Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway – Part I

Burney Falls

The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is one of 42 “All American Roads” established in the United States.  The entire route is nearly 500 miles in length and is easily divided up into leisurely day trips.  We are fortunate to be working right smack in the middle of this byway that extends from its southern terminus near Lassen Volcanic National Park in North-Central California to its northern boundary at Crater Lake National Park in South-Central Oregon.  The route passes through the fiery, dramatic landscape of four National Park Service properties and numerous state parks, wildlife refuges and national forests with an eclectic assortment of small town communities to explore along the way. 

Last week on one of our days off, we decided to embark on a road trip and complete part of this scenic byway.  Leaving the Tulelake area, we made a brief stop in Merrill, OR to fuel up (diesel is more than $1 cheaper in Oregon than California) and then headed west on Route 161. 

We travel Route 161 often since it’s our major path to Klamath Falls for all amenities and it passes by the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  We discovered an eagle’s nest in the refuge a while ago and visit it often to see how the babies are progressing!

Lower Klamath Falls National Wildlife Refuge – eagle perched on nest

The above photo was taken back in May before the leaves came out making the nest and the eagle very visible! Later in the month, we took my Canon camera with the 200mm lens back out and captured some of the photos below. Jim snapped the photos while I did the editing – just need to give credit where credit is due!! Good job Jim!

In the same area, we grabbed some shots of a Great Blue Heron and some egrets hanging out in the trees!

At the junction of Rt. 161 and Rt. 97, we headed south towards Mt. Shasta, the town.  This scenic road offers up some of the most stunning views of Mt. Shasta, the mountain, and it was a picture-perfect day for viewing this 14,000+ volcanic peak.  At some point this summer, we will venture back here to hike some of the trails on the mountain.

Mount Shasta and Shastina

At Mt. Shasta (the town), we picked up Rt. 89 and began our drive through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  I recently read an article touting the attributes of McCloud, CA – a small, mountain town that sits in the shadow of Mt. Shasta.  An old lumber and railroad town (designated a National Registered Historic District), the historic buildings are well-preserved and there are numerous hotels, restaurants and activities to attract visitors year-round.  Visit the McCloud Chamber of Commerce website for more information!  We hit McCloud at just the right time to take a break from driving and grab a snack.  Since it was Tuesday, unfortunately we found many eating establishments closed but the coffee shop in the historic McCloud Mercantile Hotel was open and we enjoyed a great cup of fresh brewed coffee and a blueberry scone!

Continuing south on Rt. 89, we detoured off the road to visit the McCloud River Falls area.  What a treat!!  The McCloud River is a state Wild and Scenic River that runs for over 75 miles – fed from the snowy peaks and springs of the Cascade Mountain area surrounding Mt. Shasta.  Starting at the parking area for the Middle Falls, we hiked the switch-back trail down to the base of the falls and just hung out here for awhile taking in the breathtaking beauty of this waterfall.  Jim couldn’t resist dipping his feet into the painfully cold water at the base of the falls!  The waterfall certainly commands most of the attention in this area but the diversity of the forest plants is not to be missed.  Douglas-fir, white fir, ponderosa pine and incense-cedar dominate this area and there are some magnificent specimens along the trail.

Middle Falls on the McCloud River
Another angle!

We traveled to the Upper Falls for a brief period before getting back on the road towards Burney Falls area.  The Upper Falls, while not as dramatic, had its own special charm. And the river above the falls here was so tranquil and peaceful!

McCloud River scene above the Upper Falls

Our next destination was the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.  It seems “waterfalls” was the theme for the day!  We hiked the Falls Loop Trail which starts at the top of the falls and descends to the base of the waterfall.  The trail continues downstream and passes over the creek via a small bridge, reversing course along the forested hillside upslope past the falls and back over the stream above the falls.  Air temperatures had climbed during the day and the hike in the forest was nice and cool!!

Burney Falls

Burney Falls is over 120’ high and 250’ wide and more than 100 million gallons of water flow over the cliff in a day!   The falls are unique in that the water emerges not just from the top where the creek overflows but through numerous cracks and springs in the face of the cliff.  Hanging gardens of ferns and other plants provide a backdrop to the tumbling water creating a stunning display.  Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1954, it is truly one of the most spectacular places in Northern California. 

From the base of Burney Falls

Notice the propensity of plants growing out of the face of the cliff!

Hanging gardens in the falls!
Burney Creek along the trail from the upper bridge

Along the trail, I noticed an unusual maple leaf that I was unfamiliar with – turns out it’s called a Vine Maple – Acer circinatum. Lovely leaf and texture!

I also was impressed with the benches that were dispersed along the Falls Loop Trail.

At the end of the trail, there was a cut-out of a log that showed where different historical events fit in with the rings of the tree. I love these displays!

A short distance from Burney Falls is another interesting attraction that I did not want to miss.   One location for some scenes from the iconic, 1986 coming-of-age movie Stand By Me was filmed in this area.   We made the detour to see the infamous railroad bridge on the Great Shasta Rail line where, in the movie, the boys had a close encounter with a train.  Cool!!   Of course, Jim always stretches the boundaries of acceptable behavior and ventured past the barriers to stand on the bridge! 😊

Perspective view of the rail bridge
Looking downstream on part of Lake Britton from railroad bridge

A great road trip. Over the course of the summer, we’ll travel all stretches of this byway and I’m looking forward to two highlights in particular – exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake National Park!!

Lava Beds May Wildflowers

Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary – Collinsia parviflora

I noticed this sweet, diminutive flower blooming alongside the Big Nasty Trail near the Lava Beds National Monument border with the Modoc National Forest. This is a native annual plant found throughout the west. Apparently, it has also been present in Vermont – my home state! It thrives on disturbed soils and rocky slopes so it’s not surprising that it is found here in this rocky terrain.

Diplacus nanus (Mimulus nanus) – Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower

Another teensy plant growing in the burned out area near Mammoth Crater is the Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower. An annual plant native to California, this one also thrives in disturbed and bare soils. The plant supports both hummingbirds and several species of butterflies!

Introduction to Lava Beds National Monument

Phacelia linearis – Threadleaf or Linearleaf Phacelia

I’ve settled into my new home for the next few months at Lava Beds National Monument. This is a harsh, extreme environment that has been impacted by two major Northern California wildfires in the last two years – the Caldwell Fire in the summer of 2020 and the Antelope Fire that swept through this area in the fall of 2021.

As I explore my new surroundings, I am amazed at the way the landscape is bouncing back from the devastation. On a recent hike, I counted no less than 13 different wildflowers blooming on recently burned out hillsides along the 2.5- mile Big Nasty Trail and surrounding some of the developed lava tube caves. More pictures to come as I am struggling with very spotty cell service and very slow uploading speeds. I’m researching different options for pulling in a better signal but until then I will limit the number of photos I upload to any given post!

Some of the surrounding landscape:

Northeast area of the park looking towards Mt. Shasta
View of The Peninsula land formation from Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Part 3

Quitobaquito Spring

Oh the joys of being back in a place where WiFi is available!! Taking up where I left off on our wild west tour, our next big outing in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument involved another road trip – this time along the South Puerto Blanco Drive.  This gravel road runs parallel to the border between Mexico and the United States and at mile marker 15 the two-way section of this road ends at the Quitobaquito Spring. 

We drove south on Route 85 to the entrance onto the South Puerto Blanco Drive.  It is a 15-mile drive to the spring, and we were told it would take about an hour.  Wrong!!  This is a gravel/dirt road chock full of washboard sections that will rattle your teeth!  Along the way to the spring, we stopped a few times to check out the infamous and controversial “border wall” that was recently constructed along the 30-mile national monument border.

Border wall

The construction of this border wall along the 30-mile stretch of land is, in my humble opinion, an environmental and social disaster.  The wall itself is 30-feet tall and made of steel bollards 6 inches wide with a 4-inch gap between bollards.  The entire length of the wall is embellished with stadium lighting that interrupts the dark sky status of the area.  It was created by bulldozing a 60-foot-wide swath of desert 30-miles long – destroying sensitive plant material, interrupting natural migration routes for desert animals, disrupting nocturnal animal patterns, compromising native American archaeological sites and depleting valuable resources including the unique desert aquifer that exists here.  Before this current eyesore was constructed, there were already vehicular and physical barriers in place along this stretch of the border.  In 2006, an unobtrusive steel fence was completed by the park service that served as a physical deterrent to illegal activity crossing the border and driving through the monument.  Prior to the steel fence, a barbed wire fence was repeatedly compromised causing vehicular traffic from across the border to carve many miles of illegal “roads” through the pristine desert environment.  The low-impact steel barrier replaced the old fence and solved the problem.  So, why did we spend millions upon millions of dollars causing irreparable damage to the environment to build this new wall that totally undermines the reason why the initial steel fence was built?   Answer: to satisfy a political agenda that has nothing to do with public safety or respect for environmentally and historically sensitive public lands.

This goes on for 30 miles
Side view
Lophocereus schottii – Senita Cactus growing along the wall – a cactus unique to this area

Of particular concern to many native American tribes and other local inhabitants is the impact this construction will have on one of the few naturally occurring sources of fresh water in the area – Quitobaquito Spring.  This spring is home to several plant and animal species that do not exist anywhere else – the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish, the Quitobaquito spring snail, the Sonoyta mud turtle and the desert caper plant.   Many animal species that depended on the spring for water have been impacted due to the obstruction of the wall including pronghorn, javelina, bobcat and desert tortoises.  Migration routes may well be impacted as we realize the disruption through on-going research.

Quitobaquito Spring
Watched several American Coots cruising along in the water

Some wildflowers blooming along the pond’s edge –

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia – Tahoka Daisy
Sphaeralcea ambigua – Desert Globe Mallow

It was truly an exceptionally spiritual experience to visit the Quitobaquito Spring and see this ecosystem that has been nourishing the inhabitants – both human and animal – of this region for thousands of years. 

After our hours long road trip, we came back to the campground and walked along the 1.5 interpretive trail that leaves from the campground. We needed to stretch our legs after driving much of the day.

View of campground from the trail

The sun was setting along our walk and it was very restful to watch the desert go to sleep.

a hedgehog cactus
Diversity of plant material in the Green Desert
Fishhook Cactus
Days end in the Desert

Pacific Northwest Series Photo 3


We’ve been watching this trio for the past week. They like hanging out on the post and rail fence that marks the cliff edge at our campsite and spend lots of time grooming each other!

Pacific Northwest Series – Photo 2

Sol Duc Forest

Our 6-mile hike in the Sol Duc Forest in Olympic National Park brought us through massive, mossy, dense fir and hemlock stands. The varying shades of green throughout the walk are unrivaled for beauty and awe-factor!

Pacific Northwest Series

Olympic National Park – Kalaloch beach scene

While I continue to have limited cell service, I’ll post sporadically until I have better connectivity!! I used up all my hot spot cell data two weeks ago and have been very limited until today! We have spent the better part of the last month in the Pacific Northwest and I promise I will post more details later! For now, I’ll share some of my favorite recent images until I can get back on track (with better WiFi) and focus on our many travel adventures over the past few months!

This photo was taken yesterday along the Pacific coast within the boundary of the Olympic National Park. I am in awe of this spectacular place and its wild and wacky weather. We arrived on the coast yesterday amid a rain and hail storm but we persevered and scored an amazing campsite with ocean views! In between the rain squalls, we’ve enjoyed relaxing walks along the beach and falling asleep to the sound of the pounding waves.

Coastal Bush Lupine

Lupinus arborea – Coastal Bush Lupine

I found this gem growing on the banks near the Point Reyes Lighthouse in Point Reyes National Seashore. In early March, this plant was just beginning to bloom. It was a foggy, misty day and the flowers and foliage were covered with water droplets! Although native to the area, the plant is considered to be invasive and should be planted outside of its natural environment with care.

Lupine foliage

Miniature Lupine

Lupinus bicolor – Miniature Lupine

I found this little gem growing in patches in the hillside meadows surrounding Lake Mendocino in California. As the botanical name suggests, the flowers are two-toned – blue and white. The plant is native from California to British Columbia and reaches a height of a foot or less. It also serves as a host plant for many types of butterflies and apparently is a favorite of the Arrowhead Blue butterfly.


Rubus spectabilis – Salmonberry

I first noticed this plant last week during our slow ascent up the Pacific Northwest coast from Northern California. We pulled into the Lewis and Clark National Historic Site in Astoria, OR to take a short break from driving before continuing on to our overnight camping location. (More to come on Lewis and Clark in another blog! Thanks Kurt for clueing me in to this awesome gem!) Along the hiking trail here, there was an interpretive display that talked about salmonberry and its importance.

A few days later while walking in the woods in Washington State near the Puget Sound, I noticed the same plant starting to leaf out and bloom. Such pretty delicate pink flowers! Salmonberry has a very limited range and is found from Southern Alaska to Northern California mainly on the western side of the Cascade Mountains. The salmonberry has a raspberry-like fruit and was an important food source for native Americans. Native Americans also used the tender young shoots as a food source and processed the bark for medicinal purposes.

It is a bright spot of color in the Pacific Northwest woods right now! 🙂

PS – I will be doing short one or two photo posts right now until I get better connectivity. Then, I will take up where I left off deep in the state of Arizona! 🙂