Today I’m driving out of Happy Camp on the Klamath River Highway, also known as highway 96. I’m heading east toward Yreka. This is a trip I’ve taken many times before, as I’ve lived in the Klamath National Forest for the last thirteen years.
The Klamath Forest is dense and vast. Happy Camp is in the center of the forest and there are only three ways out. Well, four if you consider air travel.
By car you can drive south-west to Willow Creek – 90 miles, and then down the mountain to Eureka. That takes three and one-half hours.
Or, you could drive east to Highway 5, and then 8 miles south to Yreka, the county seat of Siskiyou County. This will take about two hours.
During summer months you can drive north to Highway 199 in Oregon, and then east a couple of miles to Cave Junction, OR, a great place to buy gasoline that’s considerably cheaper than Siskiyou County gas. During winter months, the pass to Oregon is closed.
For this first leg of the journey, we’re driving east, but before we do, let me tell you about the one ghost story I know of from our little town of Happy Camp.Surely you would think I’d be talking about some of the town’s oldest inhabitants, owners of the aging hotel downtown, the miner-49ers, the Native Americans, but no. I’m talking about a house that is only about fifty years old (just guessing). It is on Airport Road. I know this story because my daughter and her spouse used to live there. The spouse told me that several times when he was in his bedroom he heard someone walk across the living room into the kitchen, as if he’d just come home from working in the old mill and was looking for a meal. The mill closed in the 1990’s so this could be a recent ghost. Well, of course, there was nobody that could have been there, so the noises were of a phantom nature.
Anyhow, that’s the only ghost story I know of here. There are probably others but people haven’t been telling me about them, and that’s probably because I’ve never asked.
So, we get into our car – in my case, a 1995 Ford Aerostar van, and drive east out of Happy Camp, past the Bigfoot statue, and up Cade Mountain. After reaching the summit the road twists and turns its way alongside the Klamath River for another 65 miles.
The first town we’ll reach is Seiad Valley, a village nestled into a few creekside side-roads just off the highway, eighteen miles east of Happy Camp.Along the way you’ll see river access sites and campgrounds provided by the Forest Service.
After Seiad Valley there’s a bridge over the Klamath River, and then another long wilderness type of drive through the forest until you get to Hamburg. At one time this was a busy, well-populated mining town. Now it is a modest collection of houses with a couple of lodges for fishermen. If you look closely on the south side of the road you might notice the old cemetery. I drove past that about a hundred times before I ever noticed it was there. I guess I was looking at the road.
Next you’ll drive a while, and then see a bridge over the Scott River. Next to that is a camping area for members of the Lost Dutchmen’s Mining Association, and Scott River Road, which goes south a few miles to Scott Bar, the place where gold was first discovered in Siskiyou County. There’s a historical marker at that site.
Stay with the Klamath River, going east. The next town is called Horse Creek – but you’d be hard pressed to recognize it as a town these days. There used to be a convenience store at a flat level place near the highway – where the mailboxes and telephone are now. The store burned down before I came to live in this valley. Across the river you’ll see some dairy farms. All the housing is hidden well off the highway. Keep going east. You’ll cross a bridge and enter into less tree-lined areas of the Klamath River Valley.
Klamath, by the way, is a Native American word meaning “swift.” The river has a strong current that’s great for rafting and kayaking, but not good for swimming. We who live here swim in the creeks, which are much safer and cleaner.Eleven miles past Horse Creek you’ll pull into the hamlet of Klamath River. There’s a store there, Quigleys… where you can get a drink or visit the deli and sit on their deck near the river.
After leaving Klamath River it’s another fifteen miles or so until you reach the cutoff, Highway 263, which I call the Five Bridge Road.
First there’s a bridge that curves over the Klamath River, and then a straight and narrow old bridge, the Shasta Bridge. The road then twists and turns along the hillsides and cliffs to the Pioneer Bridge which hovers above a deep gorge. That’s the third bridge… and before long you’ll come to the Dry Gulch Bridge.
I had a friend whose car broke down in the middle of the Dry Gulch Bridge. She and her children described the experience as “scary.” I have never felt fear on that bridge. It isn’t a very long one. Her fear may have come from having little children with her to guide to safety.
The last bridge is fairly minimal and nameless. It crosses the river … that river you’ve seen at the bottom of those cliffs, the Shasta River … and then you’re on a country road leading into Yreka, California.
That’s as far as I’m going to take you on this tour today.
Next week I’ll tell you about Yreka.