Life is a Byway
● By Kerri Regan
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Guide
Let your mind play with the word “vacation,” and you may conjure up images of airplanes, tropical resorts and sticker shock. A “staycation” is budget-friendly, but even the most well-intentioned staycationers often end up doing their spring cleaning while at home.
Imagine, then, a hybrid scenario in which you could paraglide, canoe, explore majestic waterfalls and check out every type of volcano in the world. Throw in some snowshoeing, birdwatching and mountain climbing for good measure. The price tag? A gas tank and a picnic basket, both full.
A full-color, 162-page guide to the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway All-American Road is hot off the press, ready to entice visitors to buckle up and tackle this world-class drive through the geologic wonders of northeastern California and southern Oregon. The byway’s name reflects its fiery past, and the landscape is dominated by volcanic peaks, lava flows, lava tubes, caves, spatter cones, bubbling mudpots and steaming fumaroles.
“I think people will gain a much greater appreciation for what a unique area this really is, and the unique geological activity that has occurred,” says Elizabeth Norton, president of the Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership. “It’s a relatively remote area with wide open spaces and opportunities to explore, to get away from the hustle of the more urban areas. The geology is so fascinating.”
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is one of just 31 All-American Roads in the United States, bookended by Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake National Park. At 14,179 feet tall, Mt. Shasta plays the starring role among the volcanoes, but the byway also leads to Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Peak, Burney Mountain, Medicine Lake Volcano, Mt. McLoughlin, Mt. Scott and many others.
The byway was designated in Oregon in 1997 and California in 2002. A grant from the Federal Highway Administration funded production of a map of the area in 2012 (offered free on the byway’s website), and this guidebook, which will be sold on the website and at various locales along the byway, was a natural next step, Norton says. “We haven’t had a comprehensive guidebook for the entire 500-mile byway, and we felt it was past due,” Norton says.
The guide is broken into 11 regions and includes maps, highlights of the area and contact information for local chambers of commerce or visitor bureaus. The partnership worked with the U.S. Geologic Survey and all the area’s public land agencies to build the guide, and local chambers of commerce were invited to share their input, Norton says. An electronic version is in the works for people to purchase and download to their mobile devices. It was funded by the Federal Highway Administration and Klamath County, Ore., and was produced by the Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership and InHouse Marketing Group.
One of the most intriguing things about the byway is its diversity. Visitors will find themselves traveling through dense forests, across broad wetlands, along clear streams and through pastoral ranches. Picnickers can spread out their blanket alongside a shallow lake, anglers can cast their lines into a rolling river and birders will delight in the wildlife refuges, where migratory waterfowl number in the millions during spring and fall.
The guide also encourages visitors to spend some time in the local communities along the byway, many of which are home to museums, historical buildings, community parks, walking trails and fun little shops and restaurants.
So where is the best place to start? “They’re all my favorite places,” Norton says with a laugh. “At Medicine Lake, you can get so close to the volcanism — to me, it’s a really special area. It’s a real understated volcano because it’s not a strata volcano like Mt. Shasta, but it’s one of the biggest composite volcanoes, and the lava flow covers over 700 square miles. There’s lots to explore there.”
She’s also spent a significant amount of time lately in the Upper and Lower Klamath Basin and its lakes. “The birding opportunities are simply extraordinary,” she says. “I’m not a birder, but I’ve been there two times in the past 18 months and I’ve turned into a birder. Last time we took our canoe, and you can really get close to nature. I really appreciated having that experience.”