New blog post: Lake Shasta Artifacts, 9 December 2021. A visit to a segment of historical US 99 left high and dry by the receding waters of Lake Shasta, as well as a railroad tunnel that is also accessible.
All photographs by Denis Fabbrini unless otherwise indicated.
At the beginning of November, I made a trip down to Lake Shasta to explore some of the old infrastructure uncovered by the drought conditions much of the West has been suffering from in the past couple of years. Lake Shasta has been a levels only really seen in the past decades – 2014, I believe, and the great drought of 1976-77. Stuff that has emerged from the waters include old highways, bridges, and railroad beds and tunnels. Unfortunately, much of the area surrounding the lake was engulfed in wildfires throughout this past summer, with national forest closures making access to much of the lake and these historic sites pretty tough.
At the beginning of November, I was finally able to make it down to the lake and spend a few hours exploring a couple of sites of interest with a fellow roadgeeker, Eric Hall, from Redding.
This spot is located in a drainage off the west side of the McCloud River Arm of Lake Shasta. The 1915 Pacific Highway and the 1926 US 99 routing drops off a ridge heading south down to the McCloud River, then along the north side of the Pit River, until it crossed the Pit near what is now Bridge Bay, under the shadow of the present I-5 Pit River Bridge. This routing was replaced when Shasta Dam was built and required that US 99 be moved to higher ground, along with 26 miles of Southern Pacific trackage. The new routing opened in January 1943.
We found this segment from the Bailey Cove boat ramp down to the water level of that day to be in remarkable condition. Some stretches were nearly intact, while other pieces were partially washed away or still covered in 10 to 12 feet of silt deposits. Eric and I believe that part of the road had been uncovered by grading over the summer to allow boaters to reach the receding waters.
Southern Pacific Railroad Tunnel 6
After concluding our exploration of the Bailey Cove area, we drove up Interstate 5 to Antlers to check out one of the old railroad tunnels exposed by the receding waters. Tunnel 6 is located just north of what was the confluence of the Sacramento River and Charlie Creek. Today, the tunnel can be reached by driving south on Lakeshore Drive south of Antlers about 1 mile. After passing the US Forest Service Lakeshore Station, make a hard left just before crossing the Charlie Creek Bridge. A high clearance vehicle is recommended to travel down the river canyon slope to reach the tunnel.
When built by Southern Pacific predecessor Central Pacific in 1884, it was a just basically a hole dug through rock until sometime in the 1920s when concrete headwalls were added. The south end of the tunnel is lined for about 50 feet, whereas the north portal is not. Since being first inundated in 1948, the tunnel has partly filled with silt, raising the floor probably about 10 feet or more. The tunnel is situated in highly metamorphosed shale and slate, more than likely from some old island arc slammed up against the North American plate many millions of years ago. Also impressive is the the trestle high above the canyon that replaced the tunnel necessitated by the flooding the Sacramento River by the Shasta Dam.
Some months back blog posts by Tom Fearer at Gribblenation.org regarding local roads in my area ended up leading me down the proverbial wormhole for more information. I have to say the trip was rewarding. While not answering all my questions about the original subjects – Siskiyou County Road A12 and the first routing of US Route 99 through Weed, California – the search for information resulted in answering a few questions about previous railroads in the area (the Weed Lumber Railroad/Southern Pacific Railroad) and the locations of the first Weed Airport and the long-gone Yreka Airport.
Most of the research involved internet searches for historical maps between the years of 1915 and 1945. While my search started with historical topographic maps at the USGS website, other map sites included the David Rumsey Map Collection, aeronautical charts and airway bulletins at the Library of Congress, as well as posts and articles at Gribblenation and cahighways.org. While my research continues, enough information was accumulated to post a worthy entry about the Yreka Airport on the Siskiyou County Aviation Infrastructure page of this site.
Within the next week, I will also post an entry on the aforementioned page about the original Weed Airport. I had first seen a mention of this airport in the September 1, 1931 Airway Bulletin No. 2. The 1927 (revised 1930) Army Air Corps Air Navigation Map indicates an approximate location of the former airfield, but it was the 1935 California Division of Highways Siskiyou County Highway Map that really helped in nailing down the exact location in a ranch pasture along Old Highway 99/Stewart Springs Road a mile south of the current Weed Airport.
The lesson is that it is the journey through the wormhole can be just as rewarding as the destination. Being mindful that seemingly unrelated resources can result in clues to other research projects should always be kept in mind. The only problem is that usually leads one down other, numerous wormholes!
One of the usually submerged historic highway bridges in Shasta Lake
The Salt Creek Bridge was built on the Pacific Highway in 1925 between what is now Lakehead and Redding. This bridge apparently replaced one built some years earlier, as the older abutments are visible underneath the newer structure. It was later abandoned in 1941, as US Route 99 (the former Pacific Highway) was rerouted in anticipation of Shasta Lake inundating the older route (as happened in 1948).
In dryer or drought years, the Salt Creek Bridge is one of the first submerged artifacts to make its appearance as the lake level falls. It is easily accessible from the Salt Creek exit on Interstate 5. Take Lower Salt Creek Road west for about 3 miles at which point you will come to the bridge underneath the towering Union Pacific railroad trestle.
My visit to the site got a little more interesting, as I ran into a gentleman making casts of footprints in the muddy bank of creek upstream of the bridge. He believed them to be evidence of Bigfoot-like creatures. I have to say the footprint and casting of others he had made in the area didn’t look quite human. He proceeded to show me dozens of pictures of like footprints he had found at numerous sites, as well as other weird things that apparently Bigfoot hunters believe are evidence of the mythical creature actually existing. I came away from the conversation thinking I might have to make my forays into the area forests with a new viewpoint.
All in all, the bridge is in great condition. This is likely due to being submerged in the cold waters of Shasta Lake most of the year. If you decide to drive across the span, beware of the approaches, as there are gaps between the bridge and the road.
An abandoned railroad bed, a lost benchmark, & things found
Shortly after moving back to the Mount Shasta area (after leaving as a child in 1963), I began exploring the remains of the Weed Lumber Railroad. The railroad was built in the early 1900’s by lumber baron Abner Weed, to exploit the abundant forests east of the town he founded, with the segment from Weed to Grass Lake being sold to Southern Pacific shortly thereafter. When Southern Pacific opened the new Black Butte Subdivision (from Black Butte, just south of Weed, to Klamath Falls) bypassing the Weed-Grass Lake segment in 1926, the original ex-Weed Lumber Railroad portion was abandoned.
One piece of old right-of-way of interest winds its way along a tongue of lava south of US 97 to Bolam Road, a road which heads south from 97 to the Union Pacific control point of Bolam. I initially walked this segment one day after noticing the raised manzanita and creosote choked railbed heading south off of 97. Later, after checking topographic maps of the area, I noticed that older maps indicated the presence of a benchmark along the railbed. Searching the National Geodetic Survey benchmark database, I found that this one was still listed as Siskiyou County W 12 (PID MX0021).
The datasheet station description of the benchmark is one of the more confusing that l’ve read.
First, it lists the benchmark as being monumented in 1919, but the description seems to have been written in 1954, during a recovery visit to the site by a Coast and Geodetic Survey team. However, it also says that the benchmark was not found.
Second, it describes the mark as “on the abandoned Southern Pacific Co. roadbed, 9-1/2 poles (156.75 feet) southeast along the roadbed from the crossing of the Weed-Dorris highway” which matches placements on the 1934 Macdoel and 1954 Lake Shastina topographic maps. However, then the description reads “about 300 feet west of the highway, about 300 west of milepost 12“, which doesn’t make sense as the indicated position of the benchmark on the 1934 and 1954 maps puts it south, not west, of US 97. Of further note, the description notes the old highway – I can find no record of any highway other than 97 at this spot predating 97 before its construction. The only thing I can think this refers to is perhaps that US 97 was straightened between its original construction around 1936 and 1954, when the above mentioned topo map shows its present roadbed. An aerial photo on historicalaerials.com seems to show an older highway trace crossing Yellow Butte Road (which itself is the old Weed Lumber Railroad bed heading north from the segment being discussed here) about 75 feet north of the modern US 97.
Third, the description says that the mark is “near the middle of a side hill rock cut, 12 feet east of the centerline of the roadbed, in bedrock, 1 foot higher than than the roadbed”. Okay, so the 1934 Macdoel map seems to indicate that the mark is on the west side of the roadbed (or, railbed), as the roadbed travels north-to-south along the east side of the lava flow. The railbed climbs up in elevation from US 97 along the lava flow, on a constructed berm, with no rock existing on the east side of the railbed. Additionally, the aforementioned “9-1/2 poles” or 156.75 feet placement from the intersection of the railbed and the Weed-Dorris highway, either from the modern intersection placement, or the suspected original intersection, lands nowhere near any “bedrock”.
The datasheet states that two recovery efforts were made in 1981 to locate the benchmark, both unsuccessful.
My search efforts
I’ve made three visits to the area to search for the benchmark. I examined both sides of the railbed, including the east side which does not travel next to any bedrock formations. On the west side of the railbed, I searched further than the 12 feet from the centerline where I could, and up to 10 feet or so up the side of the lava flow. Significant erosion of the andesite bedrock along the east side of the railbed has occurred, with several small landslides along the alignment present, and in other places the hillside rock has broken in large chunks, falling onto the roadbed. I spent a lot of time scraping dirt off of the hillside bedrock, hoping to find the brass disk underneath, but it wasn’t to be. My efforts extended from the railbed crossing at US 97 south for 2000 feet, well beyond the distance stated in the datasheet.
I did find numerous railroad ties, remnants of signal poles, a piece of a glass insulator, and a railroad spike, as well as numerous tin cans, probably left by railroad or salvage crews.
What happened to the benchmark disk? I suspect one of several things could have occurred: 1) a worker took the disk as a souvenir during rail salvage and demolition; 2) someone else took it while exploring the area after railroad operation ceased, looking for collectibles such as bottles, glass insulators, or tools (my grandparents did this for years, searching out old railroad, lumber, and fire camps); or 3) the disk is still attached to a piece of rock that is now buried amongst the erosion.
My efforts were not without accomplishment. On my last visit, I did recover a nearby benchmark,D 495 RESET (PID MX0023), as well as 3 Caltrans survey markers, and found a geocache as well.
Driving home from the Bay Area up Interstate 505 (the “Winters Cut-off), I jumped off the highway at the Midway Road exit just north of the Nut Tree Airport to look for remnants of the Southern Pacific Clear Lake/ Winters Branch along the modern interstate.
I vaguely remember seeing rail cars along the interstate’s predecessor 2 lane highway as our family travelled back and forth between the Bay Area and Siskiyou County in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I rediscovered the railroad branch while looking at old topographic maps of the area recently.
The above topo map shows the railroad running between Hartley Road and the under construction Interstate 505. I explored the stretch between the two arrows, heading north from Midway Road to Allendale Road.
Starting from Midway and Hartley Roads, the railbed would have come through the middle of the warehouse shown in the above picture. (7 January 2021 update: It should be noted that a brand new warehouse has been constructed on the land in the above photo)
Also at this corner is found a USGS benchmark with its associated witness post, monumented in 1904 (Solano County B 44, PID JS1521).
Along this stretch of the abandoned railbed, a number of small drainages are crossed. Below is one the the concrete culverts used to cross these.
At Hartley and Allendale Roads, we look back south in the next photo, the the raised railbed to the left in the image.
My quick exploration ends at Allendale Road. The next stretch of railbed is now private property across the road.
An accessible, historic, and photogenic bridge worth exploring
Trip dates: November 24 & 25, 2017
The Harlan D Miller Memorial Bridge, known also as the Dog Creek Bridge, is an abandoned concrete arch bridge completed in 1927 as part of US Route 99 just north of Lakehead, Shasta County, California. After Route 99 was replaced by Interstate 5, it carried traffic as part of Interstate 5 until a bridge to the northwest was expanded to accommodate both directions of traffic in 1974. It was abandoned and slated for demolition, until saved due to efforts of concerned citizens, and is now managed by the US Forest Service.
Harlan D Miller (1880-1926) was the State Bridge Engineer for the California Highway Department from 1923 until his untimely death in 1926. During his short tenure as State Bridge Engineer he made radical changes to the way California designed bridges. These changes included requiring all highway bridges in the state be designed by the state and designing bridges that matched the geometry of the roadway. The latter often complicated design fork but the final result (skewed or curved bridges) justified the efforts in drivability.
Miller’s most visible effect on California bridges was the consideration given to design aesthetics. His designs were recognized in their own periods as possessing beauty and boldness. Many fine details can be seen on Miller designed bridges including rail and end post details, as well as clean lines and details of the superstructure design.
When my family relocated to the Bar Area in 1963, I remember driving across this bridge as we traveled to the Mount Shasta region to visit relatives several times per year. After the bridge was decommissioned, it had always been my desire to explore the now abandoned structure. I finally had a chance to do so this past week.
DIRECTIONS & ACCESS
Off Interstate 5, take the Vollmers/Delta exit. Proceed west about a quarter mile and turning left onto Fenders Ferry Road. Drive down along the Dog Creek watershed for about a mile, crossing the creek twice and underneath the I5 span until reaching the historic bridge. Park just before the railroad tracks, and climb up the east side of northern end of the bridge.
According to a couple of other websites, there is supposedly access at the northern end of the bridge from the top, at end of a private road where a Forest Service begins. I checked it out and I’m not comfortable at this time on recommending its use. The adjoining property owners have posted a lot of onerous signage, and have tried to unsuccessfully block the easement. I would be nervous parking my vehicle here. Check this post for updates, as I will attempt to get clarification from the Forest Service regarding use of this easement.