Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hat Creek Hiking

After a sluggish winter of not nearly enough exercise, I have been feeling more than ready to get moving this summer. My dear husband has taken up running, and while he is reaping the benefits of getting in shape and feeling great, I don't really see myself following in those footsteps. He has kindly encouraged me to come along, but I am pretty sure that would be a disaster. I have absolutely no desire to run. I rarely if ever do it unless something scary is chasing me. Walking however, I like. Hiking is something I enjoy as well, and my kids are at a great stage to hike along with me.

Luckily for us, the hills of Northern California are filled with wonderful hiking opportunities. Sometimes, we take the dogs, and sometimes we don't, but I am always on the lookout for dog friendly hiking adventures.

I was feeling a little like a neglectful dog owner recently, so I decided we needed to take our two canines on our next mountain hike. We chose to explore the Hat Creek area between Lassen National Park and Burney Falls. We didn't really have a clear plan, other than we wouldn't be hitting the main parks this trip. National Parks tend not to allow dogs on any trails, so that wouldn't really work with my hiking plan. I also tend to avoid potential crowds even more when I have my dogs because their friendly lunch stealing and shaking off all over people ends up being embarrassing and annoying.

I am not a fisher woman, but apparently, the Hat Creek area is big stuff with the fishing crowd. The creek itself is frigid, but my big beastly dog did not mind in the least. In fact, he seemed to relish in it. The air temperatures are probably 10 degrees cooler than in the nearby valleys, which can be a big plus in the oppressive heat of summer. We stopped at a cute little visitor center, and found out that in addition to cave hikes and lava flows (both of which would be really bad news for dogs foot pads,) there was also a nice trail that followed the creek out of a campground for a few miles.  It was perfect for us.

It was relatively flat with only a few rolling hills. Most of the trail was dappled in shade, and cushioned with pine needles, which are especially nice for my big dog who is a notorious tender foot. Best of all, I don't think I saw any poison oak the whole time. The dogs had a blast sniffing all the new scents, and attempting to chase chipmunks. The kids and I enjoyed the serenity and beauty of tall trees, flowing water and wildlife.

I did see one interesting sign, encouraging visitors not to touch the wildlife as there had been confirmed cases of plague in wild animals in the area in recent years. Plague!?! Plague!?!  How on earth can there be plague in the United States in the year 2010? It's like something out of the 1600's or something. I wanted to take a picture of the sign, but my camera batteries died.

Well, I decided not to let a little thing like the possibility of catching the plague dampen my lovely hike with my family. I wasn't planning on playing with wild rodents anyway, and I'd be sure to keep my dogs on the leash so they didn't. Since my dear husband wasn't along for this particular hike, we didn't have to have the discussion where he insinuates that I am over controlling by keeping the dogs from running loose. I was actually rather surprised at how non-freaked I became about the whole thing myself. I only did a tiny bit of research on plague in North America when I got home, but after our amoeba incident, I made a conscious choice not to allow myself to get carried away with it. I'm sometimes a little paranoid about things I read, but come on, plague?

Anyway, other than that little bit of strangeness, it was a gorgeous day. At the visitor center, we had also picked up some brochures on local trees and birds of the area, so while we stopped for our typical chocolate, fruit and cheese picnic, we also did a little nature study and tried to spot and identify what we could (keeping a safe distance from all potential plague carrying animals, of course.)

A few years ago, a fire went through the area, and there were still plenty of scarred hillsides. But, it wasn't totally devastated as I've seen other fire ravished areas be, and there was still plenty of beautiful green life to enjoy. We want to go back up to visit again, next time without dogs, so we can explore the Subway Cave,and some of the other non- dog friendly lava rock trails in the area. We left for home inspired to take more hikes, go camping, and enjoy the gorgeousness of the great outdoors as much as we can this summer.

I always love hearing about other fun destinations for hiking, especially dog friendly ones. Where are you hiking this summer?