The Elsa Rupp Nature Study Area
● By Gary VanDeWalker
By Gary VanDeWalker
Photos by Taryn Burkleo
As Robert and Lena Rupp stood beside the old stage road of Sisson, the primeval forests of Siskiyou County were a contrast to the manicured forests of Germany where they were born. Together with their son Albert and baby daughter Elsa, they began their new lives in a valley only newly touched by trains, under the shadow of Mt. Shasta. Elsa would remain under the influence of this landscape for her entire 92 years.
Today, the paved stage road winds north past the Mount Shasta Fish Hatchery. To the north and on the east side of the road is a gift from this pioneering family. In 1973, in honor of her parents and brother, Elsa Rupp donated forest property to the fish hatchery and created the Elsa Rupp Nature Study Area.
Along the half-circle pull-in parking area, tall conifers and cedars create a canopy of shade. The trail is carpeted with pine needles. As one walks
deeper, the noise of the road gives way to birdsong. Lush green leaves fan out under the trees as the breeze moves them like an ocean. Light pierces the canopy, showering onto the floor of the forest.
Elsa worked for the Forest Service in Mount Shasta as a stenographer, and even after moving to Redding and Yreka for a short time, she always came back to her mountain and the forests surrounding it.
The warm sun brings out the butterflies, their yellow, blue and orange markings contrasting the green foliage. The sound of running water comes from all directions. Small planked bridges cross the seasonal waterways. In the shade, wild ferns cover old tree stumps. Benches from hewn logs invite a moment of rest and reflection.
The trail widens and the sound of water deepens. Big Springs Creek pours through the thick woods, forming a pool before being redirected as the main water source of the fish hatchery, disappearing under the ground and reappearing at the hatchery.
Another bridge takes the visitor over the creek. Tree roots cross the trail like snakes. The smell of warm pine fills the senses. Trees lean over the trail as the sun warms the small pool. Wild ginger and strawberries line the path. Patches of grass poke up from the wet ground around the creek. The only noises are the voices of the forest.
The trail circles back to the creek, and a long plank bridge crosses the rushing water. Looking over the railing, time moves under the bridge while it remains frozen above. The dense brush and wood limits the vista. There is a feeling that an elf, dwarf or stray hobbit may appear.
The trail meets itself again, returning to the creek’s underground descent. On the return, the forest continues to reveal its beauty as the winding path returns to the parking area.
Elsa left this land to be enjoyed. Here the forest remains as her family first saw it when they came here more than 115 years ago. Her wish for others to enjoy her woods was granted. John Muir, a kindred spirit of Elsa’s, lodged a short quarter mile from here on his visits. He wrote,
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
The mountains are calling and I must go.
In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.