Entrance to “Shangri-la”……..#197 (the 80’s)



California's Central Valley

California’s Central Valley

Upon saying goodbye to Gary’s parents in Pioneer, the family once again seated in the Alamo Rental Car continuing their California venture,  a northern proclivity was enhanced, the engaged vessel accelerating and arriving at the alacrity speed limit posted on interstate 5.   The Northern Central Valley with no reciprocation, its delineation remaining as Gary remembered it, an expanse of agricultural and husbandry endeavors, frequented with small farming communities.  Once departing Red bluff, the scenic atmosphere began anew, to the east, the towering snow-capped peak of Mount Lassen would remain in view for temporal visit until reaching Redding.

Mt. Lassen








The Valley was now belated, the interstate beginning its slow upwards traverse from Redding, reaching out ten miles to embrace Lake Shasta, the third largest lake in California.  Its shoreline encumbrances 365 miles, populated with a host of evergreen trees, pines, fir, spruce and manzanita.  In 1936 the Shasta Dam project was initiated on the Sacramento River,  a ten-year project culminating in 1946, the completion of the lake reached fruition in 1948, the hydroelectricity plant providing power to Redding and the Northern Central Valley.  In the distance, Mount Shasta’s majestic appearance permeated the north-eastern horizon, but to the west another imposing monument coming into view, Castle Craig’s, it towering peaks arising from an elevation of 2000 ft. to 6600 ft. The Craig’s being formed during the Pleistocene period, the glaciers eroding the volcanic and sedimentary, leaving the solid granite heighten vertex vaulting upwards.




Before them an imposing presence was within reach,  its ascendancy dominating the panoramic landscape,  casting a mystical aura of celestial contentment on its ruling realm, Mount Shasta.  the regal snow-covered peak raising 14,179 feet in elevation,  reaching up to embrace the heavens.    John Muir penned,   “Solitary as God, white as winter’s moon”.  Mount Shasta starts up suddenly and solitary from the heart of the great black forest of Northern California,   its ambiance imposing like a dormant volcanic pinnacle,  standing aloof,  excluded from any mountain range.  Completing the 3 hundred 50 mile trek on interstate 5 to Yreka,  the travelers finding California Highway 3,  the avenue west over Yreka Mountain,  thru the small community of Fort Jones,  his mother’s birthplace and the entrance to a  “Shangri-la”  called Scott Valley,  the family crowning the 12 miles to Etna.

The scenic drive still a masterpiece of unblemished carriage,  an assembly of man’s stewardship and mother nature’s artistry.  Gary marveled at the 4 mile wide-16 mile long valley.  a painted containment of the Trinity Alp’s  and the declared wilderness of the Marble Mountains.  As a youth having journeyed with Fess the length and width of this Shangri-la haven,  experiencing torrential thunderstorms and a raining of tree frogs during a hail storm, but also the serenity in observing droves of deer trooping down from their mountainous sanctuary, seemingly knowing that the hunting season has yet begun.


The rural setting fading,  a residential notification making an appearance,  Gary questioning his memory after a thirty-five year absence.  It was 1953 again, the same road, the same houses and the same entrance into town,  Etna’s population of 500 had remained without change.  Gary piloting the car down Diggles Street, a primary approach to the communities lone business street aptly name Main Street.  The remembrance prevailing, the driver pointing out the previous residency of his Aunt Bernice and his cousin Geraldine Jerry Facey where he had spent summers.

The walk to the front door of the house was a long one, not in distance but one of wonderment, Gary not having seen his aunt since the age of 12, but when she opened the door, again it was 1953, she looked just as he remembered her.  Aunt Bernice’s current home on Woodland Street was illustrious, its beamed ceiling, rotunda walled fireplace, Gary totally impressed, but it was to be expected as his Uncle Sam, who passed in 1981, was a renowned building contractor as was his grandfather Potter who’s bridges and building structures remain, as exemplified by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fort Jones that he built in 1921.

Gary finding their visit rewarding, especially Robert and Sandi enjoying the capacious yard adorned with towering trees, one emitting a very elongated rope swing and the yard crowned with a breathtaking view of the snow-capped Trinity and Marble Mountains.     His cousins Jerry and Fess’s dwelling was conveniently adjacent to Aunt Bernice’s residence, a large abode with an attached garage and shop also with an essential spacious yard.

Sandi swinging – Robert in the tree

Robert and Sandi at Great Aunt Bernice’s

A late morning journey found the family following Jerry and Fess and two of their granddaughters south of town then turning at the French Creek bridge onto a mountain dirt roadway in the Cavalier.  The excursion continuing then coming to a conclusion, stopping at what appeared to be a public picnic area with tables and in a tree shaded reach, the calling  sound of the flowing creek.  Jerry, who had the foresight to pack a picnic lunch mentioned it was time to eat.  French Creek that was nearby beckoned, Fess whom on this day like most,  just happened to have fishing poles, Gary and Robert partaking of the invitation, but alas, a catch to no avail.


One extended weekend during Mike’s youthful summer days, his cousin’s family made a captivating camping trip to the Trinity Alps and a fishing expedition to the iridescent Tangle Blue Lake.  The caravan assembly traversing the steep incline of the logging drag trails finding  all seven in an open-air jeep,  Fess’s brother Wilbur sitting on the hood to hold the front end down,  the four youngsters remaining in the back with the camping equipment.  Etna also provided Mike with a young lady encounter, her name was Bobbi Brown, her father was the editor a of the towns newspaper,  they would roller skate,  attend the movie at the Star Theatre,  hike Etna Creek together and in the warm summer evenings  sit under the clear star filled sky and talk,  a new but lasting experience for a 12-year-old.  The summer ended,  Mike returning to his East Oakland Hills home, the two corresponded briefly by mail,  but like the summer,  it also ended.


Aunt Bernice’s Breakfast was déjà vu for Gary and a new experience for the family, his Aunt providing a copious breakfast, making several brands of cereal available, a glass pitcher of milk, its bottle or a carton container never permitted on the table, a bowl fresh fruit, eggs, pancakes, the syrup also in a glass syrup container and to Roberts delight, rainbow trout, pan-fried, their heads and tail still attached, a journey back in time for the eldest Willson.   Gary finding the June mornings crisp at Etna’s 3000 foot level, Fess after retiring from his county road crew employment, subscribed to an occupation that he had maintained as a sideline, an animal processor, harvesting and processing customers personal or vending products.  His previous home on Diggles street sitting on over an acre, with a small barn, pig sty and a Holstein cow providing milk for several customers.

A morning found Robert as an observer.  Fess, backing his pickup to the shop door, the arm of the hoist protruding, its cable lowered,  lifting a hog up out of the bed by its hind legs, then lowering to a metal platform on rollers.  Robert remained watching,  Fess with knife in hand  began the butchering process, a decision to leave was hesitant, but would be  forthcoming, Gary understood, having watched Fess harvest a live steer from start to finish when he was Roberts age.

The allotted time for continuing their journey having finally arrived. saying goodbye was difficult, not so much to his aunt and cousins but to the aura of the past that resided there, deep inside, Gary sheltered a secret desire,  Like Robert Conway in James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon”,   It was to someday return, to  “Shangri-La”.


One Response to “Entrance to “Shangri-la”……..#197 (the 80’s)”

  1. Etna Says:

    I think that this is an interesting article. Very nice.

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