Day 33 - Klamath Falls OR to Quincy CA

Good morning Klamath Falls, OR. In one of those 3am moments I have remembered everything about my apparently forgettable motel here. Believe it or not but it was run by an Aucklander; I didn't get to meet her though, but I did get good service, and a rather large & clean room with suitably powerful heater. From my window I could see the snow flurries coming in as I looked down the backstreets of Klamath Falls. Lots of small two story brick buildings here, and as the temp plunged well below freezing I could hear the trains rolling through this junction town late into the night. Klamath Falls also has a great Thai restaurant within easy walking distance of my motel.

So goodbye no-longer-forgettable motel, and hello highway. Not an especially long drive today, just 4 hours. At least it would be if I took the direct route. Naturally I went at right angles towards Dunsmuir, one of the famous "snow towns" in railroad circles. Soon I crossed the border into California and almost immediately a compulsory customs inspection point. ALL VEHICLES MUST STOP. "Where are you coming from?" … at least this time I remembered not to answer NZ. I wracked my brain, god, umm, that place up the road, come on brain, I was there only a few hours ago… Klamath Falls I finally blurted out. "Any food?" I held up the pack of sticky buns that were counting as breakfast today. "Ok, through you go". I imagine if I'd had a boot full of squealing pigs things would've been a bit slower.


I drove on and soon was at the romantically named "Highway 97 Rest Area". Interesting story here, used to be a breautiful lake here, but back a century or two ago when a hotel was being built, the foundations broke through the base and overnight the lake drained dry, leaving just a swamp! A bit sad, and no doubt one hell of a shock for the owners, but it is now a flourishing wetlands area. Recently an entirely new species of reptile was discovered here when one day they all emerged from their burrows, walked across the highway, and went into the marshes. I'm not making this up! Of course if CDOT had given the place a more imaginative name I could've looked up the actual details… so blame CDOT.


No shortage of sage brush here. The railway line runs through the embankment at right, but there was nothing much happening today, so I pressed on and arrived at the town of Weed, where 97 meets I5. As you can imagine, the tee shirt trade in Weed is alive and well, "I ♥ Weed" being an especially popular one, available at most diaries, petrol stations, cafes, roundabouts, letterboxes, etc.

Hello again I5, been a while since I've seen you! This isn't the I5 of previous trips though, no this I5 is actually interesting!


Witness Black Butte, Siskiyou County; a "parasitic satellite cone" of Mount Shasta. It rises nearly 3000 ft straight up from the small undulating hills that surround it and I5 skirts right around the edge it. Pretty amazing, and I bet it would be fun to ski!

I soon ended up in the tiny town of Dunsmuir, via some complicated one way roads, highway flyovers, 270 degree turns, and so forth.


Here is one of the bigger roads of Dunsmuir. And here is the station with a very nice ride.


I had a bit of a look around; very quiet here today. I found an engine shed, turntable, water tank, and a single flanger.

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Notice anything missing? Besides the lack of idling locos, snow plows, work crews, stabled trains, helper crews… yes, NO snow at all! For a so called snow town it was mighty warm here, and absolutely no evidence of the white stuff. Hrmph! I jumped in the SUV and scooted up the road via more intricate back roads. I was soon heading down the tiny tiny Cantara Loop Road, and turned exactly where the GPS said to turn, i.e. the slight gap in the forest, real blink-and-miss-it stuff. Down the gravel road I went, wondering just where I was going, a few turns later and I found a rather famous spot:

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… a very tight, over 180 degree curve in the track that helps the railroad claw its way up the hillside. The bridge is marred by a rather large bollard structure, closer inspection shows that this structure could withstand a full frontal attack by several tanks. The beams were all at least a meter in diameter, and very well anchored. (Locals call it the Cantara Loop Super Guard Rail)

Wandering around I found a plaque placed by UP (or maybe SP?), thanking the residents of the area for assisting with the massive clean up operation after the 1991 derailment there. What the plaque doesn't say is that in 1991 a 97 car train derailed there, dropping several tankers into the Sacremento River including one full of the pesticide metam sodium. 19,000 gallons of the pesticide emptied into the river, "one of the more well known, pristine wild trout streams in California" and killed all aquatic life for 42 miles .

"At daybreak the smell was so noxious near Dunsmuir that it was difficult to breathe. A pea-green foam was running down the Sacramento River, and dead trout were everywhere, upside down, many on the bottom of pools, some floating. Under the rocks, the insect larvae were dead. Residents seemed confused but there was no doubt what was happening: A river was being murdered." (Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Examiner).

Soon the pesticide had reached Lake Shasta. Southern Pacific engineers devised an utterly weird sounding scheme involving barges and heavy pumping gear that somehow aerated the tainted water by spraying it in the air and hence removing the toxin. "Testing of the lake waters found toxic substances in only one out of 78 samples. There was hardly a trace in in the river, either. If it weren't for the 200,000 dead fish, three-hundred ill residents, and millions of dollars in damage and lost tourist business, one might not even know that California's largest inland water disaster had even happened."

Most shocking is that the tanker carrying the pesticide was not marked as harzardous, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Turns out metam sodium is not an EPA classified hazardous substance. "The number of fish killed or the number of people killed is not the criterion we use" ... !!! More on the story here:

Ten years after the derailment UP finally built a guardrail to stop this ever happening again. However every year or two it seems another derailment occurs along this stratch, although thankfully there have been no more as terrible as the '91 disaster.

So anyway, I sat here for a while in the utter peace and quiet. Nothing but the quiet burble of the river. I found some nice photo spots, however my old curse struck again and there were no trains anywhere to be seen. Suddenly the crossing lights burst into life and a UP hi-rail truck rolled past and gave me a wave. Another hour later he came back again. As lovely as it was here, I wanted trains dammit!

While waiting I noticed a lot of rubbish, so set about cleaning it up. How is it that in this beautiful remote location there could be so much rubbish?! I filled two supermarket bags to the brim with discarded water bottles. Why!?

Eventually I gave up and drove back to Dunsmuir; still nothing. Some careful forensics shows I then took highway 89, which I doubt is what my GPS recommended as it's by no means direct; it does however follow some old railroad tracks. Needless to say it took a long time to get to Quincy.

I was now deep in the forest, cruising down endless roads like this:



At least I'd found snow again! A while later I came across an old railway bridge, so slammed on the brakes and skidded into a very conveniently placed parking spot at Lake Britton.


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Unlike Oregon and their "sure, walk across the disused bridge" attitude, here there was a very definite barrier. Barbed wire, fencing, concrete blocks, "no loitering" notices; the lot! The soil was incredibly red here.

Onwards, onwards, onwards I drove.


Somewhere along the road I came across the most incredible outlook, for fun some time try estimating how many trees there are in this photo. Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?


Onwards I drove some more. The sun had gone by now, but I was lucky enough to bump into the BNSF High Line, an inland route from Klamath OR into the heart of the Feather River Canyon. I wasn't especially sure what the traffic here was like, but figured it was fairly low. Still I had a looksy:


… nothing to see. I drove on and had only just finished accelerating when my scanner picked up some FRED blips and sure enough, what was I missing but a very multicoloured BNSF manifest. If I'd stayed at the crossing for even just 5 more minutes… well… nevermind! The futility of railfanning!


Onwards I drove. Nearly dark by now as I cruised down the very deepest backroads of northern California. I was in constant wonder at all the conifers which slowed my progress down a fair bit in places. There were just so many different types, how could I not be amazed?

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Late that night I rolled into Quincy, the only town of any significance (most "towns" here are less than a dozen shacks) in the Feather River Canyon. As I approached Quincy I became aware of deep canyons, twisty roads, and many bridges and viaducts, most of them not on my road. As I would find out the following morning, the Feather River Canyon is a remarkable place with some very interesting engineering going on.

I checked into the only open motel in town and got a fairly expensive room, but at least it was clean, and didn't smell; a small wonder these days! Restaurant choices were similarly limited, and I settled for a pizza which turned out to be a disaster. Whoever was making the pizza seemed to have poured the entire container of BBQ sauce on top of the pizza and it went everywhere . I am surprised I haven't had a bill from the motel for BBQ sauce removal services!

Quicny is a sub-2000 person town, so you would think that the locals wouldn't feel any real need to stand out. However waiting for my pizza there were three boys, no more than 15 years old each, dressed in the most bizarre attempt to be cool I've ever seen state-side. Tweed jackets, walking sticks, aviator sunglasses, golfer caps, tartan pants, golf caps, ruffled lace shirts, leather jackets, leather pants… these guys had it all on, in no particular order. Apparently in Quicny leather jackets and walking sticks go together, or at least they do if you're 15. Some quick mental arithmetic suggests that there can't be more than ten teenage girls in Quicy, and a similar number of guys; are they, like a peacock, putting on an elaborate display in an attempt to attract potential partners? Or are they actually trying to drive away the female population in the hope that there will be a fresh influx of replacement females to fill the void?? Write-in theories are welcome; I may after all have found an entirely new social paradigm here in Quincy.

What I found especially amusing was the way these boys behaved. They really did think they were the hottest thing this pizza parlour had ever seen; heck that Quincy had ever seen! I have to admit that on some levels they would be correct, though possibly not for the reasons they're hoping. I sure felt honoured to be in their presence; people-watchers, put Quincy, CA at the top of your list!

Having had more than enough fashion-education for one evening I headed back to the motel and called it a night. Plenty of railfanning awaiting me in the morning as I spent one last day railfanning the famed Feather River Canyon .


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