Northern California: Grapes to Gold and Back Again, Part II

Text: Alfonse Palaima • Photography: Alfonse Palaima

In Part I, I crawled out of the lap of luxury atop a frozen wave of lava rock to find the State of Jefferson, a little bit of lumber, history, and plenty of snow. Part II swings me west toward the California coastline and then back south into wine country.

Launching the second half of my search for independence begins in the volcanic highlands of Yreka, CA. From the downtown area, Route 263 north connects with the Klamath River and parallels the State of Jefferson Scenic Byway, also known as Route 96. Taking that west to the sea leads through lush mountain forests and dozens of state historic sites.

Running along the Klamath River, I’m riding backward through time, through the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests (rumored home of Bigfoot), numerous gold-rush towns, and local neighborhoods of the State of Jefferson. A movement began here when basic road maintenance was ignored by lawmakers, and a group of citizens made the decision to secede. In November, 1941, the population of 11,707 became the newly formed State of Jefferson. Citizens took to blocking off their roads at gunpoint once a week. This practice continued until December, when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. In one fell swoop, the secession ended.

It’s a remote and beautiful 70-mile ride from the 5 Freeway back to Happy Camp, a small town with very few amenities, the most important of which is on the east end of town—the first gas pump I’d seen in a while. As the southern terminus of the nationally recognized Bigfoot Scenic Byway, Happy Camp is also a popular jumping-off point for whitewater rafting on the Klamath, mountain biking, and Bigfoot spotting! An 18-foot metal sculpture of the infamous Sasquatch marks the entrance to that byway, which heads north toward the Oregon border.

Continuing west, more isolation and solitude abound. Route 96 takes me to Somes Bar, CA, and the favorite fishin’ hole of President Herbert Hoover. Getting there, however, means enduring 100-degree air temps, tar snakes, and the bumpiest, concrete-patched asphalt road ever to be considered pavement.

The junction of the Klamath and the Salmon Rivers is rich in salmon as well as being an escape from the rest of the world. President Hoover (dubbed the fishing president), built a camp along the nearby Wooley Creek in 1927. His appreciation for one of the last great pieces of unspoiled land, and his efforts to designate nearly a quarter of a million acres of this rugged landscape, resulted in what is known today as the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Fed by pristine mountain springs above, Wooley Creek is now a popular rafting route for the most daring and adventurous paddlers, with Class IV-V rapids.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2012 back issue.