After spending six weeks along the populated, California coastline, traveling north through remote areas of California would come as a welcome break from civilization. Following an uneventful path through prairie-like environs of the Central Valley, my wife and I ascended on Highway I-5 to the stunning beauty of the Cascade Highlands. With its immense, conical peak of snowy glitter interspersed with steep bluffs and canyons, Mount Shasta would dominate our visual attention for hundreds of miles throughout this Northern California leg of our adventure. Crossing into Southern Oregon in mid afternoon, we felt confident that spending three days at our next destination, Klamath Falls, would provide ample time for us to to experience additional, natural scenery for the next two days.
Klamath Falls may best be described as an an isolated, western town that takes great interest in its nearby environmental amenities. Thus its location in close proximity to important, national landmarks/parks seemed to offer us a major “plus” for staying there. Specifically, Klamath would provide an ideal place for us to start a new week by exploring watershed areas of national birding interest, driving along an ancient, volcano crater and descend into the mysteriousness of volcanic, underground caves.
On a cloudless Monday morning, we set out south from town to take in a spectacular view of Mount Shasta in the distance. Beyond the California border, we looked forward to bird watching at the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge as our first activity today. After conducting a a brief talk with the ranger at the National Bird Refuge Center, we selected two places where avian sightings would be most likely found today: Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Preserve. Traveling slowly along well-paved auto routes at both of these vast, watery sloughs, we frequently stopped to take photographs of several species: delicate, white pelicans, noisy, Canadian geese, black camouflaged ducks, and dive-bombing swallows… On several of these occasions, feeding deer, curious prairie dogs, and a farm-enclosed llama also caught our attention.
In stark contrast to the prolific, animal presence in the Klamath Preserve, our auto tour continued into the lifeless environment of jagged, volcanic rocks at the Lava Beds National Monument. Eerily silent for eons, the conspicuous piles of heat-blackened rocks everywhere would seem impossible to explore on our own today. Yet underground, a massive system of seventy+ lave tubes would attract our interest as a spelunking activity this afternoon.
Picture descending steep steps with a bulky lantern into an unknown labyrinth of dark and moist caverns that requires frequent bending and stooping along the way and you would have had a fairly accurate account of our hiking challenge today at Golden Dome and Sunshine Caves. Yet stunning, natural formations to photograph along the walls of each cave along with the exhilarating newness of this activity would well justify the physical effort expended today.
I can honestly say I missed the inner serenity of waves and sea life induced by the enticing, Pacific Ocean shoreline as we traveled inland. Although we did not have time to visit our third destination, Crater Lake on this visit, Klamath Falls, however, provided another form of positive energy for us. For during our visits to protected wetlands and volcanic caves, I sensed the continuing need for preserving America’s natural environment for future generations to appreciate. No doubt this realization is a useful, reality check for now me now, as I have found a new motivation to volunteer my time in retirement.