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Mount Shasta as it appears from Castle Crags State Park.

Siskiyou County: The Land Beneath the Great White Mountain

Majestic Mount Shasta as it appears from Castle Crags State Park.

Majestic Mount Shasta as it appears from Castle Crags State Park. Photo by author.

When the Outdoor Writers Association of California chose Siskiyou County as the site for this spring’s writers conference, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for this unspoiled land at the top of the state since I first discovered it fifty-three years ago.

A herd of bighorn sheep in Valley of Fire State Park. Photo by Author Steven T. Callan.

Just Add Water

A herd of bighorn sheep in Valley of Fire State Park. Photo by Author Steven T. Callan.

What a thrill to encounter bighorn sheep during our visit to Valley of Fire State Park. Photo by author.

When people describe the desert, words like hot, dry, desolate, bleak, bare, brown, inhospitable, and intimidating are often mentioned. Those descriptions change dramatically when water is added to the mix!

Rocio Nesbitt, author John D. Nesbitt, author Steven T. Callan, and Kathy Callan celebrate at the Orland Alumni Association Awards Dinner.

Orland Alumni Association Awards Night

Rocio Nesbitt, author John D. Nesbitt, author Steven T. Callan, and Kathy Callan celebrate at the Orland Alumni Association Awards Dinner.

Just like in the Statler Brothers’ song, the Orland High School Class of ‘66 had its dreams. In June of 1966, all 138 of us spread to the wind and set out to live our dreams, much like the Orland High School classes before us. Some went on to college,  some served in the military, some pursued occupations  elsewhere, and some remained in this wonderful little Northern California farm town for the rest of their lives.

Wood ducks will leave the safety of the water and the trees to march overland in search of acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Our Splendid Night Visitors

Wood ducks will leave the safety of the water and the trees to march overland in search of acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Wood ducks will leave the safety of the water and the trees to march overland in search of acorns, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects. Photo by author.

On most winter evenings, Kathy and I hike to the hilltop near our home in the oak woodlands of Northern California. We usually leave about 4:00, and if we don’t stop to talk to anyone or get sidetracked, return to the house before the sun goes down. One quiet evening late last December, we heard the whistling of wingbeats overhead as we walked up the driveway at the end of our one-mile trek.

Every fall, aspens put on a magnificent display in California’s Eastern Sierra. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Golden Trout and Golden Trees

Every fall, aspens put on a magnificent display in California’s Eastern Sierra. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Every fall, aspens put on a magnificent display in California’s Eastern Sierra. Photo by author.

The first time I experienced the awesome grandeur of California’s Eastern Sierra was in 1975, when, as a rookie Fish and Game warden, I drove there on assignment to work the Crowley Lake trout-season opener. That spring, the majestic mountains to the west were covered with snow, and the entire scene, from Mount Whitney to Mammoth Lakes, looked like something you’d see on a Christmas card. Over the years I’ve visited again and again, sometimes in the spring, sometimes in the summer, and sometimes in the fall.  Whatever the season,  the Eastern Sierra always offers an eye-popping display of color and natural beauty.

Setting out on our Safari West adventure, we left civilization behind. Photo by Alex Coburn.

On Safari

Setting out on our Safari West adventure, we left civilization behind. Photo by Alex Coburn.

Everyone was excited as we left civilization behind and set out on our Safari West adventure. Photo by Alex Coburn.

With camera in hand, Kathy and I have spent much of the last thirty years enjoying nature and searching for wildlife wherever we could find it. We’ve meandered through mountains, marshes, and meadows in seven states; we’ve trekked across deserts in California, Arizona, and Nevada; we’ve kayaked with great whales in Monterey Bay; and we’ve dived to the depths of the ocean in California, Hawaii, Key Largo, and the Caribbean. One place we’ve never gone in search of wildlife is Africa.

During the winter months, Kathy and I can count on seeing magnificent bald eagles at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This mature female was about to swoop down on a flock of unsuspecting coots. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Saving a Place for Wildlife

During the winter months, Kathy and I can count on seeing magnificent bald eagles at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This mature female was about to swoop down on a flock of unsuspecting coots. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

During the winter months, Kathy and I can count on seeing magnificent bald eagles at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. This mature female was about to swoop down on a flock of unsuspecting coots. Photo by author.

Late in November 1959, I was an eleven-year-old boy riding in the back seat of our family car as my father drove us north of Sacramento for the first time. I remember looking out the window and marveling at flocks of flying waterfowl and a vast landscape of wetlands, rice fields, grain fields, and open space—all the way to what was to be our new home in the tiny farming community of Orland. Today, as I drive north from Sacramento, I see miles and miles of orchards where not so much as a blade of grass is allowed to grow.