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Paiute- blooded Fermin Sam first took Highonadventure writer Lee Juillerat and myself to California's Hidden Corner thirty years ago. It was the beginning of a landscape love affair, which continues to this day.

Sam-once a prize fighter and a professional bull and bronc rider, including an appearance at the rodeo finals at Oklahoma City-still lives at Fort Bidwell's Indian Reservation. He no longer can physically make the trek-resulting from a nasty horse accident several years ago-to where we went that day: the corner in California that borders Oregon and Nevada. A marker and a pile of rocks delineate the location.

"I like the thought of the days of my youth and middle age when I explored a good share of this area by foot and horseback," he reminisces one hot summer day as we chat by Fort Bidwell's fire department near Bidwell Creek. "You'll have to go to the mountains for me now and come back and tell me stories." I nod my head and affirm his will.

Warner Mt High Country
Late Summer Snow




The following day, to escape the intense heat of July, two friends and I escaped into the high corner of California-the east section of the Warner Mountains that borders Oregon. Our destination was Snow Lake, an eight- mile round trip walk with the highest elevation gain at 8290 feet on Mount Bidwell.

Via gravel Road 2, we drove from Fort Bidwell-a tiny hamlet at the north end of seventy-mile long Surprise Valley-ten miles, parking near Moonlight Mine in a grotto of pine and fir trees where we started our ascent.

Carol and Rick Ponte set a robust pace. I lagged behind, the photography-lag-time as I call it. The high elevation summer wildflowers were too abundant and beautiful to ignore photographically. It was a pleasure to see wild geraniums, columbines, lupine, Oregon sunshine, yarrow, asters, fleabanes and a plethora of other unknowns. "We'll meet you at the top," says Carol. "Lunch will be waiting."

Taking my time, I explored some snowfield remnants and a variety of old, bleached and lichened trees-long dead, but beautiful in their slow decomposition on the rock strewn hillside. The see-forever views that this area possesses was diminished this day as raging lightening- caused fires filled the valleys of Oregon, Nevada and California with smoke, leaving visibility at no more than 30 miles. On clear days in this zone, one sees as far as their eyes allow them to see.

I took notice of Dismal Swamp, a mere half mile below the ridge I was walking and a mile from the Oregon border. As a Lake City (in Surprise Valley) friend Sophie Sheppard would later say, "It's just the opposite of dismal, isn't it?" Dismal Swamp is a high, flat meadow rich with greenness and framed by thickets of aspen. I made a mental note to go there soon this coming autumn.

Modoc Mule Deer
Modoc County Butterfly
High Country Road


On a rock promontory with enchanting vistas, the Pontes were waiting with lunch. Refueled, we continued on to Snow Lake, electing to walk the seldom-traveled dirt road. Leaving the forest, we hiked through sagebrush flat for two miles before the forest began again, soon after arriving at Snow Lake. A fast melting snowfield was at the lake's south end, a direct source for the body of water. En route back, I elected to bushwhack and explore the upper meadows below Snow Lake. The wildness of the setting and the paucity of people in this zone fit my spirit perfectly. I came across several mountain springs, abundant wildflowers, aspen thickets, naturally terraced views, bleached bones from several critters and an amazing permanent snowfield, bound to exist even through this horrific western drought. I was equally amazed by the variety of butterflies in this zone.

Backcountry Welcome
Northeast Corner Vista



Accessing this isolated three-state corner requires some driving. The nearest airports are in Reno, Nevada, Klamath Falls and Medford, Oregon and Sacramento and Redding, California. Klamath Falls is the nearest air access at 150 miles. Via Reno, the drive will take the adventurer through Gerlach (entry to the Black Rock Desert; also home to the Burning Man event every Labor Day) to Surprise Valley.

Oregon's route is either through Lakeview or from Klamath Falls to Alturas and Cedarville, California-the entry point for all California routes. Nevada also has the Winnemucca to the Sea Highway to Adel, Oregon (then heading south) or by entering through the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge (my recommendation if time is not an issue).

Surprise Valley
Surprise Valley Summer


Bull and Sandhill
Common Snipe

A more adventurous traveler might want to access Surprise Valley via Fandango Pass outside New Pine Creek along the Oregon-California border. This entry is impressive with spectacular views of Surprise Valley and the beginnings of the Great Basin and the Basin and Range Country of Nevada. By elevation going west to east, this drive begins with yellow pine forests-with high aspen and hellebore meadows--, giving way to juniper, sage and bitterbrush country on the lower east Warner Mountain flanks. A variety of creeks slice and gouge their way to Surprise Valley and its rich grasslands, home to long standing family ranches and retirees, escaping more crowded populations for a less hectic life. The valley has an active population of artists and authors. Wildlife is abundant throughout the valley.

Cedarville Bookstore
Metzger House

Eagleville Barbecue
Old Car Touring




Cedarville is the hub of California's Hidden Corner. Quaint and charming, it is a lovely community of several hundred people from a variety of walks of life. The focal point is represented by a variety of businesses in Cedarville's lone downtown street. Originally from Cape Cod, Michael Sykes is owner of Floating Island Bookstore and Publications, a unique store with a rich selection of new, old and rare books-one of Surprise Valley's biggest surprises.

In the summer and autumn while visiting, I like to go to the Country Hearth Restaurant and Bakery in the morning for owner Jan Irene's to-die-for blackberry turnovers. If you're passing through, don't limit yourself to one. The turnovers are good energy companions for hikes in this enticing zone. Jan-a ballet and classic music aficionado-also nurtures a lovely Rose Garden next to her business. An arts festival takes place at the Rose Garden the last Saturday of July every year, coinciding with the valley's largest single event of the year: the Annual Eagleville Barbecue, attended by a thousand people. Each year, there are antique car clubs that sojourn to this quiet part of the world.

Across the street from Jan's is the Surprise Café, housed in the old brownstone Cressler-Bonner Building. It, too, is a wonderful stop. Try out Sheila's Surprise Salad, espresso, panni sandwiches and a beverage from her diverse wine, beer and soda selection. There is also free Internet for customers, that is, in case you want to keep up with the outside world sequestered away in California's Hidden Corner!

Warner Valley Weavers is a must stop in downtown Cedarville, especially if you're interested in purchasing a special woolen gift for someone. The indoor looms-largely active at any given time by a group or one lady-remind me of Mitla, Mexico and their honored tradition of creating woolen artisan pieces.

There are a variety of lodging choices in Cedarville, including the charming Metzger House next to the bookstore, Sunrise Motel and the JNR Hotel. Outside Cedarville, Cockrell's High Desert Lodging and the Surprise Valley Hotsprings beckon the weary traveler. A splurge would be any of these after a several day outing hiking and camping in the hidden corner.

Bidwell Cattle Drive
Fort Bidwell Buckaroo


Surprise Valley Branding
Surprise Valley Buckaroos



Surprise Valley was named by some of the first settlers that came into the valley along the rugged Applegate Trail; also know as the Southern Route of the Oregon Trail. This fertile 10-mile wide plain borders Nevada to the east. The buckarooing cowboy tradition-descended from the vaqueros of Mexico and the American Southwest-still takes place here. It is some of the last remnants as the four-wheeler is eschewed in preference to the horse. The area has three saddle makers, one of which hails from France. Roundups, cattle drives and brandings-neighbors helping neighbors-are commonplace. I seek out these as I admire their way of family life and their skills that are known by few in the modern era.

Lake Annie Fly Fisherman
Margarita Time
Fly Fishing Lake Annie


As an avid fly fisherman, I seek out the elusive trout, also. One of my favorites is fishing Lake Annie, Lily Lake and Cave Lake. Though I haven't done it, I wish to hike six miles to Patterson Lake in the South Warners, camp and fish. Soon, I'll attend a powwow put on by the Northern Paiutes in Fort Bidwell. Many a night while spending the summer in Fort Bidwell, I've heard the Paiute drumming, resonating up from the reservation, haunting and beautiful as it lingers in the air. The Modoc County Historical Society has one book dedicated to the Native Americans of this hidden corner (600 South Main Street, Alturas, CA 96101).

Fort Bidwell Schoolhouse
Modoc Backcountry


Bidwell Creek
Bidwell Creek


The Hidden Corner is also a jump off point for other regional explorations, including High Rock Canyon, the Black Rock Desert and the Sheldon National Antelope Refuge. When planning a trek to these zones though, stock up with gas and supplies in Cedarville or Eagleville (supplies only). The pavement ends on the north and east sides of the valley so plan accordingly.

My explorations have taken me to some unique places in this zone beyond what this story will tell. But that is an aspect of adventure. Some things you just have to figure out on your own. But surprises are commonplace in Surprise Valley. They lay hidden, ready to be unveiled in your adventurous explorations.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Warner Mountain Ranger District 530-279-6116, BLM 530-279-6101, Cedarville Library 530-279-2614, Alturas Chamber of Commerce 530-233-4434. Cedarville Chamber of Commerce 530-279-2001
Lodging: Metzger House 530-279-2790, Cockrell's High Desert Lodging 888-279-2209 or www.highdesertlodging.com, Sunrise Motel 530-279-2161, Surprise Valley Hotsprings 530-279-2040 or www.svhotsprings.com, and JNR Hotel 530-279-2423.
Bookstore: Floating Island Books and Publications 530-279-2790 or email floatingisland@hotmail.com.


Prints may be purchased by contacting Larry at Skiturn789@yahoo.com.

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