Exploring the Tree of Heaven area, Northern California.

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Exploring the Tree of Heaven area, Northern California.

Tuesday, 16-June-2015

We’d done a pretty good drive the day before – not the longest day that I’d done on the roadtrip, but it was a solid route and a good few miles that we’d burned away. But Mike, Liz and I are awesome, and being tired from a long drive was no reason for us to get up late.

I mean… we didn’t jump out of the tents at 5:30 or anything. But we didn’t sleep all the way to noon either. So I’ll take it as a win. Especially since I had oatmeal with blueberries and coffee ready before noon too!

Our first non-breakfast goal was to hit up Yreka (pronounced why-ree-kah) and figure out what we wanted to do with the day. It was nice and simple actually – we went to the DoA center, talked to the rangers there, realized that all they really do is give out logging permits, then just picked a random peak to walk up to. We also found a cave nearby that we picked as a secondary goal – if we summited easily, we’d hit the cave afterward.

I ate a corndog at the grocery store. I… I figure that should be recorded somewhere. It was tasty.

The peak we picked was a fire tower at the top of Lookout mountain. Or… it was called Lookout? Not really sure – I still have the map that we bought, but it’s not the most helpful thing ever. But it was enough for us to drive up a terrifyingly narrow logging road (and we only got run off the road by a logging truck once!) and find the trailhead.

Spoiler: The trailhead was another logging road. But an even more narrow road that we didn’t want to try driving up. So we started walking, and kept walking down the extremely dusty path ’till we found the fire tower.

Once there, we met the tower keeper who seemed kind of surprised to see hikers, and more than a little put-out that we’d intruded on her solitude. So we didn’t spend much time intruding – we signed the log book, made some epic sandwiches (fresh baguette, meat, brie, tomato, apple) and headed back down to the car, and to another sketchy drive back down the logging roads.

I mean, the views were pretty excellent… but we were in the middle of logging country. So the mountains were scarred with roads and bare patches and dust. Better than sitting in the city, but a far cry from the beauty of the New Hampshire wilderness.

So we hit camp to grab headlamps and lights, and moved on our secondary goal – Pluto’s cave. Named after the god of the underworld, and into who’s realm the caves supposedly lead.

Finding them took a little effort, but once we escaped from the western version of deliverance (seriously, we saw gated / walled compounds/houses, all with “keep out” signs and some even with watch towers) we parked and walked in via a pretty simple & lightly traveled path. The trail slowly got rockier, and the rocks slowly changed from sandstone to volcanic.

Then, we saw the hole in the ground. And we descended into darkness.

Actually, we went the wrong way first. But then we descended into darkness. Impressively complete darkness, and darkness that seemed to always hide something creepy in the shadows… but thankfully those shadows always resolved back into rocks or patches of sand – anything creepy was just in our minds (Ed note: Or so Ben thinks!!! Muahahaha!!)

But the last part we saw? The bit that convinced us to turn around? THAT was legitimately creepy. I mean seriously, and as soon as I saw it, I understood why the caves were originally thought to lead to the underworld.

As we had been going deeper, the walls had stayed mostly the same. Simple volcanic rock, with the bumpy and sharp features that one would expect from an old lava tube. But then the rock suddenly changed. The fracture planes aligned, and the cave changed from a round tunnel into a corridor.

The walls were flat – they looked like they’d been carved centuries ago. The ceiling above us was vaulted, with ribs holding up the A-frame of the rock. And it was huge – at least 50ft wide, and maybe 75ft tall. And the cracks on the wall aligned just right to make it look like the walls were made up of large blocks, all aligned and mortared together.

I honestly thought we’d walked into an old dwarven fortress, or an ancient vault built by giants.

Logically, I knew that this was just a coincidence of the rock – like I said, the fracture planes aligned, and propagated together. It makes sense in theory. But seeing it in person… we didn’t go into that area. We took a few pictures & some classy selfies, and moved along back to camp, to make dinner and relax.

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