It seems every born-and-raised Californian that we have encountered over the years has waxed nostalgic with memories of the same few iconic destinations they visited in their childhoods. One of those destinations that brings back a flood of fond memories is the Shasta Lake area with stories of fishing, swimming and house-boating on the lake. We hadn’t any plans to houseboat when we went but we were looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about and exploring the caverns, the lake and the dam. Here is what we discovered.
The Lake Shasta Caverns are a magnificent example of limestone formations and well worth the effort to visit. Even if you have been to caves like Mammoth and Carlsbad, the Lake Shasta Caverns are beautiful in their own right and you get more than just a cave adventure with the price of admission. To get to the caves, you walk to a dock, ride a boat across Shasta Lake, ride a bus up to the entrance to explore the caverns and then do the whole thing in reverse to get back. The day we partook of the experience, the little kids just giggled with glee as we bounced about on the bus ride both coming and going; their laughter was infectious.
From the caverns, we headed over to the dam. The Shasta Dam is the second largest dam in the United States behind Grand Coulee (based on amount of concrete used) and the second tallest behind Hoover Dam. Here the engineer and designer in me was totally impressed with the visitors center experience. The auditorium was built such that, as you watched the explanatory movie about the dam, you could look at the dam through the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the screen. It was brilliant! (In the photo you can see the difference between past amounts of water being let into the Sacramento River in the movie and the lack of water being released in a drought year.)
In the video, they interviewed many of the people involved in building the dam. One of them commented that the construction tower used to dump the concrete during construction was simply cut off well below water levels. That was just faster and cheaper than dismantling it. Nobody would ever see it anyway, right? Well…not during the most-recent drought! Those cut off tower legs were again sticking out of the lake as of late 2013 and continued to be exposed until early 2016 when there was enough runoff to provide a much-needed refill.
[Note that this is not to say that the California drought is over by any means. I recently read a quote from Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who I thought put it quite nicely…“The bottom line is that much of California remains in serious drought, and many communities still hover near crisis conditions. For drought relief, El Niño was a stud in the north, but a dud in the south.” ]
Feeling both in awe of the natural and man-made wonders, we headed down the road from Shasta Dam and turned our attention to finding a campsite for the night. A rural drive into the Mendocino National Forest yielded just what we were looking for – a quiet site (we were the only ones there) with some wildlife (we had deer grazing through camp), good views (we looked down from the forest into the Sacramento Valley) and a nice breeze all evening that kept any bugs away and the temps just perfect.
We had stopped at a local grocery and picked up some fresh fish, frozen peas and a bottle of Trinity Lakes Gewurtztraminer from Alpen Cellars – a silver-medal-winning vintage at the California State Fair. We like to sample and support local, and Alpen Cellars is the only winery that is located in the Trinity Lakes AVA near Lake Shasta available at the grocery…so Alpen Cellars it was.
We opened the bottle to accompany our “fish and peas” campsite dinner. The color of straw (although it is hard to discern in an aluminum camping cup) with a lovely bouquet and crisp flavor, it was the perfect pairing to both our dinner and our Shasta Lake adventure. A toast: “Here’s hoping that every time we venture back to the Shasta Lake area, we find vacationers fishing, swimming and boating on a reservoir that is filled to the tree line!”