Story and photos by Dave Bartle
“Hey Honey, it’s SNOWING!” Seeing the white stuff coming down always seems to create the same exclamation from me. My New Hampshire born and raised wife also seems to always have the same response, “So what.” Ahhh… the Yin and Yang of relationships. I grew up in San Diego where in 1968 it actually snowed once. I still remember the excitement of running around in the backyard and trying to scoop up snow to make a snowball. Pretty hard to do when it’s barely sticking to the ground. Her memories are of having to walk to school in the cold, wet dirty snow.
Since moving to Northern California in 1990, I have experienced my share of snow through hiking, backpacking, skiing and mountaineering. I still act like a kid when it snows on the valley floor. So it was again, one early December day, when the snow fell and I reverted back to adolescence. Luckily, it snowed on a Saturday, which created a great opportunity to hike the Lower Clear Creek Watershed in a Winter Wonderland.
This trail system in western Shasta County was created in 2007 and is part of an extensive trail network that includes Swasey Recreation Area, Mule Ridge Trails and Clear Creek Greenway. The Swasey and Mule Ridge trails connect to the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area trail system. We arrived at one of our favorite hikes, a six-mile loop that has two awesome lookout points looking down on Clear Creek Canyon. Plus it’s SNOWING! When we arrive at the trailhead we are the only car there and Rufus our Border Collie is whining to get out. He loves the snow.
Off we go with the dog racing up ahead 50 yards and sprinting back to us as if to say, “Come on you guys hurry, can’t you see the snow on the ground!”
That’s my dog.
The trail winds through the typical valley foothill chaparral of Manzanita, Scrub oak, California foothill pine and Canyon live oak. We make our way to the first lookout, found ¾ of a mile in, and off a short spur trail. This rocky outcropping is a great place to picnic or just hang out, but today we push forward urged on by Rufus. A couple of easy miles later we come to our favorite rest stop. It has stopped snowing and the clouds hang low as the sun and patches of blue battle it out with the gray skies. It really is a beautiful spot, with a picnic table and views of the mountains in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. It is hard to leave as we wait for the clouds to lift so we can see the mountains. Finally the sun wins and the clouds lift and we are rewarded with a spectacular view of Clear Creek below and the snow covered mountains to the north.
The rest of the hike is somewhat anticlimactic after the spectacular view but still a great workout. To find the trail, drive nine miles west on Clear Creek Road to Cloverdale Road, take a right and go another 1.1 miles. The trailhead will be on the right side.
Next time it’s snowing don’t sit inside, get out and take a hike. Rufus the Border Collie would.