By Frank Galusha
An outdoor paradise and step-back in time. Although there is no official delineation, the Intermountain Area can be described as the populated inland valleys and mountain towns along the Highway 299/89 corridors of Northeast California between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen.
This region includes portions of Eastern Shasta, Northwest Lassen and Southwest Modoc Counties and is most closely associated with the unincorporated communities of Burney, Fall River Mills and Hat Creek.
The Intermountain Area is an outdoor paradise with land teeming with deer, elk, bear, fur-bearers, waterfowl and upland game to rivers and lakes full of wild trout and popular warm-water fish. Pristine wildernesses, high-mountain lakes, natural volcanic wonders, state and national parks and wildlife areas abound along with small towns where pioneer families still run beautiful ranches and farms. Here the visitor can learn about the historic and prehistoric cultures and geologic events that shaped the area or choose to hunt, fish, swim, golf, raft, kayak, hike, camp, photograph, boat, hang-glide, off-road and explore.
Hat Creek is one of the best fishing streams in California and appears in numerous lists, guides and books detailing America’s best trout streams.
Lower Hat Creek is accessed easily from Hwy. 299E while the upper portion is accessible at numerous points between Old Station, Hat Creek and Cassel.
Good fishing is adjacent to camping spots such as Twin Bridges, Big Pine, Hat Creek, the Cave, Rocky, Bridge and Honn Camp campgrounds. This part of Hat Creek can be fished using lures, flies or bait such as salmon eggs, night crawlers or cheese. Lower Hat Creek is entirely different with artificial lures and barbless hooks only. Lower Hat is revered by fly-fishing experts.
Burney Falls-McArthur State Park is a must see on any visit to the area. Once called the eighth wonder of the world by President Theodore Roosevelt, its beautiful blue-green waters pour from the ground through underground lava tubes above the falls and small springs and cracks in the cliff walls.
Water is released over the falls at nearly a constant rate of 100 million gallons a day from sponge-like lava formed nearly a million years ago. The water is about 42 degrees year-round and falls a distance of 129 feet into a multicolored pool. The power, beauty and sound of the falls are experienced by thousands of people each year.
The park also offers great camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. Burney Creek below the falls is good trout fishing in a picturesque environment and Lake Britton, downstream, has quality largemouth and smallmouth bass, black crappie, and trout. Lake Britton is also popular for water sports and contains a sandy swimming beach within the state park boundaries. The park and surrounding area change color in the fall from mostly green to brilliant red, orange and gold.
Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park is another little known treasure. According to the CA Department of Fish and Game, Ahjumawi means “Where the waters come together” which is what the native people of this area called this exceptionally beautiful place. It’s here where the waters of Big Lake, the Tule River, Ja-she Creek, Lava Creek and Fall River come together to form one of the largest spring-fed freshwater systems in the country.
Many people choose to explore this area by canoe or kayak. Unless it’s windy, you may be able to paddle from one end of these waters to the other in a few hours.
Exploring this park’s nearly 6,000 acres by canoe or kayak might take several days, which is why some people choose to camp. These waters are open for bass fishing year-round and for trout fishing from May to November. That part of Big Lake not inside the park boundary is also open to hunting during waterfowl, upland game and big game hunting seasons.
Other world-famous trout fishing waters. Even without Hat Creek, the Intermountain Area would still have some of the finest trout fishing in the contiguous 48 states.
Smaller waters like Burney Creek, Hatchet Creek, Montgomery Creek, Bear Creek, Ash Creek, Rock Creek, and Clark Creek are just a few of the streams worth exploring for trout and all offer a different experience. Trout fishing is also enjoyed in Big Lake and parts of the Tule River.
Thousand Lakes Wilderness contains volcanic and glacial formations, rocky ravines, mountain slopes, open meadows, stands of lodge pole and red fir and, of course, high-mountain lakes. It is dominated by 8,677 foot Crater Peak, the highest point in the Lassen National Forest, and is a reminder of the glacial action that eroded Thousand Lakes Volcano and created the many small lakes and ponds scattered throughout.
While covering the terrain, hikers see or encounter black-tailed deer, black bear, pika, pine marten, northern goshawk, pileated woodpecker, elk, Clark's nutcracker and other species. Trail access is available at three trail heads Tamarack, Bunchgrass and Cypress. Trophy class blacktail bucks have been taken here during the fall seasons and the area summers some huge bucks that winter in the blue oak/digger pine foothills to the south and west.
Hat Creek Rim is a large fault scarp formed nearly one million years ago through active faulting. A block of the earth’s crust (now Hat Creek Valley) 1,000 feet below the top of the Hat Creek Rim, gradually dropped leaving behind the rim. This fault system is still “alive and cracking.”
The Rim with its gentle late afternoon, early evening thermal uplift, known as “Glass off,” provides a unique opportunity for hang gliders and para-gliders. A launch site and parking area have been constructed on top of this 700-foot escarpment for this purpose, along with two landing zones directly below the launch. A U.S. Hang Gliding Association Level III rating is recommended for flying this world famous site.
The hunting culture and tradition is uniquely strong here and many local hunters and hunting families are well known, beyond the area, for their dedication and exploits. Many Burney, Fall River and Big Valley families hunt locally and all over the west and world. Some of their trophy rooms rival those found anywhere in the Country. The town of Burney is home to one of the biggest mule deer-cross bucks of all time, a giant non-typical taken in 1987 that scored 308 Boone and Crockett points and is near the top of the B&C Record Book. Excellent public hunting opportunities abound. Area residents can literally step out their doors and into the great outdoors and area visitors can do the same with tremendous lodging, camping and day-trip options.
Ash Creek Wildlife Area in Big Valley includes more than 14,000 acres of natural and cultivated habitats for wildlife. Hunters travel from all areas of California and adjacent states to hunt waterfowl during the fall and winter.
Many species of ducks frequent the area and this is also a staging point for large flocks of migrating white fronted geese and Tundra Swans.
Bird and wildlife viewing areas are set aside for those who hunt with binoculars and camera. Birding is exceptional during these fall and spring migrations. Trout can be caught in Ash creek. The wildlife area also hosts an impressive amount of vernal pool habitat. These vernal pools provide habitat to a unique assortment of plants, invertebrates and birds.
Historic, social and cultural attractions can be found throughout the area from Fort Crook Museum and Fall River Valley Golf and Country Club to historic towns such as Old Station, Lookout, Dana and Pittville.
Local events worth a visit include Burney Basin Days in July, Big Valley Days in August, and the Intermountain Fair in McArthur, one of the oldest fairs in California at 93 years and counting. The Pit River Casino is located in Burney.
Other historic points of interest are the Glenburn Church, Hat Creek School, the Cassel Store, the Pioneer Cemetery at Burney Falls, Clearwater Lodge at the Pit 1 Powerhouse and the Pittville Store. Bicycle marathons are held here in Fall River Mills each summer. Hikers use the old stage route in Pit 1 Canyon or follow the abandoned McCloud River Railroad tracks between Burney and Lake Britton. There are also historic hydroelectric facilities, company housing and camps that helped shape the region as we know it today. Rub shoulders with the locals, ask questions and discover more. Find your own favorite spot. Be sure to bring your camera and a smile.
Welcome to the Intermountain Area!
Photos courtesy of Koen Breedveld, Springrivers.com, Steve Breth, Joan McBee, Burney Chamber of Commerce, Fall River Hotel
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