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.
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.