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PHOTO GALLERY INDEX > Blackberries and Black Bears

Lake Shasta, CA   07/26-30/08 (Day 652-656)
Blackberries and Black Bears

We’re sure we’re not the first to notice the similarities between house boating and RVing. The thwump, thwump, thwump of the water pump. The incredibly efficient use of space. The need to tie even the paper towels down sometimes. The way the refrigerator snaps shut. The ability to go where and when you like (albeit very, very slowly on a houseboat).

Our first taste of house boating came on Lake Powell. We’d dreamed of getting out on Lake Powell for years and the experience did not disappoint thanks to some expert insider guidance from Steve Ward who grew up in the area as the Glen Canyon dam was being built and spent his childhood exploring the rivers and canyons of the area before everything was submerged.

His is a unique above and below the water expertise and his tips got us into a lovely mooring spot and into some gorgeous areas of the vast lake including a great hike up West Canyon. Every arm of this lake seems to offer something new—unique rock formations or a different tint to the crystal clear water so deep (more than 400 feet in places) that it’s kind of freaky swimming in it. The lake even has Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the largest natural bridge in the world at 290 feet tall and 270 feet long, which we visit at 7 am one day and have the whole place to ourselves.

Lake Shasta Dam
Huge Shasta Dam, the second largest dam in the US, created Lake Shasta.

With fond Lake Powell memories in our heads, we head out on Lake Shasta. It’s a very different lake and a very different boat—no flat screen TV, wine refrigerator or rooftop wet bar and hot tub like we were spoiled with on Lake Powell—but it does the trick. Sort of like how everyone can’t be lucky enough to RV in an Airstream but those SOBs (some other brands) get them where they’re going too.

Mars Hawaii Tanker
One of the worst fire seasons in California history has left much of the state blanketed in smoke, including Lake Shasta. The Mars Hawaii, the largest flying tanker in the world with a wingspan of 200 feet, is stationed on the lake where it fills with water and flies out to help douse the fires.

Out on Lake Shasta we benefit from a local lake expert too. Kevin Befford has years of experience on the lake and his passion for it is contagious. He has personally created a network of more than 60 geocaching sites on and around the lake and knows the water and the shore like the back of his hand.

Based on Kevin’s detailed recommendations, we head out toward the base of Shasta Dam for a humbling look up at the massive structure. Then we explore Pitt Arm, a canyon that was never logged before being it was flooded because World War II broke out and all the loggers joined up before they could work the canyon. When lake water levels are low, like they are right now, the submerged forest in Pit Arm is really visible—and eerie.

It’s great terrain for bald eagles and ospreys, however, and we see a lot of both. Lake Shasta actually has about 20% of all nesting pairs of bald eagles in California, so spotting them is almost a given.

Bald Eagle Lake Shasta
A bald eagle takes flight from the top of a tree that's been submerged in Pit Arm.

Next we head to Squaw Arm where we find a completely secluded beach to anchor on, just like Kevin said we would. Unlike Lake Powell, which has limited opportunities to get onto dry land because of the sheer rock walls of the canyons there, Lake Shasta has more rolling, forested banks with lots of hiking trails.

Kevin told us about a trail out to an abandoned mine and mining town in the hills above the lake. With water levels so low (down more than 100 feet and dropping about a foot a day), trailheads have become hard or impossible to see or reach since they are now dozens of feet up the waterline where a boat can anchor.

Houseboay Lake Shasta
Our beautiful anchorage up the Squaw Arm. The water level is about 100 feet below full (marked by the treeline) due to many years of drought, and its dropping by almost a foot a day. The bare ground you see in this photo hasn’t been exposed for almost 30 years.

So instead of moving our houseboat and hoping to find the trailhead way above us, we decide to bushwhack from our current mooring to the nearby mine site right from where our boat is anchored using our Garmin GPS to get us there. Off we head, across steep rocky hillsides and narrow cliff tops and through dense manzanita thickets along deer trails through the forest. Finally, sweaty and scraped, we reach a dirt road which we follow to the abandoned mine site.

After exploring the mine for a while, we decide to follow the road back instead of repeating our bushwhacking adventure (we’ve managed to avoid the poison oak so far and we don’t want to push our luck). Our hope is that the road might lead us toward where we left our houseboat.

It’s a lovely, shady, easy walk as the road winds its way around the hillside. In the elbow of a corner near a creek, both sides of the road are absolutely blanketed in blackberry bushes so laden with berries that the vines are practically bent to the ground. First we start filling our hands and our mouths with the delicious sweet fruit, but soon we chug the last of our water and begin filling our Nalgene bottles with berries.

As if we needed reminding that this is prime bear country and they love blackberries even more than we do, we see a huge pile of berry-filled bear scat on the side of the road right where we’re picking. Just to be on the safe side, we raise our voices to make it clear that we’re here (a startled bear is more likely to attack than one that's merely pissed off by all the racket we're making) and then we hear it—a sound like bowling ball slowly rolling through the underbrush.

Then we feel a pair of eyes on us from across the creek on the bank to the far right of where we’re standing. It’s a California black bear watching us with a look on its face that practically accuses us of stealing his lunch. A couple of shouts of “hey bear!” and he (she?) heads away from us back into the forest. And, yes, we do feel guilty for stealing berries from a black bear, but wild blackberries are not to be passed up.

Karen with a bowl of delicious wild blackberries.

Sure enough the road we've been following practically leads us right back to our houseboat door (we didn’t need to do all that bushwhacking after all) and the next morning we enjoy those blackberries for breakfast in the sun on the roof of our houseboat as flocks of migrating geese land and take off from the calm cove we’re anchored in.

If only Airstream made a Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang style amphibious edition……



** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **

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