The End Of The Road
story and photos: Jean Bilodeaux
When You Think You've Driven Too Far, You Are Just About To Cedarville
Ever been to the end of the road? You might want to give it a try. Nearing the eastern end of State Highway 299, the road tops the geographically isolated Warner Mountain range. The earth drops away as the traveler twists down a dramatic fault line escarpment into Surprise Valley.
Originally named Surprise Valley by the pioneers traveling west on the Lassen Applegate Trail, the area also holds surprises for the modern-day traveler. Just before Highway 299 vanishes and the road turns to dust in the high desert of northwestern Nevada, you enter a remote and beautiful world of yesteryear. The area has been described as California’s “Outback” or “Switzerland.”
It is a land of steaming hot springs, snowcapped mountains, alpine lakes, streams and high desert; where bald and golden eagles, falcons and hawks soar in the brilliant blue skies; where mountain lions, bobcats, bears and coyotes prowl and where herds of mule deer, elk, antelope and wild horses still run free. The area is a hunting, fishing and hiking paradise.
At the base of the mountains is the small town of Cedarville, population 600. The town could pass for an old western movie set. Cattle are still herded down Main Street and the local radio station admits its clientele consists of 1,000 times more cattle than people. It is a place where the horse-shoer knows more than the hairdresser and traffic still drives around the town dog sleeping in the middle of Main Street.
The Chamber of Commerce’s largest and most successful event is its annual squirrel hunt, where shooters are invited to help farmers rid their fields of crop-destroying and plague-carrying rodents.
As 299 leaves town for its last 10 miles, a sign warns, “No services next 100 miles, winter travel not advised.” That means 100 miles of mostly dirt roads, no cell phone service, and no people.
But if solitude, natural beauty, geology, history, paleontology, birding, rockhounding, wilderness hiking, camping, hot springs, cross country or downhill skiing, snowboarding, hunting and fishing are your thing, this is the place.
Getting acquainted with the area first is advised before venturing out alone. You may not encounter another person all day. One of the best ways to learn about the uniqueness of this region is to visit some of the shops and businesses. It is a short walk from one end of town to the other, but talking to the friendly residents may take an hour. There are no auto dealerships, but you will find a stagecoach and horse-drawn buggy shop, a saddle shop and a bookstore.
Warner Mountain Weavers is the north state’s largest yarn and weaving shop. It features several large floor looms in constant use, amid various projects and displays of yarn made from locally raised sheep. The wool is spun, naturally dyed from native plants, and skeins are knitted or woven on the premises.
A short walk up the street will take you to two restaurants, each of which serve homemade breads made fresh each day.
Overnight stays can be arranged at the JnR Hotel, the Sunrise Motel, several ranch-based B&Bs or at the most popular place for the romantic interlude—the Surprise Valley Hot Springs. Guests may soak in privacy while gazing at the night sky filled with myriad dazzling stars, unobscured by town lights. The Hot Springs also features a fly-in package for pilots.
For the more venturesome, Riders of the Sage Guide Service can guide you and your horse through the high desert east of town to view herds of wild horses, deer, antelope and birds. Or if preferred, they can guide you on wilderness trails to alpine lakes, pioneer cabins, wild flower meadows and waterfalls.
The Modoc County Fair is held in Cedarville each August and gives the visitor a taste of country life and fun activities. For the history buff, the Surprise Valley Rotary Club has set up and furnished an entire and authentic old town called Louieville on the fairgrounds. Louieville features a blacksmith shop, general store, two jails, a butcher shop, a church and a water tower, plus thousands of antiques saved from the original settlement of the area in the 1850s. Camping accommodations for you and your horse are also available.
There are no freeways, theme parks, traffic lights or shopping malls at the end of the road. But as visitors soon realize, traveling to the end of the road is just the beginning for outdoor adventure and enjoyment in Cedarville and Surprise Valley.