Boiling Springs Lake

My son once opined that explorers should always travel with a ship’s poet, the better to name the newly discovered.

Great Pond. Black Mountain. Rio Grande. No poet named those.

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Planning a road trip into the Rockies had dragged my map mouse across several northern California highways unknown to me. Whim uppermost, I fixed on Route 36, a skipper above Lake Almanor, until three names bade me stop: Boiling Springs Lake, Drakesbad, and Dream Lake. The first brought me sulfurous thoughts; with the second, I heard oom-pah tubas; the last was reverie.

All three of these place names are invisible at normal magnification. Many zooms are needed. Only then does the Pacific Crest Trail appear, and by its side two tiny blue bodies and an end of the road oasis perhaps yclept by a Brit yearning for Bavaria.

I had my first port of call.

On the road at 9:30, we depleted our blood sugar as Colusa rose up as the next burg empeopled by more than a thousand. After an eight-block roll up and back on Market Street, we settled on Mi Ranchito, an over-full parking lot closing the deal. On the front door a sign: “We are very sad to anounce that July 29, 2011 will be the last day of bussines. Thank you all our loyal customers for all the years.” Inside, every table was taken. Some questioning of waitresses and waiting regulars brought out this story (most details have been added by the writer to improve clarity and drama):

Slinging refritos since the early 70s, the Silva family, through hard work, long hours, and treating their employees like family, turned a five-table sideshow into the most successful Mexican restaurant in Colusa. The employee thing was a necessity. As the Silva’s many progeny came of working age, some of them wallowed in Sr. Silva’s surprising wealth, choosing out-of-the-kitchen careers (partying at Chico State, fixing up Chevys, partying at Chico State). Sr. Silva was greatly angered, but Sra. Silva did not want her children to work as hard as she had, so she was over-lenient.

Sadly, Papa Silva died in a garbage compacting tragedy last year, and when Mama followed in a bizarrely similar accident three months later, the family business became the family fortune. Unable to agree on how to continue, the heirs fought. Alas, there was no Solomon among their advisers. Mi Ranchito was neither split between them nor given whole to one willing to strap on the leathers and pull. It would simply be closed.

(Much of the above came to me on a wave of bilious dyspepsia occasioned by a surfeit of carnitas con pico de gallo.)

Lunch completed, we northeasted through unending seas of walnut trees to Chester, CA, wherein lay the turnoff for Drakesbad and the aforementioned  lakes. Now in forest, and with Mt. Lassen blocking the western sky, we drove to the trail head, the last three miles graveled and dusty.

Wildflowers shot up from wet, black earth among surprisingly few flying insects. Below us, grandfathered, no doubt inside Lassen Volcanic National Park, sat the private resort Drakesbad Guest Ranch, its frolickers jabbering around a swimming pool. And at the top of the short climb, a green lake the color of hospital walls. Reportedly simmering at a volcanic 125º, and with numerous red signs warning of thin crust and severe fricasseed leg syndrome, Boiling Springs Lake sat placidly below us as we viewed from a ridge.

Approaching the far end of the lake, we heard sounds of steam percolating through mud (the “boiling springs”). The day grew late, and we did not make it to the other lake, which in retrospect seems appropriate.

Unsullied by reality, it remains a perfect vision…a dream.


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