By Melissa Wynn
On a beautiful weekend in June my hubby Randy and I decided to spend a few nights camping at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area with my brother Cody and his family who live nearby in Redding. This 42,000 acre park is just eight miles west of Redding and boasts 4 waterfalls, several creeks and the stunning Whiskeytown Lake making it a favorite for fishermen from near and far.
While browsing the website to make our reservations I noticed that the Saturday of our visit just happened to be one of the dates that a Ranger-led Star Party with the Shasta Astonomy Club was scheduled at Oak Bottom Marina. I had considered booking at the smaller Brandy Creek Campground but since Oak Bottom Campground was right next door to the star party I booked our spot there and started packing.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon and as we drove along the shore I was immediately smitten with the beauty of Whiskeytown Lake. Tiny forested islands dot the water giving it a fanciful feel that makes you want to take a boat and explore each one. The gorgeous Klamath Mountain range surrounds the water like a benevolent protector and osprey ride the wind above. Bald Eagles nest here too and the abundance of wildlife is another favorite attraction.
We checked in at the Oak Bottom Campground store where we also purchased our required national park pass. This pass costs $20 for one week or $40 for the year and is also good for entry to nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park, a sister park to the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. After putting our passes on the windshield we were off to find campsite B5, our home for the next two nights.
After setting up the tents we stored our dry goods and cooler in the bear proof lock box provided at each campsite and started a fire in the pit to grill up the wonderful, fat shrimp that we picked up at R&R Meats & Seafood in Redding on our way to camp. We grilled some fresh pineapple with a touch of sweet and sour sauce and foil wrapped a few potatoes and dinner was served. After dinner Cody helped little Madi and her friend Riley roast the marshmallows to build some s’mores and we wrapped up the evening just visiting around the fire.
Saturday was our designated day of exploration and our own Jaime Vega decided to join us for the rest of our stay. There are four waterfalls within the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and we decided that our adventure for the day would be to check out Crystal Creek Falls. The trail to these falls is handicap accessible and paved all the way from the parking lot with a restroom to the overlook of the falls. A slightly steep dirt trail offers access to the crystal clear swimming hole at the base of the falls but the walk to view the falls is simple, non-strenuous and perfect for families with little ones. Flowering wild blackberry bushes lined the path for most of the walk and I vowed to return in a few weeks to pick some juicy berries I guessed would ripen by late July. Wild blackberries abound throughout the park and many visitors enjoy berry picking in the Brandy Creek area as well.
We also met Vianca Castro, a student at U.C. Davis and her boyfriend Marcel Harris after capturing them in the photo pictured on the cover enjoying the tranquility of sitting at the base of the falls, basking in the beauty and soothed by the thundering sound of falling water. Children sunbathed on the rocks further downstream, chased lizards and laughed and splashed in the shallower waters of Crystal Creek.
After snapping several photos and a dip in the swimming hole we decided to head back to camp for a hearty steak dinner and a little down time before dark.
Oak Bottom Campground offers several restrooms with regular flush toilets and power outlets along with hot showers for a fee. Showers are located in the building near the swim beach and all facilities are cleaned several times throughout the day. There is no power at your campsite but you can visit a restroom to use your blow dryer or charge your phone. Some of our party had spotty cell service but mine, with a Verizon carrier, worked fine throughout our stay. I prefer to camp “unplugged” but at least at this location I had the choice.
As the sun was setting Randy, Jaime and I left camp to meet up with Sky Ranger Greg Williams and the rest of the Shasta Astronomy Club for the star party at Oak Bottom Marina parking lot. Ranger Williams is President of the club and hosts several astronomy events throughout the summer. Every Friday evening from 9:00-10:00pm, June 15th thru August 31st, interested parties gather at Oak Bottom Marina to gaze at the heavens through high powered telescopes provided by the dedicated members of the club after a brief lecture explaining what you will be viewing. Longer star parties like ours, lasting from 9:00pm to midnight, will be held this year on July 14th, August 4th and 11th and September 1st and 8th. The Persied Meteor Shower is expected to peak around August 12th this year so try for the star party on August 11th and watch the Whiskeytown website for announcement of a special Persied Shower event.
During our free star party visit, the club’s youngest member, thirteen year old Kyle Reitan, introduced me to the wonderful world of astronomy. This knowledgeable young man has a high powered telescope and a star chart map and he knows how to use them. We looked at Jupiter up close and personal and I learned that Jupiter has four moons. We could clearly see them all lined up like soldiers orbiting the planet. It was fascinating. Kyle also showed me where to find several constellations in the night sky using his handy star chart. There is also a star finder app that enthusiasts can use to located their own constellation. What is your sign and do you know where to find the matching constellation? I didn’t until my visit with the Shasta Astronomy Club but now I’m inspired to look up at night more often and to do so through a telescope whenever the opportunity arises.
Jamie spent some time with astronomy buff Al Souder and his amazing telescope gazing at the constellation Lyra. This fascinating group of stars includes the star Vega, which just happens to be Jaime’s last name. It also helped Jaime and Al to find the Ring Nebula, a ring of glowing gases and dust created by stars burning out the last of their nuclear fuel. We were all star struck, pun intended.
Ranger Williams can also be found leading the two hour, ranger-led Moonlight Kayak tours at Whiskeytown from time to time. This free program is another way to enjoy the park after dark atop the water during the coolest part of the day. Reservations are needed to participate but the kayak, safety gear and instruction are all provided free of charge. You can sign-up online at recreation.gov for this year’s dates of July 22-26 and August 21-25. All moonlight tours depart Oak Bottom Marina at 8:00pm.
We returned to camp worn out and ready for a good night’s sleep beneath the stars with dreams of Jupiter swirling through our sleep like the Ring Nebula.
As we departed for home on Sunday morning I was sad to go and plan to return for another visit to explore more of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and it’s hidden treasures in the fall.