“The whole landscape appears to have been formed by some mighty convulsion of the earth that has thrown up numerous spurs or broken ranges of mountains to the height of from 7,000 feet to 9,000 feet, and piles them together in mass confusion... [There are] craggy heights, towering upward from amid deep, dark forests of evergreens, that hang like shadows around their bases and sides. Lonely and unfrequented lakes hemmed in by walls of rocks, nameless and untrodden valleys, where deer, bear, and elk still roam in all their native freedom. Wild and foaming streams, winding downward from their native tarns, now plunging over steep and rocky cliffs, forming lofty cascades, whose voices awaken the echoes far and near, and again winding in solemn murmurs through the deep recesses of the mountains. A golden glade and glen robed in a mantle of verdure, in which are mingled the choicest of wild flowers.”
So wrote I.A. Reynolds, the editor of the Yreka Journal, in 1875. He was referring to the Marble Mountains. In those 19th century days, the Marbles were home to cattle ranchers, miners, and the occasional outlaw fleeing civilization's written code of ethics. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find any cattle let alone miners. That's not to say that the area isn't desolate enough for a little outlawry.
The scenery hasn't changed all that much in a hundred forty years. To find the Marble Mts., drive up I-5 and hang a left at Yreka. In late June/early July of this year the weather at the ranger station in Fort Jones was scorching. After a ride along the Scott River Road, a turn south on Quartz Valley Road and about seven not-too-bumpy miles on Forest Service Road 43N21, the temperature at the Shackleford Trailhead proved no more than simmeringly hot (somewhere in the 80s). The Shackleford Trail is usually one of the most popular, but this day we met only a pair of hikers before turning off in the direction of Calf Lake. Most hikers and backpackers take the easier, overused, route to Campbell and Cliff Lakes.
The trail to Calf Lake bends just east of Log Lake. Another half mile or so of hiking leads to a creeklet crossing at the narrow end of a meadow. As the meadow blends into forest, the remains of the Reynolds cabin come into view. The present, somewhat dilapidated wood structure is barely more than sixty years old. The original 19th century Reynolds rock cabin has all but disappeared, nothing more than a few stones visible in small scattered piles separated by pines.
The Shackleford Trailhead lies at approximately 4,700 feet elevation. By the time a hiker switchbacks all the way up to Calf Lake, longing for the intermittent shadows of Red Mountain to cool the afternoon, you've gained another 2,300 feet.
Calf Lake rests in a rocky cirque. The best campsites are at the eastern end, tucked under sparse pine trees, with open views of the lake. A fairly high rocked fire pit accompanies the best site. It appears that either hunters or some regular user has left behind equipment, including a broad bladed knife, attached by nails to trees at a height only reached by a tall man stretching his arms to their utmost.
There is a further goal than Calf Lake in this part of the Marbles. That is the ultimately secluded “A, B, C, D” Lakes. The letters stand respectively for Aspen, Buckthorn, Chinquapin, and Dogwood. To reach them from Calf Lake requires another hour or hour-and-a-half scramble and crawl over red rock boulders (difficult with a daypack, extremely strenuous with a full backpack). Trout big enough to make a meal can be fished from all of these lakes. An osprey often demonstrates its hunting process on Dogwood and Chinquapin.
In this writer's eyes Dogwood is the most appealing of these four mountain marvels. However, it was at Dogwood that I also walked past a disturbed rock walled fire pit with an inflatable raft left on top of it (the air let out of the raft, of course). The specific manner in which the firepit and surrounding camping spot was mussed up looked much like the handiwork of a backpacker named Greg Woods, who frequented the most out-of-the-way places in the Marbles in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Gregory Joseph Woods loved the outdoors so much that he would spend weeks at a time in the Marble Mts. He disdained the use of cairns or "ducks" to mark seldom used cross country trails, knocking the "ducks" (piles of rocks) over on his way out of a hidden lake or gulch stream. Greg didn't dislike all people, he just didn't want anyone finding nature's secret treasures after he'd located them.
Greg had one major problem: When he wasn't in the mountains he liked to gamble. He liked to gamble, but he didn't win often enough. He took to forging his roommate's identity to help pay off debts. He pulled something similar on a one-time woman friend. Greg held a decent paying middle class job, but it wasn't enough. The gambling debts grew and Greg became more and more desperate.
One late September night in 2005 Greg Woods robbed a gas station/mini mart in Yreka at gunpoint. Law enforcement arrived at the scene quickly enough to spot Greg's pickup truck leaving the scene. A three-and-a-half-mile pursuit ensued through residential neighborhoods. Greg's pickup reached speeds of over 65 miles per hour, failing to stop at stop signs. He turned his headlights off and on during the chase in hopes of confusing law enforcement. During the pursuit one officer got into an accident with a third car, causing damage to the patrol car and injuring the occupants in the other automobile. The chase ended when Greg crashed his truck into yet another vehicle.
A search of the truck revealed a blue and gray backpack with duct tape on it. In the backpack, officers discovered a headlamp, pepper spray, $215 in cash and 40 cans of chewing tobacco. The latter two collective items had been the sum total of the haul from the gas station. All of this would be fairly typical for any such arrest. Greg Woods was subsequently convicted. He also lost an attempted appeal plea in 2010. Whether or not he is still in prison I could not ascertain through a cursory computer search after my return from the Marble Mountains, but the deliberately covered over and messed up campsite above Dogwood Lake certainly appeared very similar to the handiwork of one of the 1990s most frequent visitors to the remotest realms of the Marble Mountains.