Shasta Springs Resort, near Dunsmuir, California
As a young man in my twenties I had a friend named Rick who was much given to adventure. On weekdays a civil engineer mostly tied to his desk, on weekends and during vacations he headed into the local hills and mountains to test his physical endurance and to explore places most people would not have imagined going. He was a great railroad aficionado, for instance, and was fond of seeking out remote and lofty train trestles spanning mountain rivers and streams, climbing to the level of the tracks and then crossing them from one end to the other and back. When he took me along on what I had thought would be a rather innocent hike one day and I discovered it was actually a terrifyingly high, impossibly long and dangerously rickety wooden trestle he planned to ascend and cross, I sat out the adventure below. Which was fine with Rick. He was very good-natured. He knew his various hobbies were not of the sort to appeal to others.
Another enthusiasm was waterfalls. They were not for admiring, of course, but for swimming under. Thus one weekend I found myself hiking down a 19th century horse trail to the pool at the base of the 50 foot high Kings Creek Falls in Lassen Volcanic National Park. In we went, and, though the water in the pool was only about waist high during that summer season, I was astonished at the force of the water as it hit my head after plummeting the entire length of the falls from top to bottom. Mostly I was worried about rocks that might descend with the water, however, and convert me into a statistic. But no injuries occurred. Rick was totally in his element in situations like that, though for him of course the level of adventure was ridiculously low. The fun he had in such dousings came from his delight at watching someone else discover something new. A 50 foot waterfall was not much of a challenge to him. Later we swam in the much deeper, far more impressive and nearly ice cold waters at the base of the 129 foot high MacArthur-Burney Falls in Shasta county, a waterfall set in a deep bowl-shaped ravine so blue and mist-enshrouded that you feel you are entering into the center of a great cool wet sapphire as you descend the trail to the pool. Which you must plunge into, of course, if you plan to swim beneath the falls, which we did, then emerge on the other side to follow the short trail which leads to Lake Britton. Later Rick insisted that I climb one of our local semi-dormant volcanoes, Mt. Lassen, which rises 10,462 feet into the sky. The trail ascends only the last 2000 feet from the surrounding area, but it’s still an adventure. By then I was becoming more adventurous myself, and I managed to climb Mt. Lassen a second time, without Rick, accompanied by friends from San Francisco. I was learning some lessons.
Shasta Springs was a very popular summer resort on the Upper Sacramento River, north of the town of Dunsmuir, California. Its heyday ran from the late 19th century into the early years of the 20th, and it lay along the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad, so I’m sure that’s what brought it to Rick’s attention in the first place. It was located just north of Upper Soda Springs, and natural springs on the property were the original source of the water which was eventually bottled and sold and which evolved into a major brand of soft drink. The resort began at the railroad platform, situated right above the river, where various reception centers and kiosks greeted travelers and prepared them to ascend the steep mountainside by incline railway (an open carriage set atop a precariously inclined wheeled base), at a cost of 5 cents per trip. The resort closed in the early 1950’s and was sold to a theosophist organization which had its origins in the area. There are almost no traces left of the reception buildings and kiosks by the tracks today, but many of the cottages which formed the main part of the resort still stand higher up the slope. It was those buildings, supposedly deserted in wintertime, which Rick was determined to see. But he was hoping to find someone there, since he wanted to see if he could be given permission to stay as a paying guest at some point in the future, if such a thing were possible. He was really fascinated by the place.
We clambered up the snow-covered slope from the railroad tracks then, getting coats and hair caught in the branches of bushes and trees. It wasn’t easy. Once at the top, we found a large open snow-covered clearing and about two dozen white wooden houses, some large, some small, but there was not a human being in sight. The snow was about two feet deep, and there were no automobile tracks visible anywhere. No smoke came from the chimneys. We looked around a bit, hoping to find someone to speak to, and stumbled upon a cottage whose front door gave way as we turned the knob. It was a sort of café/soda fountain, clearly intended for summer use, with tables and chairs and a bar where attendants would make sodas and milkshakes for guests. Various items of food and drink were listed on placards on the wall behind the bar, but there was something very odd about them: all the prices were hopelessly out of date, by several decades, as if we had stepped back half a century in time. It was a very odd sensation, and the absolute silence and desolation of the place made us nervous. We felt we should not be there, and even Rick sounded a bit anxious as he expressed this concern. We were examining the prices, backs to the door, which we had left wide open, when suddenly we heard the door slam shut, causing us to turn around. As we approached it, very startled indeed, we saw a crudely scrawled note tacked to the inside of the door, at eye level. ‘Get out while there’s still time’, it read. And so that’s what we did. I have rarely been so rattled in my life. I was sure I would be shot down by a cross-bow before ever reaching the railroad tracks at the base of the slope. Even without the experience of the door-slamming and the note, there was something very eerie indeed about the place. It was not a good feeling.
I lost track of Rick more than thirty years ago, but the experience at Shasta Springs Resort does not appear to have dampened his spirits significantly. I recently learned that he’s still in the area, still climbing trestles and mountains, still following railroad tracks wherever they might lead. Whereas I don’t do any of those things. But there’s really something to that spirit of adventure, especially when you’re young: it gives you some marvelous things to remember.