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trip report -- NE CA high desert bike ride on the Modoc Line

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trip report -- NE CA high desert bike ride on the Modoc Line

Postby dave54 » Tue Jun 05, 2012 9:46 pm

A one day bike ride. 06/03/2012

Susanville BLM and the Lassen Land and Trails Trust (LLTT) jointly sponsor several mountain bike rides each year. This year the new Modoc Line Rails to Trail was added. The Modoc Line is the old NCO Railroad – Nevada, California, and Oregon Railroad, nicknamed the Narrow, Crooked, and Ornery. Originally built to connect the timber and livestock of northeastern CA and eastern OR to the Union Pacific in Reno, it never was profitable and was taken over by the Southern Pacific RR during the Great Depression. They upgraded the rails to standard gauge from the narrow gauge, and improved and realigned the route. It still was not profitable and SP eventually abandoned the line. The LLTT quickly seized the opportunity and bought the rights of way for a Rails to Trail. The now public portion runs from just south of Alturas to Wendel, east of Susanville for 80 odd miles through some of the loneliest and most scenic stretches of Northeast CA high desert. Development of the total trail system is still a work in progress, a few short pieces of right of way and public access issues with local ranchers, developing signage, trailheads, water sources, and campgrounds along the route.

This is a Rails to Trail, so riders looking for single track with steep descents and jumps will be disappointed. It is also high desert, not pine forest with stunning mountain peaks. Little shade and even less potable water for refills. In places you can look across the flats for miles, and see no sign of any human activity, except for the trail itself, all the way to horizon in every direction. Normally you will see pronghorn, mule deer, song birds, raptors, and occasionally sage grouse; but not this trip (1 pronghorn, a red tail hawk, and a few red winged blackbirds). There are cattle, of course – this is ranching country and the trail crosses private and BLM grazing land.

This section is 16 miles. We caravanned to the old railroad stop of Karlo. A small town once sprung up around the railroad siding and associated service facilities. Karlo is now a few scattered residents and ranches. Individual vehicles were left at Karlo, and we all loaded the bikes into a BLM pickup and the six of us into 2 cars and drove to the upper end of the ride by Ravendale. Where the Horse Lake Road crosses the trail we unloaded and began our journey following Snowstorm Creek down Snowstorm Canyon (adjacent to Snowstorm Mountain, of course. I sense a trend in the place names).

Right after beginning the descent into the canyon proper is the site of the railroad wreck, where a train left the track and rolled down the slope. No one knew the date, someone said 1948. Several cliffs of columnar basalt can be seen along both sides of the trail, the near perfect regularity of the hexagonal shapes and parallel straight fissures is intriguing.

For a country that appears arid from the highway has an amazing amount of water when you get up close and personal with the land. Small springs and seeps dot the hillsides, making islets of green with riparian vegetation amidst the gray expanse of sage steppe.

The wind was quite strong this day. Gusts would jerk the bike sideways. Otherwise the weather was perfect with a few clouds offering brief respites of shade, and the temperature was sunny but not hot.

Near Karlo the trail passes through some state Fish and Game land, and the state has built some reservoirs for wildlife.

My rear end is not yet in riding shape and by time we arrived back at the vehicles I was ready for the ride to end.

This section is considered one the nicer segments, with the northern segment from the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge over Sage Hen Pass (and adjacent to the BLM Tule Mountain Wilderness through the pass. The trail forms the Wilderness Boundary) also considered good. Alas, the segment across the Madeline Plains is flat as a table top, straight as an arrow, without a spot of shade or water source for twenty miles. This segment also runs adjacent to Highway 395 with the associated roar of cars and big rigs. I suspect that segment will not be popular. There is a brief period in the Spring each year when the Madeline Plains erupt in a riotous cacophony of color with a continuous carpet of wildflowers stretching for miles, but this eye candy lasts only two weeks or so, and is unpredictable as to when it makes its appearance.

Long term plans include connecting the Wendel trail terminus to Susanville along another old railroad line, which will connect to the Bizz Johnson Trail, which in turn will connect to the (hopefully) soon to be built Collins Pine Trail to Chester and Lake Almanor. The northern end by Alturas can connect via forest roads to the Oregon O&C Trail that runs from Bly to Klamath Falls. All total over 300 miles of Rails to Trail suitable for bikepacking.

Pictures: ... orm_creek#
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Re: trip report -- NE CA high desert bike ride on the Modoc Line

Postby BrianF » Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:58 am

Looks like a fun trip through some pretty country. I love the rails to trails movement.
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