-La.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Mount Shasta is irresistible to climbers; in the spring, summit-seekers are strung out along its most popular routes like ants on an anthill. To get to the top you need an ice axe, crampons and the skill to use them safely. But on Mount Lassen, its neighbor to the south, a well-graded trail runs all the way to the 10,457-foot-high summit. World-class fly fishing abounds in the Trinity Alps, and those willing to walk a short distance with their rods are almost guaranteed a spot to themselves. On the Salmon River, between the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains, Otter Bar Lodge (otterbar.com) is one of the West’s premier whitewater kayaking schools.
HERITAGE & CULTURE
The Shasta Tribe of Native Americans, a band of hunters and fishermen who lived in cedar-plank houses with basements, once occupied much of what is now far-northern California and southern Oregon. Their population dropped rapidly as settlers seized land following the discovery of gold in Yreka and Upper Soda Springs in 1850. To the east, at what is now Lava Beds National Monument, the Modoc tribe and the U.S. Army fought the last of the Indian wars in California in 1872-73. In the late 1880s, the Central Pacific Railroad spurred development of the timber and tourism industries, and in the 1970s, New Age seekers began filtering into the area, culminating in 1987’s “Harmonic Convergence,” which identified Shasta as one of the world’s “power centers.”
The Sundial Bridge is the big draw, but for families, the surrounding Turtle Bay Exploration Center in Redding offers a full day’s worth of activities emphasizing the Sacramento River watershed, including an aquarium, museum, zoo, botanical garden and a recreated logging camp. turtlebay.org
5 MUST SEE, DO
Witness the largest gathering of bald eagles in the lower 48 states each winter at the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges, north of Mount Shasta.
Days on the Lake
Rent a spacious houseboat and spend a few days exploring the almost limitless coves and bays of Lake Shasta, with its 365 miles of shoreline.
Experience Mount Shasta City’s metaphysical side by shopping for a Lemurian Seed Crystal at The Crystal Room. But be warned that they won’t let it go home with you unless it’s a “good energy match.”
Do some exquisite hiking among the soaring granite battlements of Castle Crags State Park. It’s right off Interstate 5 a few miles south of Mount Shasta.
Stroll across the Sundial Bridge, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s now-iconic cantilever pedestrian span across the Sacramento River, the centerpiece of the worthwhile Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding.