Saturday, June 26, 2010

Camping at Lake Britton

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My family and I spent Memorial weekend car camping at Lake Britton and exploring the area. It was kind of a last minute decision (within a couple of weeks) to go camping over the holiday weekend, and as expected just about every place we looked into in the Northern California within 3 to 4 hours of Sacramento was all booked up on reservations. This led me to start looking for "first come first serve" spots, and it turns out that PG&E has quite a few of them. I narrowed my search to the Hat Creek and Burney area and decided we would just go from campground to campground until we found a spot. First stop, Lake Britton where the majestic McArthur Burney Falls pours in to.



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The first campground we checked out was Dusty campground which is just over the bridge once you hit Lake Britton heading north on highway 89 after passing the town of Burney on highway 299. This small campground only has 7 total sites, two of which are group sites. This is a very no frills campground with a couple of pit toilets, no running water, and no campground host. What it has though is pretty direct access to a narrow finger of the lake. Nearby is also the railway bridge made popular in the movie "Stand By Me" (the one they ran across and were nearly hit). Unfortunately every site was taken, but based on the generators and speakers mounted in the trees, I wasn't all that disappointed.

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Next up was North Shore campground. We were hopeful since it has 30 sites, but all the same being the Friday of a holiday weekend, I was getting nervous that we wouldn't find anything on the lake.

To our relief we found the campground with many sites still available. We scored a spot with views of the lake that was just a short walk down to. I would have liked to be a bit more spaced out from our neighbors, but all the same I've stayed at more cramped. We staked our claim, unloaded the canoe and camping gear, and settled down for a relaxing rest of the day. It was a pretty uneventful day aside for loud redneck fight breaking out somewhere in the campground an hour or two after we went to bed. It really shows a lot of class to scream obscenities at each other in a family campground in the middle of the night. Luckily the kids are heavier sleepers than we are and were thus spared the episode.

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The next morning after breakfast we loaded up the canoe and headed west along the north shore with Clark creek being our destination. Donna Sylvester of Eagle Eye's Kayak Guide Service was kind enough to give me this information about the waterfall at Clark creek and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this great tip. If you ever were to need to rent a kayak or hire a water guide in the area, don't hesitate to contact Donna for her services. She seems to really know the waters in the area well and is a very nice lady.

From Donna:
Take the hike up to Clark Creek Falls. It is a little rugged in parts, but well worth the 1/2 mile hike. The water going into the cove is shallow, stay to the right of where the creek flows in, but not too far. Look for the rocky area near the shore. That is the best take out spot. Otherwise you will sink into some really nasty black mud. The trail is a little to the right of that. It starts out pretty nice, but will eventually look like it ends. Look for the rocks we stacked up. You will have to climb to higher ground by the rocks and walk up on the newer trail up there for a little ways until it looks like the trail ends again, then go down a short, but steep embankment, back down to the original trail. The falls are beautiful right now; as is the creek. I have never seen them so big and full of water.

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This proved to be a wonderful tip. We had a great time paddling to and from Clark Creek falls seeing otters, turtles, ducks, and even a bald eagle. The falls themselves were beautiful this time of year and from what I hear were flowing a bit more than usual with this wet year.

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We seemed to make it back to our campground just in time, as the lake suddenly started to fill up with fast motorboats dragging skiers and tubers alike all over the place. Some were even blasting loud music as they went. What a stark contrast to the serenity we were just afforded with our quiet paddle and peaceful hike.

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Later in the day we made our way over to McArthur Burney Falls State park to see Burney Falls. Andrew fell asleep on the way over, so we spent the first half an hour or so hanging out by Burney Creek upstream of where the falls were. This proved to be a nice quiet spot to sit in the shade and watch the numerous fly fisherman reeling in the occasional Rainbow Trout.

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The Falls themselves were spectacular, but by then it was not the ideal light to view them. All the mist was lit up by the harsh sun and pretty much washed out the view. Compare with the photos I got last time I was here under better light.

After taking in the falls and hiking back up, the kids (and Jennifer) had some ice cream before we headed up the road to the Hat Creek Recreational area.

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Our destination up the hill was one big cavern. Subway Cave is a massive lava tube leftover from when the region was shaped by massive amounts of volcanic activity. There is a series of reflectors along the path within that signal sign posts that tell about the features seen within the cave. All of us thoroughly enjoyed walking through the long lava tube. Be sure to bring flash lights and a sweat shirt if you go, as most of it is in complete darkness and it's quite chilly in there year round.

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After a full day of exploring the area we had little problems falling asleep this night (well, after I asked the neighbors to turn down their police scanner that is).

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The next morning we loaded up the canoe and headed east to paddle the waters of Ahjumawi Lava Springs State park. The put in is located at a place called the Rat Farm. It's called this as it used to be a muskrat farm. In fact, you can still see many muskrats in the area as when it closed down they simply released them (sigh...).

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I have to admit I was a little nervous going on such an ambitious paddle with both the kids (mainly with Andrew the 3 year old). I couldn't get the visions out of my head of paddling the amazing aqua blue clear waters of the springs though, so we stashed away some secret weapons (lollipops) and hoped for the best. The paddle in went really well. We had magnificent views of both Lassen and Shasta along the way, and though it was a bit further than I remembered before long we found ourselves approaching Ja-She. The waters here are simply magical as they become completely clear as you get closer and they start to take on an amazing shade of blue.

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We took out on a bank to the left of the bridge, and spent the next hour or so eating lunch, fishing, and just marveling at the water.

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After coming this far I just had to go further, so we portaged the canoe over to the other side of the bridge and continued up the springs to the head water. Quietly paddling along here you find yourself asking is this really so amazingly beautiful, or am I dreaming the whole thing. It's that stunning.

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Unfortunately, a three year old has not experienced enough life to know what an amazing thing he is experiencing. So quickly it was time to go, and fast. We abruptly headed back for the Rat Farm, even taking the most direct route through where the motor boats pass to get back as quickly as possible. Though I feared the melt down was eminent, it never really came. Jennifer complained a bit of the long paddle, but over all we kicked some serious butt in covering the 3 miles or so in 40 to 45 minutes.

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It was sad to leave, but all the same I feel very lucky to have been able to share this amazing place with my whole family.

A couple of things to watch out for if you visit Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park are the rattlesnakes and the stinging nettle. The rattlesnakes are a dark almost black color in this region, and blend in quite well with the dark lava rocks. Just move around with purpose and make a bit of noise and they'll either get out of your way or give you a good warning not to proceed. The Stinging Nettle grows abundantly around the banks of the water and you'll know if almost immediately if you get into it. They are covered with fine white hairs which deliver a nasty sting of formic acid if you touch it with your bare skin. Hydrocortisone cream will aid in relieving the pain if you happen to get it on you.

We headed back to camp for a relaxing dinner and debated heading out that night. We decided to stick it out though and got to hear some amazingly loud good ole boy music as we were trying to get to sleep :-) What can I say though, you sometimes have to put up with stuff like this on a holiday weekend. All in all though, it was so worth it to take in all the amazing sights. We counted 11 or 12 bald eagle sightings (unfortunately none in good range of my camera), countless turtles, otters, many waterfalls, amazing springs. Not a bad weekend at all!


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More photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/januaryphotography/sets/72157624363152998/

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Randy, Gorgeous! and looks like you had SO much fun! Anne

Anonymous said...

Jennifer from the So Cal High Desert: Your photos are amazing. We will be heading there for the first time this summer. After reading your post and glancing at all the photos, I can't wait! Thanks for sharing.