Road Trip to South Shasta County
By Melissa Wynn
On an unseasonably warm January day my better half and I loaded up the truck and headed to South Shasta County for a few days of rest and relaxation. The holidays were over, the mess was put away and a sunny day beckoned us toward the quiet rural area of Happy Valley.
While surfing the web for a quiet country hideaway I stumbled upon the website of a quaint little bed and breakfast cottage called Lavender Dreams. As soon as I spotted the pictures of the tranquil pond just steps from the front door I knew this was our home for the night.
Check in time at Lavender Dreams is 3:30 pm unless you make early arrival arrangements so we had all afternoon to explore this beautiful part of the valley. Grassy rolling hills as far as the eye can see are dotted with olive orchards, huge gardens and fields of grazing horses. We even encountered a few llamas and miniature horses along the way.
As we wandered into Anderson a sign for River Park caught my eye. So, we followed the signs and found ourselves at the perfect spot to watch the birds play in and around the spectacular Sacramento River. Mallard ducks bobbed around in mated pairs, below towering oaks, hoping someone would come along with some bread crumbs to share. A stark white crane walked stealthily, amid the shoreline vegetation, hunting fish and croaking frogs. Two golden eagles observed it all from above, riding the warm updrafts and barely flapping a wing.
Arriving at Lavender Dreams, we were greeted by friendly and laid back owner Annette Magee and one naughty chicken that had escaped from the chicken coop next door. Just like in the photos the pond lay still right in front of the porch. One mallard and one white duck glided around to the sound of croaking frogs and a happy little turtle was sunning itself on a branch sticking out of the water.
Annette passed me the key and I plopped in a patio chair to soak up the sun while hubby carried in our luggage. Sweet Miss Annette wished us a pleasant stay and returned to her home next door to prepare a delicious mushroom and cheese quiche for tomorrow’s breakfast. Other breakfast menu options included fluffy french toast, muffins, bagels or pastries and always some fresh fruit and juice. We had fresh strawberries and cranberry juice chilling in the fridge when we arrived.
When I finally managed to drag myself inside I was pleasantly surprised at the homey decor inside. Antique looking plates on the kitchen wall, along with the quilted bedspread and corner chest, make this out-of-the-way gem feel like a little mother in law cottage that has been there forever, just like home. Several books, dvds and satellite tv add to the comforts of home, I could have easily spent the entire week.
After settling in and catching the evening news we decided to take Annette’s advice and wander into Cottonwood for dinner. This corner of the county is all about country charm and ranch life as the western decor of town depicts. So it was no surprise when we walked into the Cottonwood Eatery to see a case full of larger than life homemade pies and cakes, just like grandma used to make. We were greeted and seated by smiling server/manager Linsie Ballard who promptly returned with hot coffee and cold lemonade. In true old west Cottonwood style this charming home town restaurant is decorated with ropes, horseshoes and the classic red and white checkered tablecloths. We felt right at home.
A few tables over Kaden Ollila and his extended family were enjoying the evening out for his 11th birthday and the celebratory feel had the entire place in a cheerful mood. We ordered crispy fish and chips and the huge portabella and spinach salad just before joining in to sing birthday to the lucky little guest of honor from Redding. Kaden received one the biggest slabs of cake I’ve ever seen a child try to tackle. I wonder if he wished for the ability to finish the whole thing when he blew out the candle. Owners Nanette and Jim Pate put the cake on the house and even came in just to wish Kaden well on his special day. What a great home town hangout!
Linsie delivered our meal in minutes along with an extra plate so we could share. The homemade house vinaigrette went perfectly with the roasted red bell peppers and feta cheese sprinkled throughout the mountain of fresh and cool spinach. Warm, sautéed, tasty portabellas on top make this a delicious and hearty meal that is still on the light side. Flaky cod in a light and crispy batter with a pile of fries gave us more than enough to share. Even after one more cup of that fresh brewed coffee we were still too full for dessert. In the end we opted to take it to go. It was very hard to choose but we narrowed it down to a wonderful lemon mascarpone slice of cake for me and a piece of coconut cream pie big enough for two.
We waddled away fat and happy and returned to Lavender Dreams to curl up on the deep, soft sofa in front of the Amish fireplace that Annette turned on for us, along with the porch light, while we were away. After a movie we climbed between the cotton sheets and drifted off to sleep to the songs of the frogs and crickets of the pond.
We awoke early with the neighbor chickens and enjoyed coffee and that mouth-watering quiche on the porch as the sun came up. What a wonderful stay.
Later that morning we ventured back to Cottonwood and stopped in for a bite of brunch at the Branding Iron Cafe. Owned by the Peek family, this old home cooking cafe is right next to local cattle yard and a morning favorite of the local cowboys. Friday’s bring them in droves as they visit next door for the weekly cattle auction. We visited with several of them during our visit and learned a little about the different brands from local ranches that decorate the walls here.
The Branding Iron is one of those places that just feel like home the minute you walk in. Manager JJ Lozoya has been working here for 71/2 years and locals Philip Cox, Lyn Presidio and Jerry Hemsted joked with her like family over bowls of hearty oatmeal with brown sugar and cinnamon and a big old cowboy breakfast. We started with coffee and ordering was a no brainer as soon as our server Charmaine informed us that they serve breakfast anytime of day, seven days a week. I had a small order of fluffy biscuits and sausage gravy while my date tried the stack of blueberry pancakes. Neither Charmaine, nor the days other server Tanius, ever passed by without topping off our coffee cups. Great service and food, along with ample for big rigs make this a favorite stop for truckers as well. Especially those traveling through on a Friday or Saturday night when the special is juicy, local prime rib from Kent’s Market in Anderson.
We had an amazing time in South Shasta County. Don’t forget to join the locals every Mother’s Day weekend for the famous Cottonwood Rodeo. The hospitality of the folks in this neck of the woods insured that we will go back, over and over again.