We pulled away from rain-splattered Jacksonville around 10:30 in the morning and as we eased our way onto the I5 at Medford, Oregon, we were now going further south than we had ever been on any previous driving vacation. We were quite surprised at how mountainous the last 30 miles or so of Oregon were, and we were less than impressed that the rain began to turn to wet sloppy snow. This snow-rain combo continued as we crossed into Northern California and it kept us company for quite a while en route to the Mount Shasta exit where we now began to turn southeast.
This was to be the only day all week where we hadn’t planned to stop and see anything of significance and we knew we would be “chalking up some miles”. Our chosen route would take us in a southeasterly direction through two National Parks and a National Forest, so we expected some terrific scenery along the way and we were not disappointed. Climbing to elevations of well over 6,000 feet, we emerged from the rain and slowly began to see some very welcome blue sky.
Our route took us through Shasta Trinity National Forest, and Lassen Volcanic National Park. It also took us through small towns with great names like “Hat Creek”, “Old Station”, and “Hambone”. As Mary was driving and giving me a chance to soak up the surrounding landscape, I began noticing evidence of lava strewn over a fairly wide area through Lassen Volcanic NP. I looked up the history of Mount Lassen and found out that it and Mount St. Helen’s, were the only two volcanoes in the contiguous United States that erupted during the 20th century. Mount Lassen first began rumbling in 1914, and finally on May 22, 1915, a powerful explosive eruption at Lassen Peak devastated nearby areas, and spread volcanic ash as far as 200 miles to the east. This explosion was the most powerful in a series of eruptions from 1914 through 1917.
Snow was not only evident on high-peaked mountains, it was also present on either side of the road as we climbed up through some of the higher areas of the two parks. After about 3 hours, we began to descend out of the forests to about 4000 feet and the town of Susanville, California.
A sun-baked city of about 15,000 people, it bills itself as “the gateway to Reno”, but before we headed down US route 395 in that direction, we stopped for one of my favorite U.S. fast food treats – an Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack-In-The-Box. Not particularly good for maintaining a healthy diet, but nevertheless, very yummy. As we set out on the last leg of our Monday journey, it was evident that the look of the mountains was changing, not to mention the topography on either side of the highway – now distinctly brown, and barren.
Finally after more than 6 1/2 hours of driving and nearly 325 miles, we got our first glimpse of Reno around 5:30 PM, and we pointed the Jeep towards a small cluster of high-rise casinos in the downtown core. While Harrah’s dominated the landscape, a quick google search told us that the Eldorado was the only 4 star hotel in the downtown area, so we pulled into their parking lot, and went inside to check on the room situation. As we expected, the hotel was not busy at all, seeing that it was a Monday night in early March, and we had no trouble getting a room (less than $60 including several different taxes). In fact if it hadn’t been for a national bowling event that was taking place, the casinos would have been empty. We were pretty road-weary but we wandered through the Eldorado, Circus Circus, and Harrahs, and indulged in one of favorite past-times – people watching. While out on our late-evening walk, a chilly one with temperatures in the low 40’s F, we noticed that there was a National Bowling Muesum, and a National Auto Museum, and decided that we were going to go check them out in the morning,
Our favorite silly moment of the day occurred just after we had crossed into California, and we encountered signs for a city with the improbable name of “Weed”. Coming from BC, itself the target for a lot of marijuana-based humour, we found this particularly funny. The fact that “Weed was available for the next 3 exits” was just too darned much for us, and we laughed hysterically while reciting old Cheech and Chong skits.