A drive along Klamathon Road and Copco Road, beside the Klamath River, to the Iron Gate Dam and Recreation Area. This is in the far-northern section of the state, only a few miles from Oregon.
A drive along Klamathon Road and Copco Road, beside the Klamath River, to the Iron Gate Dam and Recreation Area.
This is in the far-northern section of the state, only a few miles from Oregon, near a small town, Hornbrook. This is the story of my visit to Klamathon Road and Iron Gate Dam in 2010.
I lived next to the Klamath River, in Happy Camp, California, for thirteen years. At home we got electricity from Pacific Power, which owns the hydroelectric facilities at the dams that the Karuk Tribe wants removed: Iron Gate Dam, and just behind it, Copco Dam. At this point it looks like the dams will be removed by 2020. Everyone wonders about the impact dam removal will have on the area, so was very curious to see this part of the state.
We drove north from Yreka. When we got off Interstate 5 at the Klamath turnoff, we turned right. Most people will turn left, go under the overpass, and then head west on Highway 96 toward Klamath River, Horse Creek, Hamburg, Seiad Valley,Happy Camp and Somes Bar; or they will turn into the Collier’s Rest Area there next to Interstate 5. We didn’t. We turned right onto an unpaved road – Klamathon Road.
We drove north on the unpaved road and enjoyed the river view. The wildlife got our attention.
There were unusual birds. My friend, a long time naturalist, had never seen one species in California; he attempted to take photos of the elusive critters. The photos didn’t come out well.
A few miles further we passed flocks of pelicans with big bumps on their beaks, something neither of us had seen in the Klamath River before. They are lovely! My web research revealed that these are American White Pelicans. The bump on the upper mandible is a ‘breeding sail’ that is shed when breeding season is over.
Now that I’ve seen the pelicans I know why the first storage depot built in Happy Camp by miners in the early 1850’s was called The Pelican House. Probably at that time, the pelicans lived as far downriver as Happy Camp! That’s where I lived at the time I took this Klamathon journey, and I’ve never seen pelicans that far downriver, 160 years later.
We drove by a few old style homes, including one burnt-out ruin, until we came to the historical marker for a long-gone town, Klamathon. It was a booming sawmill town until a devastating fire destroyed everything in 1902.
The historical marker reads:
“On this site was located the historic lumber town of Klamathon. Townsite laid out in 1888 by the Klamath River Lumber and Improvement Company with the sawmill completed on July 23, 1892. The town boasted a sawmill, box factory, sash and door factory, hotels, boarding houses, a school, post office, 2 churches and 5 saloons. Logs for the mill were floated down from company holding 25 miles upriver. Shortly after midnight on Monday, October 13, 1902 fire raged through the community and by dawn only a few dwellings remained. Most of these were lost to subsequent fires. At this date only a few traces remain of this once prosperous community. Dedicated April 24, 1982, Humbug Chapter 73, E Clampus Vitus”.
We crossed the Klamath River at Ager Road then turned right on Copco Road.
After a river-view drive on a road in desperate need of repaving, we came to Iron Gate Dam, the first of the two dams the Karuk Tribal Council wants removed. At Iron Gate Dam we paused for a stroll and took photos from the bridge, then drove a bit further uphill and took photos of Iron Gate Reservoir from Overlook Point Recreation Area.
The reservoir looked a bit murky, like the Klamath River, which is what the lake is made from… however it is probably a popular area for fishing and boating during summer months. We were there at the beginning of May and the place was closed up and deserted.
The skies that day were lovely – bright blue with puffy white cumulus clouds… and beneath, the hills were bright green. I couldn’t help thinking, “This is God’s Country,” because nobody and nothing was there to mar the gorgeous landscape spread out before us.
My friend saw it differently. He said something to the effect that the hills were begging for human development and that it was a shame that nothing was being done there. I kept my “God’s Country” thoughts to myself.
He pointed out a scar on the landscape where a road had once been carved out. It wound up the hillside and between two hills, into a culvert. It was now green with grass like everything else there. Whatever human endeavor had once invaded the area was long gone.
On Copco Road there’s one lonely restaurant, a part of the Klamath Ranch Resort; we decided to take advantage, and went inside for dinner. There wasn’t much for vegetarians! (I’m a long-time vegetarian.) My friend eats fish but felt disinclined to order from their enticing but expensive seafood menu, and joined me in eating a grilled cheese sandwich with onion rings and french fries.
The sandwich was on garlic-flavored grilled sourdough. Delicious. The onion rings were batter dipped, and huge. They looked like big fried donuts. We didn’t leave hungry, and while there my friend (the talkative one) enjoyed conversing with friendly locals, including the waitress.
[Update, sorry to say, the restaurant has been closed!]
I would love to visit the area later in the season. It looks beautiful in the springtime. During summer I’m sure we’d find more traffic from vacationers, dry golden grass on the hills, and plenty of heat. If I return I’ll be sure to drive further as I’d like to see Copco Dam and Lake too.
James Mesenbrink says
I grew up in Copco 2 and went to the 1 room school. My father worked at the power plant for PP&L from 1976-1979. It was one of my favorite places from my childhood. The fishing was incredible. Is the Iron gate dam still going to be removed, leaving only the Klamath river up to the Copco 2 Power Plant? Would love to go back and see both of the power plants and house I grew up in. Thanks for sharing the photos and info!
Linda Martin says
Sorry for the slow reply – I’ve been vandwelling and not looking at this website for a while. Yes, the dam should be removed this year unless there are delays. I think both dams will be removed, but don’t know when. I think they should give some warning to downriver communities which is where I’m at, currently.